The week after Miracle’s birthday we were all on our toes, anxiously waiting to find out the news from my sister who was subtly trying to find out what Lindsey saw. She didn’t find out much the first couple days since apparently Lindsey wasn’t around but on Wednesday she showed up for classes.
“I asked if she enjoyed my party and she said yes, she was really happy to be invited,” Miracle said Wednesday night. “I asked her what she liked the most, and she said playing ‘Just Dance’ was the best part. I didn’t want to, you know, seem all interrogating.” She reached down and start fiddling with the bracelet thing around her wrist. “I’ll talk to her some more tomorrow, or Friday. I really don’t want her to get more suspicious than she already might be. I swear, she is… CIA level suspicious.”
Since no one from BNRC had showed up to our house yet then I kinda assumed she hadn’t really told anyone though the idea she had been out of class for a couple days after the party worried me. “Does she make a habit of missing school?” I asked. Miracle just shrugged in response. She had never really paid much attention.
On Friday though, we did get more information. Miracle bounced into the house when she got home, beaming as much as I usually did. “Great news people!” she exclaimed, tossing her schoolbag aside and dropping dramatically onto the couch. “Talked to Lindsey again today and got what happened. I asked her about the scream directly. She said she thought she saw a mouse, that is why she screamed in the first place but then told me she saw a shadow moving from light in the window or something. She said she always had an overactive imagination and she laughed and said she was sorry for screaming.”
“Oh that is great!” Aunt Kaylee clapped her hands. “I guess she didn’t really get a good look at you, Chance.”
I nodded, but didn’t really agree. After all, I had seen her staring at me. I knew she had seen me, completely. And then she saw me under the bed. I wasn’t a shadow. So she was lying to my sister. Maybe she was just denying what she saw. That could be it. She saw me and refused to believe it so she was pretending it didn’t happen. That sounded logical.
I wasn’t sure if my aunts and sister really calmed down, but I certainly didn’t. I was more aware of people in the house than before, always making sure I remained in my room every second a friend was over. I didn’t peek out the curtains anymore either. Ghostbusters, real, I told myself every time I got the tempting feeling to look outside. I also started having more bad dreams but I didn’t tell my aunts that, I knew they would blame the fact I now knew about the whole ghostbusting thing. I really didn’t need sleep but it felt good, so I enjoyed it when I could get it. And didn’t like it when I couldn’t get it. So the bad dreams annoyed me, but oh well. Nothing I could really do about them.
I spent most the nights watching ghost movies. Curling up on the couch, my thumb in my mouth, my eyes on the TV. I wished I had some of these on DVD so I could watch them when I wanted or how often I wanted to. I really wanted to watch the Ghostbuster movies after finding out it was kinda real but they weren’t on. Drawback of just having to catch what I could on TV. I thought about asking Miracle to buy me copies but I wasn’t really sure if she would. She agreed with my aunts that it was bad for me to read or see the ‘stereotyping buttbrain crap’. ‘Ccording to my sister.
The week turned into two weeks then four, then more. Nothing noticeable changed, cause of Lindsey really. Thankfully. And then it was time for another birthday party but this one was smaller and just for family since it was for baby Alyssa, who was turning one year old. We couldn’t really invite much family though, because there was a lot of family and not much room. And I knew the reason not everyone could be there was because of me. A party out at Grandpa and Poppop’s house woulda been better since they had more room, but I of course couldn’t be there. I tried telling my aunts that it was fine and they should go, but they both insisted to just have it here. So on Alyssa’s birthday, Grandpa and Poppop came in. I was excited to see them but couldn’t help but feel guilty that more family couldn’t be there. We could have invited some people but Aunt Kaylee said she couldn’t invite one sibling and not another, so it was just her dads.
