Miracle stared at nothing for quite a long time. Mr. Baird was next to her on the couch but he was quiet, letting her deal with her thoughts without interruption. She was still working out what to do. Chance had basically run away and there was very little she could do to find him. He was probably halfway across the stupid country by this point, wandering around and smiling and probably getting into trouble like the idiot he was.
Miracle rubbed her eyes. “I’ll go and start looking for him… at your church. I need to talk to my aunts though. And drop out of my classes. I need to find him.”
“My family and I will do all in our power to help you and yours.”
Miracle looked over at the man. She despised people like him. There was very little good in this world, just the Grim Reaper who went around and took people away. Just people like her damn father who abandoned them. And now Chance had done it. She began to feel angry again. Why had he run off? Why didn’t he just–just–
“GRRRRGGGH!” she growled and kicked the coffee table. “HE’S SUCH A JERK! How could he abandon me? HOW?!” She turned to look at Mr. Baird. “How?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. I’m really sorry.”
“Our father left us, a year after our mother died. Now he’s gone and left me, abandoning me just like our dad did.”
Mr. Baird shifted a bit, obviously thinking as he remained silent for a few seconds. “Ma’am,” he finally said which made her want to punch him through the teeth, “I personally don’t believe your brother wishes to abandon you. Those who desire to truly abandon their loved ones rarely leave notes such as this one.”
“No they just say goodbye and leave, but since he wasn’t around to say goodbye he had to leave it in a note.”
“A note he had no way of knowing whether to get to you or not,” he reminded her and she did hit him them, as hard as she could in the arm. That side of his body jerked back and he pressed his opposite hand against the now-sore spot.
“Don’t tell me what’s going on in his head!” she snapped. “You have no idea what he was like. Nobody knows what was going on in his head! He’s just–he–he was never happy with us, he always wanted to leave, to be… to be…” Free. Tears welled up in her eyes as she had an image of herself as an old woman without anyone around her. Her brother was gone, and had never wanted to stay. She knew perfectly well she hadn’t always treated him as well as she should. But she tried her best and all siblings fought sometimes–heck, just this past summer she had seen Aunt Kaylee give Aunt River a noogie, and Aunt River call Aunt Kaylee a birdbrain and they were adults.
Maybe I shouldn’t have ever agreed to him staying in his room, she thought, chewing at a fingernail. But it had been his idea… but still, it had been stupid of her to agree. Why had she? Oh yeah, she realized. I was a kid and stupid and only thinking about wanting friends… She wished she could change things. If she had Chance back she’d be a perfect sister and do everything for him and never fight him. Except if he came floating through that door right this minute she’d probably grab him and shake him and yell at him for being such a moron.
The door opened and in came Aunt Kaylee. She stopped when she saw Mr. Baird. “Hello, I wasn’t sure if we had company or not–I wasn’t sure if the car out there was for a neighbor. Are you a classmate of Mira’s?” She knelt down to get her younger daughter out of her coat and shoes.
Mr. Baird stood up. “No ma’am. I’m actually from Green Valley.”
“Oh, that’s hours away! Do we know you…?”
“My Aunt Kaylee’s married to a woman,” Miracle said, just to invoke some sort of response from Mr. Baird. Kaylee lifted her eyebrows, little Ellen giggled, and Mr. Baird’s lips moved into something that looked more like a smirk than anything.
“Mira!” Aunt Kaylee exclaimed. “Wh–I–er–“
“You see, I’m an assistant pastor and I don’t believe your, ah, niece appreciates my calling in life.” He offered his hand as Kaylee stood up and they shook. “Miss Danevbie,” he added as he looked at Miracle, “my church is one that believes in respect and love of the Watcher and the Grim Reaper,” Reaper’s dirty laundry, Miracle thought at that, “and all those around us. My only thought towards what you just said is gladness that your aunt has found someone to love and marry, and have beautiful children with…?” This was a question, directed towards Ellen.
Kaylee picked her up. “Yep, this is my youngest–Ellie. Well, Ellen. And Lissie–er, Alyssa–is in kindergarten. So, um. Mr….”
“Oh! Baird. Elijah Baird.”
“Mr. Baird, what can I do for you…?”
