Though there were tall iron fences, the gateway was empty, hinges rusted up with nothing on them. In the dark of the October evening, it struck Zara as wrong, and the things she’d agreed to on the bus took a darker and damper turn.
“Are you sure they won’t lock up?” she asked.
“How? There’s nothing to lock. And besides, we could just climb over the fence if they did, or stay till morning.” Rose slipped up behind her and put her arms round Zara’s waist. “Come on, you said you would. Don’t you think that’s romantic? Watching the sunrise together.”
“That is, yes,” Zara said carefully, plucking Rose’s arms free. Even though there was no one about, her cheeks had still gone bright red. “But staying in a graveyard overnight isn’t. And I'm not sure it's my idea of fun, either.”
“Come on, it’ll be a laugh. A story to tell later on, something to brag about. And it’s better than a house-party with like, four other people.”
“Hmm.” The promise of a party was what Rose had used to get Zara to come this far across town, and Zara had been looking forward to it. Sure it would be awkward, but after so little social contact that year she was desperate for anything.
“Come on,” Rose said. “Let’s at least take a look about. Where’s the harm in that?”
Zara automatically followed Rose into the graveyard, but it was the first time in their relationship that she’d actually felt at all uncomfortable. The conversation she’d had with her older sister, who’d walked in on Zara and Rose snogging, came to mind.
“I’m safer with girls,” Zara had said. “It’s easier to defend myself.”
“Not always,” her sister had replied, still torn between worrying and disapproving. “And girls can be just as dangerous as boys.”
Zara’s sister felt that she was to ‘blame’ for Zara’s choices, which was the only reason she hadn’t told their parents about Rose yet. That worked for Zara, so she didn’t feel the need to point out that she’d been eyeing up girls way before her sister’s last boyfriend started to get nasty. Nor the fact that there wasn’t anything to be ‘blamed’ for.
Just as dangerous as boys. The words came back now, as Zara watched Rose all but dance away into the graveyard. There was an extra edge to her energy, like she had something else planned, and Zara didn’t like it. Her idea of surprises were chocolates and flowers, not tombstones and crypts.
“Okay, we’ve had a look around,” Zara said when she felt they’d gone just far enough. “It’s cold, and wet, and horrible. Can we go now? How about back to your place?”
“I told dad I was out at a party,” Rose said.
“Same here. But so what? We can just say it got cancelled, or it was boring.” A sleepover party was what Zara had told her parents, with a separate room for everyone, just to be safe. But as usual her mother was more worried about boys than any virus. Zara hadn’t missed the look her sister gave her when she’d explained that there would only be girls at the party. At least I can’t get pregnant, she’d wanted to say, but baiting her sister wasn’t a smart move.
“But I don’t want to go home.” Rose realised that Zara was trailing behind, and she skipped back. “Come on, it’ll be a laugh. Or are you scared of ghosts?”
“I’m not scared of ghosts. But that doesn’t mean that I like the idea of sitting in a dark field all night. This is stupid, Rose. I’m leaving.”
As Zara turned to go Rose caught her hand, and before Zara could say anything else she was being dragged off deeper into the graveyard. It wasn’t long before the trees hid the street-lights, and the sound of traffic was nothing but a soft murmur. There were plenty of other noises in the darkness though.
“No, Rose, stop it!” Despite her protests Rose kept going, and Zara was scared now. She started praying, and wishing she’d believed more. The graveyard made her skin crawl, but the manic edge to Rose was more than enough to fear.
At last she managed to pull her hand away, and she skidded to a halt. “No, Rose! I’m leaving. I don’t want to spend a night in some stupid graveyard on the other side of town!” Angry as she was Zara waited for Rose’s response. When Rose just stood there and stared up at the clouds Zara got even angrier. “Fine. Stay here if you want to. Alone!”
“Do you know how it started?” Rose said suddenly.
Zara froze with her foot in the air. “How what started?”
“Halloween. Before all the trick-or-treating, and parties and stupid sexy witches. It was supposed to be the night where the barrier between the two worlds was thinnest. The one night that the dead could come back and talk to the living.”
