Ruth woke up me as usual, yanking me out of the grave. I blinked a bit, wondering what on earth she was babbling about and then I realized–I had been in the graveyard for a year now. On my sixteenth birthday, my family visited–this time with Grandpa and Poppop–and we had some cake a few blocks away from the cemetery. They all begged me to come home but I told them I was way too happy in the graveyard with my fellow ghosts. Later, Grandpa told me that those metal strips had been put up around the house and I was glad. Even if was only a teensy bit of protection I was very glad it was there.
Now, it was a full year since coming here. A year! I could hardly believe it. Ruth was super duper happy, flailing around and bobbing behind me. A lot of the ghosts were out, too, and they all cheerfully waved and most gave me hugs. Even Anabelle, the electrified girl who only ever told me to shut up, told me happy anniversary.
“I have a present for you,” Ruth said and dragged me over to a recently added grave. “Flowers! They’re for you.”
“Ruth, these belong to someone else!” I protested. “I can NOT just take these off the grave! It’s… robbing… Clara Pierce.” I read the name off the grave.
“She said it’s okay,” Ruth pouted and pointed over to a woman, a ghost I had never seen before. “She said she’s not dead and the flowers aren’t hers. So I want you to have them. As an anniversary gift. Oooh, it will be OUR anniversary soon! A year being together. Oh my, we should be married by now. A year. That is ten months longer than an engagement should have started.”
“I’m not taking her flowers,” I said with a smile.”But thank you.” I gave her a kiss and held her hand tightly. “I appreciate it. I’ll have to find a gift for you when we’ve been dating ten months too long.”
“Dating. Going out.” She giggled. “Goodness. Handcuff me, darling.”
I still wasn’t sure what handcuffing meant. I figured it meant… what guys and gals did… in private… which no… I was not… going to. Kissing was still totally weird and made me feel nothing. But I still really liked Ruth. I was happy being with her so I figured that was love. Or something close enough that we were gonna have an anniversary soon of dating. “How about a check, and we do some dancing?”
“I like the way you think.” She dragged me over to the CD player that was still buried. Well, this one was a new CD player. The other one had gotten dirt in it and I couldn’t get it cleaned. Miracle had brought me a new one not too long ago. As well as some new music. She had gotten me some music from before and after the flapper genre, but Ruth snubbed it all. Anything earlier was ‘fussy and ancient’, and anything after was ‘weird and too experimental’. By now, my family suspected I was going with someone but of course they couldn’t see her and… well, how on earth could I explain Ruth to someone who hadn’t met her? I did say she was a live wire, but they all just gave me looks. The looks they gave me every single time I used some of Ruth’s slang.
They were still struggling to understand me. Even after a year. They couldn’t see how happy it made me, being free and having friends. Maybe cause they couldn’t see my friends. But at least they let me stay. Though I was anxious to see the new baby. Aunt Kaylee was due to pop a second daughter out any day now. And in a few months Miracle would be going off to college. She wasn’t sure exactly where she was going, and what she was going to do, but her grades were good enough that she said she could be accepted at a lot of places. She just needed to make the decision.
“Maybe tonight will be the night.” Ruth’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
“Tonight?” she asked, moving my hands to her hips.
I gulped and quickly yanked my hands away. “Ah–ah–R-Ruth, I t-t-told you… um… uh…n… no. I said b-before…”
“You’re so silly,” Ruth said. “We’ve been almost a year together now. Most fellows would have been ready the day after we started.”
“I’m not m-most fellows!” I moved back even more, feeling my face tingling a bit from blushing so much, or what would be blushing if I had blood pumping in my veins. She wanted us to further our relationship. That was… that just sounded so… gross…
Ruth folded her arms tight and gave me a stern gaze. “You’re not at all, which is one reason I’m so crazy about you. But darling, a gal needs more than some petting and dancing.”
“M-maybe when I’m a b-b-bit older,” I stammered, feeling worse and worse with the nonexistent-blushing.
