“I know you can’t help all the ghosts you see and it gets so overwhelming, but do you think you could make an exception for little ol’ me?” Brandon pushed his charming smile to full power knowing it always made me weak in the knees.
I covered up my swoon at his cute ghostly looks, despite the 90’s punk rock spiked hair and gigantic pants, by rolling my eyes and picking up my pen. We were in my bedroom and I was trying, unsuccessfully, to do my homework while sitting at my grandmother’s old vanity. “Do you just show up when you want something? I told you not to pop up all the time. I’m seriously behind in algebra and my mom will hear me talking to you.”
“Just tell her you’re on the phone.”
I laughed. “Oh, she’d never believe that. Maybe in your day we used the phone to talk but nowadays, we just text. It’s easier.”
“Waiting for someone to send you a few words while wondering what they are actually doing and missing out on their tone of voice is easier?” Brandon gave me a side-eye while parking his translucent butt on the edge of my vanity, the stack of school books going right through him. “Plus typing out a bunch of words when you can just say them quicker? I doubt it.”
I shrugged. “It just is, okay? It’s less pressure on the person to respond right away. What if I called someone and they were in the bathroom or something? That seems rude.”
It was his turn to laugh, the sound not ghostlike at all, but the happy and playful chuckle of a young man. “Then they just wouldn’t answer, silly.”
“Exactly, and I’d just have to send a text anyway. Now, go away unless you’re going to suddenly become useful and help me solve this equation.”
Brandon looked down at my paper, pretending to think it through. “Naw, that looks terrible. Okay, yes, I came here to ask for your help, but I also wanted to see your pretty face. Is that so wrong?”
I hid a smile behind my wavy, sandy brown hair and looked down at my homework, pretending to concentrate. He flirted with me all the time and we had fun bantering back and forth but if he ever realized I actually liked him, it’d be terrible. “Flattery will get you nowhere. Maybe a doughnut would. Did you bring me a doughnut?”
“You know I would if I could. I just need a small favor. It’s about a ghost I met today while you were at school. I was hanging out at the skatepark--”
“Of course you were.”
“Pfft, you know that’s my haunt. Anyway, a car pulled up next to the park and a new ghost was sitting on the trunk. He looked pretty sad so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go chat with him.”
“A ghost was haunting a car? That’s a new one.”
“Yea, wish I had thought of that one myself. It would make getting around much easier. Well, that is until I met you.” Brandon gave me a triumphant grin.
Not only was I able to see ghosts with “the sight”, as I called it, but there was also something about my power that allowed the ghosts to travel with me, away from the usual place they haunted. Most were stuck in one place, having been tied there by their life, but once they found out they could travel with me, they usually stuck around until I could help them with their unfinished business. I tried really hard not to let ghosts know I could see them or I would be overrun with them all the time, as they screamed all kinds of demands. Brandon was an exception that I just couldn’t seem to shake.
“It is pretty genius. So what did this ghost say?” I put down my pen, giving up on the math for a bit.
“As you can imagine, most ghost conversations tend to mention the unfinished business bit of our existence. It’s kind of important, you know, since it’s why we’re stuck here instead of ascending beyond, whatever that means.”
“Which reminds me that you still haven’t told me what yours is.” I gave him a pointed look.
He shrugged. “We can worry about that later. Right now, we’ll talk about Josh, that’s his name. Josh’s unfinished business is, get this, going on a date. With a girl.”
I raised my eyebrow at him. “How old is this kid? He never went on a date? That seems like an odd thing to have as a lifelong dream. Was he like super nerdy or ugly or something?”
“I think you’re missing the point, but you’ll get there eventually.” Brandon waggled his brown eyebrows at me.
I stared at him for a few seconds, unamused. “You want me to go on a date with a ghost.”
“Why do you always make my awesome ideas sound stupid?” He stuck out his bottom lip in a pout. “Think of this as helping out a poor, lost soul. It would be easy for you and he’s oh, so sad. You should have seen the way he stared at the pavement.”
I sighed and picked up my pen again, fiddling with it as I looked at my math homework. The numbers just looked like a foreign language at that point. “You know how I feel about letting every ghost around know what I can do. What if word gets out? I can’t even keep up with school, how will I handle all the ghosts’ unfinished business? They won’t leave me alone. I’ll go insane.”
“It is weird how you talk to yourself so much.” Brandon gave me another grin and I swatted at him, my hand going right through his shoulder, of course. We both pretended not to notice.
“You’re going to have to owe me a favor if I do this for you.” I frowned, shaking my head. Brandon certainly had a hold on me that no one else did.
“Of course. Anything you want.” He grinned, dimples peeked out on the edges of his cheeks and I blushed, turning away. “I’ll get it all set up. All you’ll have to do is show up. See you tomorrow evening.”
He waved as he winked out while I still shook my head at him. My bedroom went back to being mine and the quiet settled in loudly.
“Do you know why you can see ghosts?” Josh could barely look at me and I could see why most girls would pass him by. Confidence goes a long way, even if you’re ugly, and low-confidence can hinder everything, even if you’re not ugly. Josh had a pleasant enough face. He was a little overweight, but he’d probably grow out of the baby fat as a young man, or, he would have if he had been able to grow anymore.
I held my phone to my ear, pretending to talk into it instead of to a nothing sitting in the empty chair in front of me. Apparently Olive Garden had been Josh’s favorite restaurant and Brandon had convinced me that sitting at a table for one and talking like I had an important business call on my phone would be fine. It would have been fine if I were a 30-year-old man, but instead, I was a high school girl in a fluffy dress and Converse tennis shoes sitting in front of a plate of fettuccine alfredo and eating breadsticks by herself. I probably looked like I’d just been dumped by my boyfriend and I was telling my mom the story over the phone. I tried to ignore the weird looks I got. I was getting used to it.