And then Kaylee sat down and listened to his story, and read the note. She didn’t cry though she held onto Miracle’s hand who found the whole thing growing annoying. She felt so much anger towards Baird she wanted to kick him again. It wasn’t his fault, but… Don’t shoot the messenger, she thought, then didn’t care about that saying. She wanted to. At least, she wanted to kick the messenger. Once he was done and Kaylee absorbed all this, Miracle began talking.
“I’m going to drop my classes and head out that way. I’m going to start looking for him.”
“No–Mira–I don’t want you dropping out of college, I doubt Chance would either,” Kaylee said rather absently.
“You can’t tell me what to do,” Miracle said. “It’s not your money either. Mom and–Dad–put it in the bank for me. It’s mine. Not yours.”
“It’s college money, and you’re not allowed to do anything with it other than college funds until you’re twenty-five,” Kaylee pointed out. “Now look. It’s been a couple weeks. Chance could be anywhere.”
“Or he might be in the graveyard of the church, sleeping!” Miracle cried out. Why was her aunt doing this?! Didn’t Kaylee want Chance back, too?
“My nephew… is… ah…” Kaylee struggled to explain but Miracle snorted.
“I already told him Chance is a ghost. He’s probably sleeping blissfully in one of the graves.” It was grasping at straws and she knew it. Chance most likely was miles away from the little church that the idiot Baird came from. “At least, it’s a starting point. We can’t let him wander around. We have to find him.”
“Mira. You’ve known for years he’s unhappy in a forced settling!” Kaylee stood up and held onto her niece’s wrists. “He hated living here, he was so happy when he moved from here to Appaloosa Plains and obviously he’s happy moving around! He’s like his Uncle Simon.”
Miracle shook her head. “NO! No! No he’s not! And–Uncle Simon–settled down–“
“Your Uncle Simon is currently traipsing across the Australian outback with his wife and kids!” Kaylee said loudly, and Miracle scowled. “In any case, Chance likes people. He likes meeting people. He doesn’t want to be locked up in one place. He needs to get out and about. I’ve… I was kinda selfish before when I wanted him here. Would I rather have him here? Yes. I would. But he is eighteen, and even if he was a living person and here right this second, if he wanted to walk out that door and see Simnation he could and we couldn’t do anything to stop him.”
Miracle yanked her arms free as roughly as she could. “So you want him to just go. Leave us. Like my dad did. Everyone just–leaves me! I HATE IT! I HATE IT!” She pushed past her aunt and ran upstairs as fast as she could, throwing herself onto her bed and sobbing. She heard voices downstairs and then a door shutting; Baird must’ve left. At some point Kaylee knocked at her door but Miracle ignored it. By the time dinner was ready, Miracle was ready to go downstairs. But she had made a decision. After all, she was over eighteen too, and there’s nothing her aunts could do to stop–
“What the hell is he doing here?!” Miracle stared at Baird who was slipping Ellie into her high chair. Baird looked at her a bit guiltily.
“Mira, he’s staying in town a couple nights and traveled overnight to get here,” Kaylee said. “The least we can do is offer him dinner.”
Miracle flounced to a chair and sat down, scowling at Mr. Baird who took the seat across from her. He offered a smile and she glowered back. Then realized, she was going to need his help at least a little bit. If she were going to go to Green Valley and start her search for Chance there. So she stopped scowling. She didn’t smile, but she stopped scowling. As much as she didn’t like it, Baird was gonna have to be her ally.
The next day there was a big discussion with Grandpa and Poppop involved. Baird was there, offering up what little he knew of the situation. Miracle just remained quiet. They all came to the decision to give Chance his stupid freedom for a while, and to do research on people who could help find him eventually. All the ghost hunting sites were negative feelings about ghosts. I could’ve told them that, Miracle thought then followed Baird out onto the porch when he left.
“Gimme your address,” she said flatly.
The surprised look was completely faked, she could tell. “What for? Your aunts have it.”
“Mmm. I’m coming there soon, once I drop out of my classes.”
He pulled some paper out of a pocket and began scribbling. “You could come with me if you like, I’m staying in town for a few more days. Though I really don’t think you should abandon your education.”
“What would you do if it were your brother?”
“Now. That, I cannot say.”
“Because you don’t have one?”
He handed her the address. “I have one, and a sister. But neither are ghosts. Both are living, quite healthily–thankfully–and it’s one thing to say I understand your situation, it’s another to actually truly understand it completely.”
She scowled at him, his attitude rubbing her the wrong way. “So you’re saying you can’t understand what I’m going through.”