“You won’t be getting any older though!”
I just gave her a distant smile. I had told her on my sixteenth birthday that it was, well, my birthday. She had responded with the only important date was a deathday. Apparently that wasn’t true with the way she was acting about this anniversary. “I’m not… ready,” I said again. I had no idea how to explain to her how I felt. I didn’t dare telling her that even now necking was kinda weird. “You know how much I love you, Ruth. I just don’t… w… that… j-just… I mean… I…”
She gave me a kiss, cutting off my words. “It’s fine, darling. A gal has urges as much as any guy. I just… happened to pick a guy without so many urges.” She stopped and then shook her head. “But you’ll get urges. All men do. Now, let’s dance.”
Miracle leaned against the hood of the car, knocking the heel of her shoe against the tire. She hadn’t said a word except just a ‘hey, how are ya’. I fidgeted, not wanting to tell her I really couldn’t stay too much outside the cemetery. I felt safe in there. Just when I was about to say something, she decided to talk.
“I’m leaving in a few months.”
I blinked a few times then shifted my weight, my heel now kicking against the ground. “Why? Where?”
“College,” she answered. “I’ll be eighteen soon and then… well, college. I’ve made my decision. I’m going to APU.”
“Appaloosa Plains University. I want to be a vet.” She beamed. “I want to help animals. I’ve already applied, and have been accepted.”
“Since when have you wanted to be a vet?” I asked with raised eyebrows. “I thought what’s-his-face wanted to–oh.”
“Don’t you dare ‘oh’ me, my decision has nothing to do with Jeff Post.” Her face went red and I smirked. “Stop it. It has nothing to do with him! Jeff… loves animals and… helped me realize I love animals too. I’m accepted anyway. Maybe not a vet-vet, but a nurse for animals. Or something. I mean, I don’t think I could put an animal down but I could help and stuff.” She tucked some hair back and moved closer to me. “Anyway, so I’ll be going to APU and that means moving to Appaloosa Plains. And I want you to come with. I talked to the aunts, they said if you wanted to, you might as well.”
“To Appaloosa Plains?” I whispered in shock. I had never considered moving so far away. Or moving at all.
“To the graveyard there!” She grabbed my wrists and held tightly. “We could be close. The aunts agreed, too. With the new baby they’re so busy.” I nodded, as they hadn’t had much time to come visit me. They did when they could but I could tell by the bags under their eyes how little sleep they were getting. “I want you to come. Please, Chance? Then–then the aunts won’t have to worry about you.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sis!! You’re my sis! How many girls want to go off to college with her dorky little brother in tow?”
“How many girls have ghostly little brothers?” she retorted. “Come on… come with me.”
“I–I don’t know…” I looked back in the direction of the graveyard. “Ruth… and I are… close. I don’t wanna just drop her.”
“Same girl you’ve been with?” she inquired and I nodded. “Must be pretty serious. You two… uh…?”
I blinked again. “Wh…? OH! N-no! No! EW no!”
“Ew?” Miracle covered her mouth, laughing. “Watcher, Chance, you’re sixteen. Sex makes you say ‘ew’? Most sixteen-year-old guys are dogs.”
“I’m not most guys. I’m kinda dead here. Maybe…” I stopped and pressed my lips close. Miracle just watched me intently until I gave in. “Maybe things are just super different for me. I–I don’t even really like kissing, I mean, it’s all right and stuff, but I guess I thought I’d feel something–and the other ghosts say you do and Ruth, she certainly does, but I dunno, maybe I can’t. The other ghosts were once alive but not me.” I bowed my head and closed my eyes tight. “Maybe I can’t feel anything properly. Maybe I just imagine I am. Maybe–OW!” Miracle punched my arm hard without me knowing it was coming. “The hell was that for?!”
“You can feel,” she said with a half shrug.
I punched her then rubbed the spot she had hit, going all not-solid so she couldn’t hit me again. “I was talking about EMOTIONS, you brat!”
“You’re angry at me?”
