There are 3 things you should know about me.
My name is Leo.
I like words.
And I am dead.
You’re probably wondering how exactly I died, but at this point it’s pretty irrelevant.
I like that word.
Only one thing is relevant now, and that thing is named Emily.
She was crying again.
Third night in a row since she’d moved in.
Not just dainty little sniffles and sighs as she silently watered her pillow.
No, this was full out ugly crying with sobs that shook the whole bed, shook the whole apartment.
She cried as though her heart was breaking, which it probably was.
Nobody ever cries like that unless their heart is breaking.
I would know.
I sighed. So much for keeping my existence a secret. I couldn’t stand listening to her cry anymore.
It was starting to get annoying.
“Hey, what’s wrong,” I said it in the most soothing voice I could manage.
“Hey, shhhh, shhhh, hey, it’s ok! Shhh, shhhh, you have to stop screaming, shhhhh.”
She did not shhhhhh.
I sighed, materializing in front of her.
“Look,” I waved my hand and attempted to smile. “Look, it’s ok. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“WHAT ARE YOU,” she shrieked.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m the personification of your mental breakdown Emily.”
With that she took a shuddering breath and was quiet. “Oh.”
“Just kidding. Although therapy might not be the worst idea in the world,” I gave her a judgmental glance, taking in the mascara dripping down her face. “Anyway, I’m Leo. A ghost of sorts, if you believe that sort of thing.”
“So you’re dead?”
“How’d you die?”
“Don’t want to talk about it.”
“And you used to live….. here?”
“Still do, in my own dead little way.”
She gave a nervous little laugh and it gave me a weird unpleasant feeling in my stomach. Not quite butterflies…..
More like hoards of angry rabid bats.
I cleared my throat uncomfortably. “I’m going back to sleep now. Good night.”
“Wait!” She was pleading, apparently so desperate for company she didn’t mind that I very well might’ve just been a figment of her own imagination. “Why do you have to sleep? You’re dead right?”
At this point my patience was wearing thin, impressive seeing as how I had no patience to begin with. I sighed. “As the saying goes; ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’. It’s a matter of want, not need. And a matter of whether the current resident of your house is quiet enough to let you fall asleep in the first place”
She shrugged apologetically, suddenly looking tiny in her bed, surrounded by blankets and pillows.
“I can’t sleep,” she whispered. “Besides, I like talking to you.”
“That’s nice. Know what I like? Sleeping.”
And with that, I dematerialized, disappearing as easily as I’d appeared.
She was quiet for a long time, finally adjusting herself out of a sitting position and laying back down.
The crying started a few minutes later, quieter now, gently rocking the bed back and forth.
Eventually the crying slowed and finally stopped, but her sleep was fitful.
Slowly sneaking out from under the bed and into the bed with her, rematerializing so I could wrap my wispy arms around her, holding her together, letting the simple hug work its healing magic; calming her breathing, relaxing the tension. She rolled around, nuzzling into me and sighing contentedly.
The rabid bats in my stomach were stirring up a tornado at this point.
I wondered absently what that could possibly mean, before pushing the thought away.
Even if it meant what I thought it meant, which it had better not, it wouldn’t matter.
Over the next few days I learned a few things.
I learned that the crying wasn’t a one time thing but something that happened every night. We didn’t talk anymore after that first night, but she tried to keep the volume down and I tried to help her sleep better by crawling in with her.
That’s what she was.
That’s probably what I was too, but this wasn’t something I was doing for me.
I learned the rabid bats weren’t a one time thing either. They seemed to get worse any time Emily was in the room, or in my thoughts, or in my arms…….
Maybe that’s what I was.
Like I was before I died, but this time I was allergic to Emily instead of peanuts.
Yeah. That made sense.
I was allergic.
Something was different.
She was dancing around her room, and she never danced.
“Oh, Leo, Leo, guess what!”
She didn’t wait for a reply.
“So there’s this guy, Norman, right?”
I immediately decided I don’t like this new word or any of the mushy-gushy feelings implied in the way she said it.
“He was my best friend in high school before he moved away and we got out of touch. But he’s in town for a few weeks and he wants to meet up at the movie theater tonight but, oh Leo!”