“I cannot, not completely. I understand a little. I know it must feel so painful not to know where your brother is. It must be lonely as well, especially with you feeling one way about what should be done and your family thinking another.” He reached up and lightly brushed his bangs from his eyes, looking deeply into hers. “The law says when one is eighteen, they are of an age to do as they please. Live on their own or travel, marry and everything. No permission from their guardians. When I was eighteen, I went to Italy.”
“Did you now.” She wasn’t interested in this at all.
“I thought myself… rather like I imagine your brother thinks of himself. I wanted to go where I wanted, and be on my own. I filled a backpack with my things and left.”
Baird laughed and lifted his hands, palms upward. “Six weeks into the summer, I had spent all my money, was sleeping in a sleeping bag in a farmer’s barn in exchange for doing chores, and came down with a certain sickness that’s not pleasant to discuss. I called my parents and they came and got me. Spent many days over a bucket, puking my guts out and regretting ever leaving.”
“I suppose there’s a moral to this story,” she spat out.
Baird blinked at that. “Er, no, but if you really want one I could make one up.” Her lips twitched at that then they turned downward as he grinned and pointed, saying, “Ahh! A smile, or the possibility of one.”
“You’re an idiot,” she said, folding her arms.
“I’ve been called worse.” He pushed his bangs back and took a step away from her. “I added the number to my cell on there. If you want to go back to Green Valley with me, let me know. Or if you want to chat, feel free to call. If you’re not busy and want to show me around town…”
“No way!” she exclaimed. “I’d rather burn off all my freckles than give you a tour.”
“Suit yourself. See ya, Miracle.”
“MIRA!” she shouted after him but he just waved a hand, not really responding in another way. Furious, she whirled around and stormed inside, cussing under her breath and resisting the urge to tear up the address. She didn’t care what he said, she was going to drop out and go searching for her brother. He didn’t need to be free, he had plenty of time to do that before. She was going to find him and drag him home, kicking and screaming if need be. And then… and then…
Well, and then she’d figure out a way for both of them to live happily.
Miracle spent the next two days dropping all her classes, selling books back, and getting as much money back as she possibly could. She lost more than half but there was enough that she could get to Green Valley and stay there for a while without any trouble, and start her search; she’d need some more money later but she’d deal with getting some from her family when it happened.
The family… Now it was time to talk to them. But if Chance could go all… roaming around then it’d be hypocritical of them if they got mad at her. Except they did get mad at her, and then even madder when she told them she had already dropped out. She folded her arms and held her chin up. “I’m sorry,” she said, not really sorry, “but finding Chance, my own brother, is loads more important than school. You can’t stop me from leaving.”
“No, we can’t,” Kaylee said grouchily. “I can’t believe you just–dropped school. Does this have anything to do with Elijah?”
“Who?” Miracle asked, even though she knew exactly who her aunt was meaning.
“Mr. Baird,” Emma said with a smile.
“Definitely not. He’s a jerk, and I hate him. I want my brother. My family. I… I need him. I promised to look after him… and I… I need to. I’m his big sister. Aunt Kaylee, come on, surely as a big sister you understand…”
Kaylee groaned a bit. “I understand, but I don’t like it. I understand the want and need to hold on to our loved ones, but if they don’t want to be held onto all you will succeed in doing is pushing him away.”
“He’s lost somewhere in Simnation, what he’s gonna push himself over to France?” she snorted. “Chance will be happier here. With us. With… me.”
“And if I had come to Appaloosa Plains when you were college,” Emma said, eyebrows lifting high, “and told you that you needed to come home and stay with us? For your own good? You would have come?”
“That–that–that is different!” Miracle sputtered. Both aunts looked at her. “Well… it is… a bit… mostly… sorta… Chance is–Chance and I are different. So it is different. He’s… well, you know him. He’s always so happy and trusting and… just goes bobbing along his own merry way without thinking.”
“And now you want to bob your way to Green Valley to start searching for him?” Kaylee inquired with a smile.
“Mmph. It’s different.”
“Fine,” Kaylee sighed. “We can’t stop you. You’re an adult, as much as Chance is. I would like him home instead of out there but… he’s going through things none of us can understand. He’s not like us. He’s a ghost. And we need to accept that… our way of living… is not his way of living.”
“So you don’t want to find him?”