“Yes, you HIT m–ah. Oh. Very funny. Very clever.” I tried scowling but she just giggled and tried to rub my hair but her hand went through. “Stop it.”
“You’re just too adorable.”
“Am not! Ruth thinks I’m a shiek.”
“Yeah, no clue what that is and if your girlfriend thinks it, I don’t wanna know.” She held her hands up with a laugh. “You and your slang. I swear. It’s as bad as those kids at school with their fo shizzle and whatever. I need a translator. But yeah, you can totally feel emotions and stuff. Why would you say you can’t?”
I shrugged. “I don’t really feel much of anything when kissing.”
“But, you care about her?” she asked and I nodded. “You want to spend time with her, and all that stuff?” I nodded again. “Maybe you like her and don’t like-like her.”
“I told her I loved her…”
Miracle coughed loudly. “Chance, saying it and actually feeling it are two completely different things. You can really care about someone but not love them. Love… and uh, other types of caring, are–hell… this is complicated… Look. If you loved her, you’d know. you know when you played a video game you enjoyed, and then played a video game you loved? You liked playing the one game, had fun, enjoyed it, wanted to play through… but when you’d play one you love it’s different. That’s a stupid comparison to love but the only thing I can think to explain to you.”
I pushed my hair back and sighed. I kinda understood what she meant. It made sense. I felt about Ruth differently than I did other people, but she was my first real non-family friend. The feeling though… might not be the love I was confusing it for. “How can I tell for sure, though?” I asked. “I’ve been dating her for–for a year.”
“And you still feel nothing when you kiss her? I don’t think… you have… those sort of feelings for her, then. That’s my personal opinion, though. Kissing is amazing. Like, seriously amazing. It can be.”
I looked at the sky, mulling over what she said then saying, “I kinda feel empty. Like, there’s nothing there. Maybe it’s not that I don’t feel love, but that physical actions have… no effect…” I knew that wasn’t true though. Sometimes I felt things. Longings, desires. Stuff I didn’t know quite what was, like shadows in the distance or something. “Or maybe I’m just too young. No, I know, others–but… I’m not others, as been stated a lot.” I straightened up and smiled at Miracle. “I think I will maybe stay with Ruth. Even if I don’t love her she’s still my good friend. And I have other friends here.”
“But… I want you to come with me…” Miracle gave me sad eyes and I winced, feeling super guilty. “I’m your sister. You need me. I need you. We’re… all we have, Chance.”
“No.” Her hands slid onto mine, gripping tightly. “Mom and Dad are gone. It’s my duty to take care of you. I’m not doing the best job with us apart like this and if I’m over in Appaloosa Plains and you’re here then it’s even worse.”
“I’ll think about it. Okay?”
It was difficult to think about though. Every time I thought about going with Miracle, I would think about how much I liked Ruth. Liked, though. It wasn’t love. Was it? This wasn’t fair!!!! Love should be… obvious. Like, when I looked at Ruth if I loved her then there should be a big neon sign over her or something. How could I possibly tell otherwise and know it is love, and not just… UGH I was tired of trying to deal with this.
“Hey baby.” Ruth came over to where I was sitting in thought. “You’ve been awfully quiet and just sitting here… Everything Jake?”
“Yeah, just kinda thinking about things.” I gave her a smile. “Can I ask you something?”
She lit up a cig and settled next to me. “Anything, darling.”
“Do you… love me?”
“I say it, don’t I?”
“Th-that’s not the same, is it?”
Ruth lowered her hand and dropped her freshly started cig. It smoldered on the ground for a second before fading into nothing. “No, why? Oh, applesauce. There goes my smoke. Butt me?” She offered me her lighter. I obediently lit up her second one.
“Secondhand smoke is death too,” I said.
She blew the ring out into the sky. “Good thing we’re all dead as doorknobs here. What’s all this about love, baby? Thinking about handcuffing me?”
I shuddered a bit. “N-no, I’m not ready for th-that.”