I heard them come in but didn’t really feel like going down. I was looking forward to seeing them but I was slow in leaving my room and heading down the stairs. I heard them exclaiming over Miracle and giving her attention, and then cooing over baby Alyssa who would soon get older. I drifted into the living room and smiled. Grandpa and Poppop beamed at me and soon Grandpa was swinging me up into the air while I laughed. One good thing about being a ghost, I guess, was that I didn’t weight much (Miracle said it was called mass) so even though I would be twelve soon, my grandpa could still lift me up high.
“Chance!” he said as he dropped me back to the ground. “Hey Bugaboo, how’ve ya been?”
“I’ve been good, Grandpa!” I said with an even bigger smile. I gave him a second hug, then turned to Poppop and hugged him. Poppop rubbed the top of my head.
“Hey kiddo,” he said. “Wow, you’re getting big. In a year you’ll be a teenager!”
“Makes a man feel old,” Grandpa said, shaking his head. “Bad enough when our kids turn into teens and now it’s grandkids.”
“One day, great-grandkids,” Poppop added with a wink. Grandpa rolled his eyes and Poppop laughed. “Your grandpa hates the fact he’s old,” Poppop told me in a dramatic whisper. “Always had.”
“Yeah, that’s not helping me, babe. Oh, hey, Chance. I got you something!” Grandpa then produced a small, wrapped box that I could tell was either a DVD or a video game. Most likely a video game. He handed it to me and I held it tightly.
“But it’s Alyssa’s birthday,” I said slowly. “She’s the one supposed to get presents.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t get something either,” he chuckled. “Hope you don’t already have it but it’s pretty new soooooo I didn’t think you would.”
I looked at Poppop as if to confirm it was okay and when he nodded, I ripped open the paper to find the new RPG that I really, really, really wanted but had been told as always I needed to save up for it. I gave a happy shriek and then threw myself at Grandpa, hugging him tightly and thanking him. He kissed my forehead and then looked very proud of himself. “I–I really wanted it, thank you so much,” I said, clutching the game. I couldn’t wait to start playing it. I had read some about it in the magazine that Aunt Kaylee had subscribed to for me and it looked aMAAAAAzing.
I was aching to play the game but I couldn’t yet. We had party stuff to do. Though there wasn’t much at all to do since Alyssa was still a baby. After a short time she was taken to the cake where Aunt Kaylee blew out the candles. Then Alyssa was set on the ground and she changed. I didn’t remember seeing a sparkle-change-thing before, since I had missed Miracle’s 13th birthday and I couldn’t really remember my own (though it wouldn’t be too long before I went through it to turn thirteen). Alyssa seemed to enjoy what was going on but after the sparkles disappeared, she didn’t remain on the floor long.
Waaaah! My baby girl!” Aunt Kaylee swept her up into her arms right away and began nuzzling her. “Ems!!! Looook!” She thrust out their now-toddler daughter, then she took in a deep breath. “AAAAIIIYYYBUENO! CAPICEASOMETHING! Hueeeehhhhhh!”
Aunt Emma folded her arms while Alyssa giggled. “Babe, what are you doing?”
“IT’S THE CIIIIIIRCLE OF LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE!” Aunt Kaylee sang.
“Our wedding vows are negotiable, aren’t they?”
“Nope!” Aunt Kaylee said brightly, pulling Alyssa back against her body. “But, if you really want to add something about me not singing Disney songs during important life events, then I really must include that you have to speak with a British accent. Always.”
Aunt Emma gave my granddads a look that obviously blamed them, then she grinned. “How about I serve the cake? Mira? Chance? Want some cake?”
It was super fun now that Alyssa was a bit older. My aunts were working on her talking skills which I happily helped with. She really liked me and would crawl after me wherever I went. Sometimes I would go through a piece of furniture or a wall and she would sit on the other side and either cry or laugh, depending on her mood. Then she would scream when I jumped out from the solid thing she couldn’t go through, and then laughed. It was so much fun and we’d spend hours doing this. Aunt Kaylee usually let us which was a great way to get out of doing homework. It was also a great distraction from the, uh, other matters at hand. The danger I could be in if anyone caught me.