“Well, I would like to, yes. But… I’d also like Simon to stay at home safe, and there’s no way that’s ever gonna happen.”
Miracle moved towards the other room, to head up the stairs. “Well I am going to find my brother, and reason with him. And I’ll–I’ll–I’ll bring him back.” With that she went up the stairs to finish packing. Nobody really understands, she thought angrily. I guess I’m on my own with this.
I was dimly aware of time passing. It started snowing eventually, and then it was Christmas. I spent my time wandering in woods and lonely places and then sometimes in graveyards. One time I went into a large city and stayed in that graveyard for quite some time. Around Christmastime, I found a graveyard full of ghosts who had died in the Victorian times and the reenacted the entire Christmas carol for me which we all laughed hysterically about the three ghosts.
A few days after that I found myself in another town. It was shortly after the new year started up and a young girl was telling me about a house nearby.
She told me all her living life she and her friends knew it was haunted. Nobody had lived in there for years, but whoever owned it refused to sell it. One time she went in there on a dare but didn’t stay the night. She said after she became a ghost, she went there and stayed a whole night but there weren’t any other ghosts there, though it had a creepy feeling.
I thought about that house for several days. It had been months since I started wandering around. Over three months. I was a bit bored of meeting new people, making friends and enemies, dealing with these ghosts hating those ghosts and whose side was I going to be on. A break sounded wonderful plus a real bed to sleep in and not a coffin. Not permanent but… maybe for a couple weeks or even months–a house. I doubted it had electricity though, so probably no TV.
Mary (the girl telling me all this) assured me it was still abandoned and even offered to take me there though it’d be a couple days–well, nights of travel. “That’d be great,” I said, and the next night we set off for what would hopefully be my own little home for a while.
It only took one and a half nights of travel before we got to the very creepy looking place. It was on a hill and looked like the sort of haunted place in movies. All it was missing was a big bolt of lightning flashing behind it and crows flying off. Mary and I floated up the hill and to the door. The windows were all boarded up, and the door was too. That was good. Mary and I went inside and then huddled in the dark front hall, silent.
“Wowee this place sure is creepy,” she finally said. “You sure you wanna live here?”
“I think it’s nice,” I said, looking around. There was dust and cobwebs everywhere–from the glow Mary and I were casting I could see faint traces of footsteps in the dust on the floor but they had dust in them so I figured it’d been ages since anyone came in. “You going to stay here too?” I asked, hoping she’d say no.
Mary shook her head, her ponytail flying. “No! Never, nuh-uh. Not if you paid me! Well, Chance, maybe we’ll see each other again one day.” We shook hands and she left. I was now alone again, like I was sometimes when I traveled, and I liked it.
I floated down the hall, taking in my surroundings. It was all dingy, dirty, old, broken, and very creepy. Just like a movie! And when I was ready to move on I could, I wasn’t going to be stuck here–and since the house wasn’t really near the town I could pop in and out all I wanted without worrying too much about the locals. Yes. This would do wonderfully.
I searched the first floor and found a run down kitchen and a bathroom and dining room and a living room with old furniture and loads of books. I went up the spiraling stairs (of course it was spiraling stairs, that’s the way it always was) and promptly slid down the banister, giggling. Twice more then I looked around on the small second floor that just held a main room and a bedroom. I went up to the third and final floor where… I found a piano up there. A real piano. Like in the movies, the kind where a girl in a slinky dress would lay across as she sang. I sat down at the bench and stared at it a second before slowly pushing up the lid covering the keys. It didn’t look very run down at all.
I touched the keys lightly, not pressing down. No dust. The lid worked nicely. I bit my bottom lip and carefully pressed a key down. A note that sounded real pretty floated in the air and I panicked. I shut the lid and hopped back, looking around. What if there was someone in the house? Or if someone walked by and heard it?
Subdued now, I returned to the second floor and the bedroom, and the big bed. I flopped down, sending dust flying everywhere. “Helllooo!” I called. “Anyone else here? I’m gonna stay here a while, if it’s okay with you!” I sat up and waited for any response but there was just silence. One of the paintings seemed a bit odd though. I eyed it suspiciously but nothing happened. “I’m a nice ghost, I’m not gonna be mean or anything!” But still it was all quiet and stuff.
Smiling, I flopped back again and closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep rather quickly on the soft mattress. For the first time since Appaloosa Plains, I didn’t have any sort of nightmare… or dreams about him.