“Suit yourself. Darling, do you love me? Is that why you’re asking me?” She gave me a lidded look and what I knew to be her seductive smile.
I gripped the edge of the bench and stared down at my lap. “I don’t know. I care about you. You’re my friend. I–I like making you happy.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Is that… love…?”
She shrugged and got up, offering a hand. “Hard to tell. Let’s dance?”
“Bu–but wait–I just–you don’t–“
Ruth laughed and pulled me to my feet, planting a kiss on my lips. “Don’t worry about it! You’ll just make yourself confused.” Her hands slipped downwards, grabbing my butt. I gulped but she was speaking again. “Relax. If you love me, you love me. No point in… what’s it called? Over-analyzing the issue?”
“Uh–well–I s-suppose I… I…”
“Good.” Another kiss and she yanked me towards the CD player. “Let’s dance.”
I was very pulled in both directions over the next coupla weeks. Part of me did want to go to Appaloosa Plains with my sister. I wanted to travel, and see different places–even if the other places were graveyards. On the other hand, there was Ruth and my other friends. But who was to say I’d stay at the Plains? I could live out there (or exist out there) for a while then come back. Would Ruth be mad? Cause more and more I was thinking I didn’t love her. But that didn’t mean it was ok to just up and leave.
Miracle asked me again, just before summer started. She had just turned eighteen and seemed pretty anxious I go with her. Actually, she seemed scared I wouldn’t. She said Ruth could come too but I had to explain to her Ruth was locked into the graveyard. At least, an area around her grave. “She can go outside the graveyard but not too terribly far, only a few blocks any way,” I told her.
Miracle gave me a rather dark look. “Chance, come with me. It’d be better–you’re gonna be seventeen in a few months. Don’t you want to meet other people? It’d almost be like college for you. And I could share my books with you. Stop making that face, I know you hate studying but… I mean, I dunno. I just thought you might like it.”
“For four years, away from here…? Or could I come back sooner if I wanted?”
Miracle pushed her hair back and shrugged. “Sooner if you wanted, but vet school takes longer. I have to get a Bachelor’s first, I’m thinking maybe Biology. It will take maybe 8ish years, hopefully less.”
“Eight years?” I gasped. “Eight years… a–apart…?”
“My point exactly.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered. Eight years, only seeing my sister when she visited home. I really didn’t like the thought of that. She was right, we were all we had in a sense. “ARGH this is so confusing!” I gripped my hair and tugged a bit. “I don’t know what to do. Mira–I don’t know.”
“You don’t love her.”
“Whoa, excuse me?” I tried my newly practiced angry scowl but she just giggled and rubbed my head. “You don’t know how I feel. About Ruth, or anything. You’re just a Mrs. Grundy!… Look, I don’t know. All right? I–I have some time to think about it, and even if I don’t come with you now, there’s always next semester, or the one after that…”
Miracle sighed and then gave me a one-armed hug. “True. Just, really think about it. Closely and stuff. All right, little bro?”
“Mmm.” I watched her leave and then returned to the graveyard. Ruth was dancing, her skirt and necklaces swishing as her arms and legs flew. I beamed at the sight of her and she flashed a grin back. Once the song was over she reached out and I drifted over, taking her hands to dance with her. We flew around for a few songs then turned the CD player off to go neck for a bit. Her fingers ran over my body, eventually tugging at my pants. I protested, and she giggled.
“So silly,” she murmured in my ear. “I’ll stop. But really, I don’t see why you protest so much about… intimate issues.”
“I–I’m too young…”
“We’re ghosts, darling.” She touched my jaw, then my cheek. “I really don’t understand why you are so prudish. You would have adored my parents. They felt barney-mugging was…” She trailed off then got up. “You’re frightened of it, are you?”
“I d-don’t even know what barney-mugging is,” I answered.
She whirled around with a smug smile. “Sex.”
“Th-then what’s… handcuffing? Another w-word for it?”
She laughed. “In a way. Means getting engaged. Marriage. Ah, darling, if you lived when I did we would have been a wonderful couple.”