I tried not to worry about that, after all I knew I was safe here as long as I was super careful. My family would protect me. I told myself that a lot especially at night when I was in bed and imagining all sorts of things like those horrible BNRC people sneaking into the house and coming for me with their… ghost trappy weapons. Sometimes, it was the guys from the movie coming to zap me into nothingness. There is no Chance, only Zuul.
Sometimes I checked under my bed just in case there was a ghostbuster there. I knew this fear was silly–I was safe here at home but it was still… made this annoying gnawing feeling in my stomach when I imagined them coming for me. This I didn’t even tell my sister. When she asked about my nightmares I shrugged her off, telling her it was the usual. This wasn’t quite a lie since they were usual. Now. I did NOT like lying to her, to anyone, but I was afraid if I told her then she’d tell my aunts and it would get out of hands. Aunt Kaylee said she was worried it’d scare me and Aunt Emma said she trusted me not to get scared so I had to be not scared.
I did some research when I could. One day I did all my homework nicely, only floating off once, and then Aunt Kaylee let me play on the computer. I played some games when she was around and as soon as she was out of sight I got onto the world wide web and went to a search place. I typed in the name. Bridgeport Netherworld Replacement Center. I found their homepage and went there, squinting at the pictures and words. I saw stuff like ‘We can handle your hauntings’ and ‘ghosts shouldn’t be a problem so let us help you’. There was a section talking about up and coming possibilities including that they thought within six months they’d be able to ‘return the poor spirits to where they belong–permanently’.
That was such a scary word. Permanent. I didn’t like it real much at all. Permanent was… well, forever. Forever on the other side, gone from my family and stuff. I wondered what it would be like. Sometimes–sometimes I had these sort of feelings… about the other side. The, uh, netherworld. Like I belonged there. Sometimes. It scared me a lot. It might have been part of my bad dreams.
I closed the BNRC page and went back to playing games, trying to ignore the thought of permanent-ness and being part of that permanent-ness.
My twelfth year came and went, and it wasn’t really much happiness at all. I no longer looked outside, let alone cracked open a window to feel the night on me. I didn’t want to risk getting caught so I was more… well, it kinda seemed like a cage with a cover on it. It was best for my family thought but sometimes–just sometimes–I wanted to go outside. I missed going outside so much, I couldn’t really remember how it felt to play in the sun. Sometimes I tried remembering. But usually it didn’t work. The time with Mama and Daddy, on the house with the horses seemed so long ago. Too long…
BUT then it was my thirteenth birthday! I was going to be a TEENAGER! Like Miracle! Not that her being a teenager was a good thing. She was dating someone. And I couldn’t meet him. I think the rule was gonna be, I couldn’t meet any of her boyfriends until she was all grown up and engaged, or planning on it, kinda like with Aunt Emma. There needed to be assurance of a lasting relationship. So I sulked in my room whenever she went on a date with this… boy. My aunts said he was a good guy. His name was Marcel Goth and he was from some rich and famous family. I saw his picture. I didn’t like him. She told me kissing him was great. That made me very angry especially since I couldn’t warn him not to hurt her.
Okay so she didn’t tell me, I sorta overheard it. But still. I didn’t like him.
In any case, I was gonna be thirteen and going through a big change in my life, one of the big ones. I was allowed to invite some family so I invited my grandpas of course, and cousin Amy since she was the only one of my cousins that seemed comfortable around me. My other cousins… I dunno, they seemed uneasy around me. I didn’t want to do that to them so I only invited Amy. She didn’t exactly like me a lot, but she seemed happy enough to come over for my birthday.
“Birthday boy!” Miracle said when I was finally allowed downstairs. I smiled at all the decorations then gave my sister a hug.
“It looks great, sis. Thanks. Thanks Aunt Kaylee, Aunt Emma.” I leaned in to kiss Alyssa who was sitting in her high chair. “Lissie. Thank you.”
