I stepped back into the light, tilting my head this way and that to get a better look at Victoria. She had just floated down the stairs of her house and was wearing a long silver dress, one that dragged to the carpet and made me dizzy in the best way.
Good thing I was alive to see it.
See, I missed last year's prom due to being, like, dead and all that stuff. Victoria being the considerate girlfriend she is, decided to put her dress and my finely cut jawline to use and staged a mock prom in her backyard. It was a welcome back from the dead/prom event, actually. But yeah. She had a dress she looked great in (though she could have worn literal potato sacks and looked fantastic) and I had, you know, the perks of being dead kid who was no longer dead. Not to mention my jaw, cause oh boy did it cut in pictures. And what's better than that for a few pictures? Nothing.
Except bubbles, maybe, but our machine was broken.
"You're too pretty." I helped her step down and onto the ground. "It's not fair." It really wasn't fair. How could one former ghost have such a dazzling star by his side? It didn't make sense, but I wasn't complaining.
Victoria laughed and tightened my tie. "You're very pretty too, Julian."
I caught her hands and kept them at my chest, right where they warmed my skin through the thick cotton my shirt. "Mm. Thank you. How-ever," her eyes danced in the reflection of the moon shining in through the windows, "Flattery will get you nowhere."
"Oh yeah? Well, who said I want to go anywhere with you?"
I shrugged. "Maybe the fact that you cried every day while I was gone and that when I made it back to you, you threw me a party? I don't know, but that could be a clue."
"That's just for publicity."
I rolled my eyes and pulled her by the waist, so close our noses brushed. "What? Are you going to publicly tell all your friends you love me?"
"Love is a strong word, Jules."
I stepped back. "Yeah, and you wear strong perfume. They both make us better and what's your point?"
"I don't know. Just forget about it."
I leaned against the wall with one hand and laughed, kind of. "Uh, okay. I will do my best to pretend you didn't turn into night of the living dead when I mentioned that you loved me. Sorry, I guess I assume everyone loves me."
"Yeah, that's your problem. Much too cocky."
She was smiling again though, so I followed her lead. "But that was never a problem for you before, Ree." She rolled her eyes at me then and grabbed my wrist, pulling us both out into the yard.
"You did an amazing job out here!" A friend from school of Victoria's (her name was Callee, I think?) rushed to us as soon as we hit the pavement. She gushed about how much she loved what Victoria had done with the yard. Then she turned to me and smiled that smile people only are allowed to give you once you're returned from the literal dead. "And Julian. How have you been?"
"Oh, you know. I got a life, finally. Not such a deadbeat anymore." She didn't laugh, so I tried something else; an approach that girls always seemed to appreciate. "You two want something to drink? I'm thinking I'll get a glass myself."
Victoria nodded, barely glancing my way. "Sure, babe, go ahead."
"That would be great! If you see Dante over there let him know I found Victoria."
"Sure." I never liked Dante. I thought he was kind of a worthy of tire slashing kind of guy. What was he doing with a sweet kid like Callee, if that was her name? I'd ask him what was up with that when I saw him. On second thought, why was Victoria even talking to that guy? Oh, right. Callee. They were connected or whatever.
I walked further into the yard, peering over the hoards of people to try and see the drink table. While on my tip toes, I saw a group of girls standing by the trees, smacking various weapons against their palms and glaring around the party. They were wearing big gray coats, and there were four of them.
The girl on the furthest right was holding a baseball bat. She had thick brown hair let loose and wild like a crooked halo around her stern face, gray eyes. She seemed to be the leader of the group. Her coat had brass buttons on the sleeves. Hmm. I veered around the drink table and started towards the trees.
The second girl was shorter, maybe even younger, and had mermaid colored hair all shimmering and blue, green, purple. She stared at me as I walked towards the group and adjusted the frying pan she was waving around.
The third girl was thinner than the rest, but seemed stronger than she looked judging by her tightly set jaw and French braids. I don't know why, but I always associate those braids with female wrestlers. Or girls who wear those giant sweaters in the fall and take pictures of them and pumpkin spiced lattes. I prefer the female wrestlers over them any day.
Last girl was eating a bowl of ramen noodles in a manner almost threatening. Could someone eat ramen and threaten you at the same time? I thought so. I reached the tree and cleared my throat.