“I don’t even know if I l… love you…”
“I know. Does it matter? We have great fun together, that’s what matters.”
“Love… is important… for marriage…”
Ruth put her hands on her hips and kept smiling. “Chance… I don’t think love’s the point here. No, no, don’t say anything. You know, I’ve been thinking about things. Us.”
I began chewing at my bottom lip. “I’m being dumped, aren’t I?”
“Dump…? You mean, no longer being together?” she asked and I nodded. “No. Don’t want to do that, Chance. I’d like to be your gal. I just said we have great fun, that matters more than love. Great dancing, great petting. Only downside to you… well, the two downsides to you are not smoking, and no sex.” She sat back down on the bench and stretched her legs out. “Gal can’t ask for everything, though. Dancing is as good as sex for me. Three out of five, sounds like a winning ticket.”
“Three? You only s-said two things.”
Ruth gave me that seductive smile again. “You’re sweet, Chance. A sweet kid. There used to be six things on my list but money doesn’t matter now that I’m dead.”
I drummed my fingers against my thigh. “Love’s not on your list?”
“No. Love’s a fairy tale. Some girls get it, I never did.” She out her hand on mine, squeezing. “Chance, love is high on your list, isn’t it?” I nodded slowly. “Ah. Guess we’re over? I don’t suppose dancing is as important to you…”
“I l-like you.”
“I like you. But…” She pulled my hands close to her chest. “Times change. Just rather hoped the future would be a little more free with their sexuality.”
“Well, I think some people are,” I told her then winced, as I knew this wasn’t helpful at all. “I’m not. I just–I–this is my first time. W-with a relationship. I’m–not–…”
“Darling, we’ve been going together for a year,” she chuckled then bent forward to give me a kiss. “And you know, I think I know the real problem.”
“I’ve known a guy or two like you.” She let go of my hands to get her cig.
“Mmm-hmm. One or two, really. One in particular. Ahh, Herman, now he was such a wonderful fellow. Always treated me right, when we were together. But like you… he never…” She stopped and flicked the ash on the floor. “Not important, though.”
“But wh-what do you mean?”
She gave me another kiss and I could practically taste the smoke. “You’ll figure it out, darling. If you don’t, though, then feel free to come back to me. But really, it’s not important… all that matters is our friendship? We’re still friends and dance partners, right?”
I perked up a bit. “Yes. I–I hope so. As long as I’m here.”
“I was wondering when you’d wander off again. I was hoping you’d be willing to stay here, but a Wanderer’s a Wanderer.”
I had forgotten about that. They all viewed me as a wandering ghost. I wondered how long Wanderers stayed in one place. We didn’t have any of them here, and it’d be kinda weird if I asked how long Wanders stayed around. But it did give me an excuse to leave–was I looking for one? An excuse? Maybe I was. And now Ruth was giving me the checkered flag. “I might not wander off,” I said.
“You want to, though. Don’t you? You’re thinking about leaving. I can tell. Please don’t lie to me, baby. No matter what is going on, don’t lie to me.” She put her hand on my knee and squeezed. “Please?”
“I’m thinking about it,” I let out and she nodded. “But I don’t want to leave you.”
“Mmm.” She settled back, her hand sliding up a bit higher but thankfully still far from my,um, stuff. “Don’t let me keep you here. I was fine before you got here, I’ll be fine when you leave. Though… that will mean no more dancing, I suppose. But I might just Drift awhile. I need some good beauty sleep.”
“Go.” She put her arms over my shoulders as she kissed me hard on the lips and then pulled back, eyes sparkling. “I want you to be as happy as you made me, and you’re not going to find that here. I know that. So go, Chance. Wander, find what makes you happy. But come and visit the old girl once in a while, all right?”
It was like something heavy being lifted up off of me and I couldn’t stop the big smile that crossed my face. “All right,” I agreed, and suddenly felt super excited to see what Appaloosa Plains had in store for me.