“I’m not staying here to hunt ghosts. Not that I believe in ghosts. I’m not a child.” That didn’t stop Zara from gathering her coat around her some more. It was cold in the graveyard after all.
“You don’t believe at all? You think death is the end?”
“I believe in an afterlife, I just don’t think that the dead can visit. And I don’t think it’s fair to drag people out to a graveyard, under false pretences, for something so asinine.” If she got nothing else out of this evening, Zara was getting an apology. Hopefully that would go some way to counter the fear from earlier.
Rose was barely listening however. She was still staring up at the stars, lost in whatever mad thought had decided that a sleep-over in a graveyard was a good idea. The buzzing energy from earlier was gone, replaced with a stillness that was almost as disconcerting.
“Look,” Zara said when it became clear that Rose wasn’t going to answer. “Let’s just go home, hey? I don’t like fighting. Let’s just chalk this up to… a bad day, and forget about it. Come on, I’ve got some cider in my bag. Let’s go drink it somewhere warm.”
It was another few seconds before Rose replied. “You go. I’m staying.”
“Why!? For pity’s sake, you can’t be that desperate to see ghosts! This isn’t like you.” The one thing Zara had always liked about Rose was her honest and bluntness. If she didn’t like you Rose would say, but she wouldn’t necessarily hold it against you. Conspiracies, legends, gossip; all of them got the same treatment under Rose’s harsh glare. So why this sudden belief in ghosts?
“I’m staying,” was all Rose said.
“Fine.” The cold was settling in and Zara was shivering, so she turned and started storming away. She’d barely made it a dozen steps before she stopped though. There was no way she could leave Rose out here, not when she was acting so strange. If anything happened Zara would never forgive herself.
Biting back a sigh, now as annoyed with herself as she was with Rose, Zara came back and stood next to her. Their shoulders were touching, but Rose still looked miles away.
“What’s wrong, Rose?”
The pair of them stood in silence, and Zara played a dozen different scenarios through in her head. In the worst ones Rose wanted to hurt her, but the change in Rose made those seem less likely now. The next worst ones were the ones where Rose wanted to hurt herself, and Zara started going over all their previous interactions. Had Rose ever acted upset, or depressed? Before that night Zara would’ve laughed off such a question.
“I want to see a ghost,” Rose said at last, so out of the blue that it made Zara jump.
“I want to see my mum.”
“Your mum?” Zara’s mind started racing. She knew Rose didn’t live with her mum, but Zara had never asked for details. These days not living with both your parents was hardly an unusual circumstance. “What… what happened?”
“She was murdered.” That trademark frankness again, except Rose’s voice was hollow. “They caught the man who did it, but he didn’t know where her body was. Said he’d dumped her in the river, but the divers never found it. I thought… it doesn’t matter. We can go.”
“You thought she might turn up tonight?”
“This is the nearest graveyard to where we used to live. I didn’t get to say goodbye. It doesn’t really mean anything when you know the grave’s empty.”
Zara thought of her own mother; the smiles, the hugs, the scalding, the expectation. It was all so much a part of her life that she couldn’t imagine a life without it. What was she supposed to say to that? She reached out and took Rose’s hand, then turned to kiss her. It was meant to be a peck on the cheek, but Rose turned as well and their lips met.
It wasn’t like any of their previous kisses, the guilty ones they sneaked on the bus, or the all-consuming ones when they made out in their bedrooms. This was pure, all love and no lust, and Zara felt so grown-up in that moment.
“We can stay if you want,” she said when they parted.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. She might turn up after all. It’s worth waiting.”
Rose gave her the biggest grin she could, and in the gloom of the graveyard Zara could make out where her make-up had smudged. “Thank you.”
They settled down on top of one of the grave slabs, somewhere dry, and snuggled together for warmth. It wasn’t at all what Zara had planned for Halloween, but it was a night worth spent.
Some ghosts were worth looking out for, after all.