“It’s the big ONE-THREE!” Aunt Kaylee said, rubbing my head so much my hat nearly fell off. “It’s a big day in a young kid’s life. I remember my thirteenth birthday. Wound up in the hospital. No wait. That’s when I had the baby.”
I laughed. “Thanks. When’s Grandpa and Poppop and Amy s’pposed to get here?”
“Any minute, Poppop called about two minutes ago to let us know they had got to Uncle Duncan’s house to pick Ames up,” Miracle said, flipping some hair back then patting my back. “Wanna shoot some hoops?” I looked at her curiously and she grinned. “Aunt Ems rented it. She thought you might like it. Come on!” She pulled me into the living room and where the chess table usually was now stood one of those basketball arcade thingies.
Soon she and I were taking turns tossing the balls into the nets. I was really bad but it was so much fun! I think Miracle purposely missed some hoops so my score wasn’t totally dismal next to hers, but I was so happy when she won. We just started another round when a car pulled up. Poppop, Grandpa, and Amy soon came into the house with their arms full of presents and balloons. They all gave me hugs then everyone except for baby Lissie tried out the hoop shooter. Best score went to Grandpa.
“Can’t beat these guns,” he said, flexing his muscles. I lifted my own arms and flexed as well, looking at my scrawny arms. Grandpa laughed. “Drink your milk and one day you’ll have big puppies like mine. Maybe work out a bit. I could teach you how to do some push ups or something. Impress the ladies.”
“Oh yeah, you’re impressing the ladies,” Poppop snorted. “All the blue-haired ladies in the grocery store just wear our their canes trying to chase you down, Casanova.”
“Mmmmhm. Stop pretending.” Grandpa flexed again. “You like this.”
Now I rolled my eyes and inched away since when they got like this it usually meant they’d wind up kissing, which was just completely gross. I really couldn’t figure out why anyone in their right mind would want to kiss someone else. It was pretty much swapping spit (and I heard it called that on TV and in movies). SPIT! SWAPPING! Who… could possibly want someone else’s spit in their mouth, even if they loved each other? No, nuh-uh. Not me. Not like Miracle kissing that stupid Goth boy. Aunt Kaylee and Aunt Emma said that very, very, very soon my mind would probably change about kissing. Nope. I was not gonna have anyone else’s spit anywhere near my mouth. If anyone ever tried to kiss me I’d just go not solid and I’d be safe.
“Yes well, we can discuss that later. In private.” Poppop leaned forward and–yep, he kissed Grandpa. “Stop flirting in front of the grandkids.”
“Stop flirting in front of the daughter!” Aunt Kaylee shrieked, flapping her hands.
“You flirt in front of Alyssa,” I said simply which caused Miracle to giggle.
“Yeah well, there’s a difference. Ems is hot. Dad is not. Ewwwww!”
“I hardly think Grandpa will care that his lesbian daughter thinks he’s attractive or not,” Amy said, rolling her eyes towards Miracle who grinned back.
“How about we stop talking about this sort of thing, it is Chance’s birthday,” Poppop said, hand on my shoulder now. I gave him a grateful look. This wasn’t the kind of conversation I really wanted to happen in my earshot. Flirting. Kissing. Yuck.
Amy, Miracle and I went back to shooting hoops and the winner kept alternating between my sister and my cousin. Then we played some video games before it was cake-and-sparkle time. We all went into the dining room and Aunt Emma presented the cake. After they all sang the birthday song I clapped happily and then thought of a wish. It wasn’t hard. I wish that my family stays safe, I thought and then blew out the candles.
The changing wasn’t as weird as I thought it was and then I was officially thirteen. It felt… taller. Other than that, I didn’t really feel much different at all. Miracle cut the cake while Aunt Kaylee got the ice cream, then we all sat down for the dessert. Alyssa was happy with her food, kicking in her high chair and asking for more as soon as she was done. When we were all done with food I could tell that Miracle and Amy wanted to go outside and play on the slip’n’slide so I picked Alyssa up and said she and I would play together.