She twirled round and round, collapsing on the bed with a dreamy sigh.
“The way he said it. Almost like it’s a date. I think he likes me,” she trailed off whispering near the end, leaving me straining to hear, but then let out an awful girly squeal that made my ears bleed and my heart ache.
“Oh, Leo, I’m so happy! I can’t even believe…. I mean, this is probably nothing. He wouldn’t like me. I’m just getting my hopes up. I’ve just liked him for so long and now that there’s the slightest chance he likes me I’m getting all flustered.”
“Like you have rabid bats in your stomach,” I nodded glumly.
“What? Bats? Why…? Oh. Oh! OH! You’re right!! The annual Haunted Masquerade Ball at Batterling Hall is next week!! Oh my gosh, how could I forget? Oh my gosh, you’re right. Oh my gosh, do you think…..? WHAT IF HE ASKS ME???” She screamed her joy into her pillow.
That wasn’t what I meant but my heart broke a little more, remembering the town's yearly tradition, imagining how much she’d always wished she could go, realizing how much I wished I could take her……..
“Oh, gosh, my heart is pounding. Deep breaths, calm down. Gosh, I need to get ready.”
She bustled about, so flustered and excited that everything took twice as long as usual.
I stayed silent, sulking, wondering why my chest ached so much.
She didn’t get home until 2 in the morning. I watched out the window as she sat in her parked car, FaceTiming the guy she’d just spent the past 8 hours with.
No, I didn’t like that word.
It was a ridiculous word, and an even more ridiculous thing to be.
I turned away from the window and dematerialized before she could catch me spying.
A door slammed.
She was tiptoeing up the stairs.
She was…. crying?
Not just dainty little sniffles and sighs as she silently watered her pillow.
No, this was full out ugly crying with sobs that shook the whole bed, the whole apartment.
Or, at least it would’ve been, but she was covering her mouth, trying to keep it in, trying to be quiet because she knew I’d be annoyed.
I didn’t like that word either, but in this case, in my case, I grudgingly had to admit it was true.
I sighed, materializing and wrapping her in my arms.
She let loose, crying as though her body was desperately trying to drown itself.
I lost track of time, but she cried for hours.
All I did was hold her.
Eventually she calmed down, but my hold didn’t loosen.
“He has a girlfriend,” she whispered, sniffling a little. “I’m so stupid, I should’ve known…..”
No, Emily was lots of things but stupid wasn’t one of them.
Wonderful and Beautiful and Talented, maybe, but not Stupid.
“You’re not stupid.”
“I just thought maybe he liked me back.”
She shook her head, laughing to avoid more tears.
“You don’t care.”
“You don’t even understand what it’s like. Loving someone so much for so long only to have them be in love with someone else.”
My heart gave a little tug, but I didn’t say anything.
I did know that feeling all too well.
It was rabid bats and butterflies.
It was conveniently being able to disappear at any given moment to hide how hard and fast I was falling for her.
It was my least favorite word of all.
Always and forever, loving her unconditionally knowing that she’d never feel the same.
A week later, she was gone at the store stocking up on ice cream, ready to spend the night alone watching sad movies in a twisted attempt to cheer herself up.
Meanwhile I was busy, getting her room ready.
One way or another, she was getting her dance.
Maybe not with Norman like she’d wanted, but at least with me there would be an actual ghost at her Haunted Masquerade Ball, and that was almost just as good.
She gasped, when she walked into the room, taking it all in. The homemade decorations, the fairylights I’d fixed with some rewiring, and the bouquet of origami flowers I was holding out to her.
“Leo? What’s all this?”
“I wanted you to get your dance.”
Her eyes were filled with tears. “You did all of this for me?”
I shrugged. “I want you to be happy.”
She laughed. “I am happy! Oh, Leo.”
She threw her arms around me, holding me tight as I held her gently.
That was a good word, wasn’t it?
Then why did it make me so sad?
“You’re such a good friend. I love you.”
I’d already given so much of it to her, I felt what was left of my heart shatter to pieces.
There was nothing left of it for me anymore.
It was all hers.
As it should be.
“I love you too.”