"Are you with Dante?" The first girl cracked her knuckles and popped the brass buttons of her coat.
"Ah, no. Definitely not. I was curious who invited you all, though."
The same girl laughed. "Ha, who invited us? No one. No one invites us anywhere, and yet here we are."
"Um, maybe you shouldn't be here, then. It's a private event."
The shorter girl with shimmering hair threw glitter in my eyes. "Do you think we give a single rat's cootie catcher if it's a private event or not? Look here, buddy." She brushed glitter off her hands and resorted to thudding her frying pan against the side of her leg. "My name is Lorna Cinnamon. These are my associates. Juleesa Flowers."
Brass Buttons nodded at me.
Ramen Girl smiled despite herself.
"And Brinkley Hitches."
The French Braids waved loosely in my direction.
Maybe I was wrong about who their leader was.
"Well, why are you here, Lorna Cinnamon and associates?"
“I think you know why. Pick up a baseball bat and help us out and maybe you won’t get hurt. Again.”
“What do you mean, again?” These girls didn’t know me. Was being formerly dead just something that was now obvious about me, like the color of my eyes or my toned arms? “The accident wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
“Do you not remember what happened before you got in that car?” Ramen Girl, or Bianca Kincade, dumped her bowl of food on the lawn while she talked. Maybe it was a foreboding. Maybe she was just done with her food. Either way, I didn’t remember.
“”I remember getting upset with my family, yeah, and leaving the house to go get Victoria.”
Brinkley Hitches nodded. “Yeah, and where did you have to go to get her from?”
That was what happened before we got in that car.
Before I swerved off the road and went through the windshield.
Victoria was at the Bottle Bank, the local milk bar in town. I went to go pick her up, only to find her hanging all over one of our star basketball players, a guy named Jupiter Greer, and acting very un my girlfriend like. Obviously, I was pretty upset. I may or may not have started talking to Veronica Qxalir, the waitress who was formerly the beauty pageant queen of our state. I may or may not have let Victoria see me talking (read: flirting like my life depended on it) with this waitress and I guess she texted Callee, who texted these vigilantes.
But to be honest, it was only until Victoria stood up from her table and walked over to my table to inform me that Jupiter Greer’s mother had just died and she was buying him lunch as a common consolation that I even noticed what I was doing.
I guess kissing Veronica Qxalir was a bit much.
I stared at the girls by the tree. At Lorna and her deviously pretty hair. At Bianca and the noodles puddled at her feet. At Juleesa and her hands, cracking and cracking and cracking her knuckles. At Brinkley and her braids. They were the reason my family and friends mourned me for seven months and still.
I was glad they were here.
Guys like I had been to Victoria that night, guys like me and Dante, we needed to be taught a lesson. Only, Dante probably wouldn’t be as lucky as I had been in returning from the dead, so I decided I would convince the girls in gray (as opposed to the men in black, maybe?) to not kill him. Maim him, sure. Destroy his reputation, go for it. Make him wish he had better automotive insurance, absolutely.
I picked up a baseball bat from the trunk they had sitting open, rather suspiciously but I guess that’s showbiz, next to their tree.
“Let me tell Victoria where we’re headed before I go with you. I wouldn’t want her getting upset.”
Lorna put a hand in front of me to stop me. “Do you love her?”
“Yeah. I don’t know if she loves me too, though, cause I mentioned it earlier and she flipped out. Has anyone ever told you how crazy girls can be?”
They blinked in unison as if to say, “Make your point, chucklehead.”
“But yes, I love Victoria.”
“Good.” Lorna glances over my shoulder. “I think she’s looking for you.”
I turned around and Victoria was indeed standing behind me. "So much for getting us drinks. What are you doing?"
"Talking to these girls. They said Dante was cheating on Callee. I thought I could help them. You know, guys like that are a disgrace to the whole world."
"Well, aren't you singing a new tune."
"What can I say, Ree? Love changes a man."
She looked behind me at the girls in gray. "This kid."
Brinkley shrugged. "He's telling the truth though. He does love you. He loved you when he kissed Veronica, too, but his judgement was clouded. Don't worry. It won't happen again."
I raise an imaginary glass. "Cheers to that."