“So you two can go and do whatever,” I said, smiling at both girls. I floated into the other room and plopped Lissie on the ground and started playing one of her baby smart games about matching colors. I saw out of the corner of my eye both Miracle and Amy had changed into their swimsuits and were running outside.
“You don’t need to do that you know.” Poppop came in and sat down on the couch, watching us.
“I like playing with Lissie,” I said.
“Chan-Chan!” Lissie squealed, hitting the ground with her hands. I grinned at her and pointed to the blue card. She began looking for the other blue card.
Poppop crossed his legs and gave a sigh. “The girls, I mean. Telling them you’d rather play with Lissie. I know you enjoy playing with her, but Amy doesn’t come over every day and you see Lissie every day. And that hoop game… it needs to go back in the morning. Why don’t you get Mira and Amy to play some hoops?”
“No, I like playing with Lissie.”
“Hey, Hal love?” he called into the other room. “Can you come and grab Lissie?”
Grandpa came in and scooped up Lissie. He looked at Poppop then at me. “Yep, she and I can go play upstairs. Let’s go, Lissie!” He swung her onto his shoulders and took off, neighing like a horse.
I began picking up the cards. “Poppop, you wanna shoot some hoops with me then?”
“No, I want you to sit down.” He patted the couch and after I put the cards up, I settled down next to him. “You know perfectly well what I meant, about the hoops, and Lissie. And Amy. You only wanted them to go do what they wanted. Bugaboo, it’s your birthday.”
“So they can’t have fun?” I asked.
“Chance. You know what I’m meaning. You’re smart.” Poppop leaned forward a bit, giving me a look. “You’re a teenager now. Your life is–“
“I’m dead, Poppop.”
He flinched and then sucked in air. “Your life is going to start changing. When I–when I was your age… I went along with what people around me told me to do. Especially my brother…” He trailed off and went very quiet for a moment. His brother, my great-uncle Zari, had passed away not too long ago so this must’ve been important if he was willing to mention him. “What Zari asked of me, I did. Especially when it came to dating. And Viola, I’d do what she wanted. It lasted for a long time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties before I ever really stood up for myself…” I saw his jaw harden and his eyes lower. “Because of my… desire to… make people happy… I went through some really bad times. I just–never liked to feel selfish. I know you like making the people who love you happy, and that is good. But Chance, you need to be selfish once in a while.”
“Okay, Poppop,” I said, beaming at him.
He stared at me then groaned, rubbing his face. “Jeez, Chance, why do you have to be so adorable? It makes it hard to talk to you about this. Okay. Listen to me, all right? I know you love your family, and that is important. Family is extremely important. Wanting to make people happy is great, but you can’t just give up everything for someone else. Doing stuff for the ones you love, that’s wonderful. But never, ever, ever feel guilty for asking for something in return occasionally, like playing an arcade game with your sister and cousin on your own birthday.” He blinked at me then sighed. “Oh Chance, sweetheart. I see a–a lot of me in you. Making others happy, I did that too. Because of that I let some really bad people… one… really bad person walk all over me. It just scares me that something–similar–might happen to you. Someone bad might hurt you.”
I shrugged. “It’s all right, Poppop. I won’t ever meet anyone anyway, so there’s no one to walk over me. I’m kinda in a c–uh, stuck here.”
“In a what?” he asked.
“Nothing, really. In a house. How about we shoot hoops?”
“Chance, when’s the last time you actually asked for something?” Poppop asked.
“Just now, with you, and the game,” I replied with a smile.
He groaned then laughed. “Well, you got me there. All right, let’s shoot hoops.” He got up and we went over to the game. I grabbed one of the balls and started the game. Poppop didn’t bring up the subject again. Thankfully. There was no point telling me all this because my family was all I had, all I would ever had. I was stuck in a cage with a cover over it. As much as part of me wanted to be free… it just wasn’t going to happen.