“I have no idea. Some of the stories I’ve heard about my grandma make me think she might have seen them, but she died before I was born so I couldn’t ever ask her.” I glanced at Brandon who sat several feet away from us, behind Josh so he couldn’t see the creeper third-wheel ghost on our date. Brandon was sitting on a window sill, right in front of a couple who were eating their dinner and intermittently chatting. His feet went through their wine glasses, his long legs stretching over their table. He gave me a thumbs up and I ignored him, turning my gaze back to Josh.
“Interesting. I would have thought you were crazy if you’d told me this while I was still alive.” He sat hunched over, clasping his hands tightly and glanced up at me once in a while. We had decided not to order him any food because that would have made me look even weirder in this situation, but I felt bad; he should be able to enjoy some warm pasta, especially since it had been his favorite restaurant.
“Yes, well that’s why I don’t tell anyone. Not even ghosts when I can help it. You’re a special case, though.” I gave him an encouraging smile, hoping he’d see it during one of his glances in my direction. I was on a date with a ghost, trying to help him find peace, being a little extra friendly with him wasn’t going to kill me. Probably.
He smiled tightly back. “Thank you for doing this, especially since I’m not sure this is my real unfinished business. It’s not like they give you a manual or something when you become a ghost. I wish they had. The last five years might have been a little less confusing.”
“Wait, you’re not sure this is your unfinished business?” I stole a glance at Brandon, hoping he could tell I was mad at him. He just grinned that stupid grin and made kissy faces.
“It was Brandon’s idea,” Josh shrugged, “after I told him I’d never even gone on a date. Oh, you didn’t realize that this might not be my unfinished business. I suppose you were hoping to get rid of me after we achieved this lifelong dream of mine.”
My heart melted at the sight of his face. He reminded me of a sad puppy who’d just gotten smacked by a slipper for piddling on the carpet. “Um, no, but yes. I just want to help you get to the next place, not that I want to get rid of you. You seem like a nice person. I’m sure more girls would have given you more attention had you had the courage to actually look at them for more than two seconds at a time.”
He probably would have blushed had he been capable, and I felt bad after I’d said it, but it was the truth and if I knew something someone else didn’t, it was my duty to tell them, right?
“Sorry. I’ll try to look at you more.”
I laughed but hoped it didn’t come out condescending. “No, it’s okay. That’s not what I meant. Just that confidence is really attractive and it is something you can mostly fake until you have it. Just pretend you’re confident. See how it feels.”
He raised his eyes and a small smile snuck across his face. With an encouraging smile from me, he sat up straighter and stopped fiddling his fingers. “It’s something I can certainly try, at least. I suppose you can tell I don’t have much confidence.”
“It’s okay. We’ve all gotta start somewhere. Tell me about the things you liked to do while you were alive. What were your hobbies?” I shifted my phone to the other ear since my arm had started to go numb.
Josh’s eyes lit up as he talked about movies and books he’d enjoyed. He seemed to almost forget to fake confidence as his passions overrode his uncertainty. Brandon eventually got bored and disappeared for a while. I was upset at myself for missing him, but relieved that I could focus more on Josh. This night was about him.
After dinner, we walked down the city boulevard towards the car that Josh haunted. It turned out to be his mom’s car and it was parked in front of their apartment, as it usually was every night. There were few enough people passing by that I didn’t feel the need to keep the phone to my ear. I just waited until they passed before speaking to Josh again.
“I’m glad I met you,” Josh said, a shy smile on his face. It was a little difficult to tell with his pale, grey coloring, but I thought that maybe he’d had warm brown eyes when he’d been alive. His previously dark hair was short and combed to the side.
“I’m glad, too.”
When we reached the car, he turned to me. “I feel good. My body feels lighter than I have in the last five years of being dead. I’m surprised I can feel my body at all.”
“That’s a good sign.” I gave an encouraging smile.
Josh looked down at his shoes for a moment and then, as if remembering my words, he squared his shoulders and looked me right in the eye. “I think the night is missing only one more thing.”
“Going on a date was a dream of mine, but it’s not quite complete without a kiss.”
“Wow, you are confident. I’m proud of you.” I had no idea how this was supposed to work, but I leaned in and gave a peck to his cheek. It felt like kissing a cold breeze. When I opened my eyes, he seemed to be glowing a bit.
He waved as light enfolded his body and absorbed him until he was gone. The car sat in front of me, no longer a haunt to a sad teenage ghost.
“That was sweet of you,” Brandon said, appearing at my side.
I had been expecting him so it didn’t startle me. “Yea, well, who could have said ‘no’ to that? Josh was a sweet kid. I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him a little bit more, but I’m glad he’s gone to wherever is next.”
“Right, well, good for him.” Brandon’s eyes rolled and he looked tense.
“What’s wrong with you? Are you jealous he’s gone and you’re not? I keep telling you I’ll help you with your unfinished business, but you never talk about it.”
Brandon frowned and looked all over the dark street, keeping his eyes from looking at mine. “I’m not jealous of that. I’ll just say it seems stupid that you had to kiss a ghost.”
He was gone as fast as he’d come, winking out in a second. Sometimes he was moody like that.
“Yea, that seems quite ridiculous,” I said to the empty air and turned away, walking to the nearest subway station.
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