Authors: Melissa Pearl
"The wrong kinda people?"
"Pretty much." Adam nods.
The car fills with the eerie silence that always follows tragic news. I keep my eyes out the window, watching the world slow to a stop as Dale pulls into Adam's driveway.
Dale pulls up the parking brake as Adam opens his door.
"Do you think she's run away?"
Adam pauses and scratches the nape of his neck.
"I don't know, man. Maybe." His Adam’s apple shoots down his throat and back up again before he forces a smile and gets out of the car.
Dale waits for the slam of the door before reversing onto the road. I watch Adam walk to his door then turn and watch us leave. I swivel in the seat and look out the back window as he gazes after us.
Part of me wants to hate him. Another part has to admit that it was going to come out eventually.
I glance back at Dal
e. He keeps looking in the rearview mirror, searching for my response.
I don't say anything. I can't. Adam is soon out of view. I keep looking out the back window, unable to face Dale. He was the one person at school who didn't know.
I hate that the status quo has changed.
Dale clears his throat. "You want to sit in front with me?"
"No, I'm fine back here," I mumble.
The car eases to a stop. Slowly I turn around to see Dale facing me.
"I'm sorry." His voice is soft.
"For what?" My voice is hard.
His eyes fill with compassion as he whispers, "I'm sorry you had to find your sister like that. I'm sorry you lost her."
"I don't want to talk about it." I clear my throat.
"I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!"
Dale jolts back in his seat and accidentally hits the horn. Adjusting his position, he swivels back to face the road and gives a short, "Okay."
Putting the car in gear, we bunny hop forward for a second until Dale finds his rhythm. I'm
still clinging to my numbness — the only form of protection I've known since the accident.
I close my eyes.
I squeeze my hand into a tight fist, willing it to hurt. I used to be able to draw blood. I open my hand now and see nothi
ng...of course. You can't cut ghosts' skin...just their hearts.
Silence fills the car until we pass the turn off to Matt's house and start heading further into the forest.
"Anything look familiar?"
I lean towards the glass and shake my head.
"It all looks the same." I sigh. "I could have been anywhere around here."
"Just keep looking, see if something sparks a memory."
I do what I'm told and ask Dale to slow down about five minutes later.
"This could be it. I mean there's a steep bank all along this road."
"Well, let's get out a
nd take a look."
Dale looks hopeful as he jumps out the door and starts walking along the road.
"If you were hit, there will probably be markings or damage to the guardrail," he calls over his shoulder. "You head up that way and I'll try down here, see if we spot anything."
I grab the dog tags around my neck as I march up the road, looking at the
guardrail. I've walked at least a 100 yards when I turn around and shout, "I don't see anything. The railing looks fine."
"Same down here." Dale's voice wafts back to me. "Come on, let's drive a little further."
We spend the next hour jumping in and out of the car. The
guardrail is fine along the entire road and by mile fifteen, I'm totally over it.
"I don't want to do this anymore."
Dale glances at his watch.
"I should probably get home anyway." He puts his foot on the gas and we head back towards Big Bear Village.
"What a waste of time." I sigh.
"I don't think so."
I look over at him from the front passenger's seat. "I always knew you were an idiot."
His snicker is followed by a quick smirk. "We can cross that stretch of road off now. It wasn't a waste of time."
"Okay, fine." I lean my head back against the seat and close my eyes.
Sometimes I feel like Dale can see
me or something. It's like he can sense what I'm doing and rather than launching into more tiring conversation, he simply leans forward and turns on the radio.
The music washes over us as we amble back to town. I feel the beat thump inside me as the lyrics swirl in my brain. I can't help singing along.
"You actually like this song?"
I open my eyes and spot Dale's grin. "Everybody likes this song."
"No, no they really don't."
My eyebrows dip together. "Then why are you listening to it?"
"Because I like the sound of your voice."
Embarrassed, I sit up a little straighter. A smile tugs on my lips and I fight to iron it out.
"So you like to sing, at home, when no one's watching?" Dale changes gear and glances over at me.
"Maybe." I shrug.
"Hairbrush or deodorant?"
I grin. "My hairbrush makes a much better microphone."
"Nice." Dale nods. "I was always more of a spatula kinda guy."
"You were not." I try to playfully whack his shoulder, but my hand goes straight through.
He scratches the spot I hit him and laughs. "I swear, I used to find every bowl and pot in the kitchen and turn it into this mega drum kit. I'd smack the hell out of those things. It drove my mother insane."
I laugh. "Good musicians start young, I guess."
"Yeah, well I'm hardly a talent, but I have fun."
"So, a drummer boy then. You know, that's actually pretty cool."
"Oh, well I'm glad you approve."
Another song starts and I feel my insides jolt with pleasure. I love this one.
"Can you turn it up, please?"
Dale obliges without comment and for some reason, I launch into song. I don't know why. I'd never do it with any of my friends, but I somehow feel as though I'm allowed to in this dungy old car. Like it's safe or something.
I finish the song with a loud flourish.
Dale shakes his head with a grin. "You're a Gleek aren't you?"
"No." I turn in my seat then sigh. "Maybe... okay yes, but if you tell anyone, I'll kill you."
"Why don't you want me to tell a
nyone? Glee's cool."
"Shut up. Glee is cool."
Huh! Sarcastic much!
My eyes narrow as I gaze at him. "I know you can't see it right now, but I'm giving you a very dry look."
"No, I can see it."
"You can?" My voice comes out all high and squeaky.
"In my head," Dale admits softly. "I can picture you really clearly in my head and I know that look. You do it a lot."
I don't know how to respond to this. He makes it sound as though he's been studying me since he arrived at our school about a year ago. I gaze at him in confused silence then glance down at my nails, suddenly awkward.
Leaning back in his seat, Dale pulls out his iPod and searches for music while trying to keep an eye on the road. A few minutes later, he's plugging it into the stereo with a grin.
"You know what's cooler than Glee though, right?" Cranking up the volume, Dale lets Granite thump through the car.
A delighted laugh escapes my lips as Dale starts belting out the tune with gusto.
Within seconds I'm joining him.
We sing as loudly as we can, all the way to Dale's house.
I have no reason to be nervous about going into Dale's house, but I am. I step through the door and gaze around the interior. It's actually quite nice.
Very plain and simple, but classy all the same. The walls are wooden, giving it that log cabin feel, I bet there's a fireplace in the living room. I glance at the solid wooden bannister on the left side of the stairs and wonder if Dale's ever popped his legs either side of it and slid down to the bottom. It'd be tempting, that's for sure.
Dale's mother appears around the corner.
"Hey sweetie." She reaches up on tiptoes and gives Dale a kiss on the cheek.
Far out I think she's actually shorter than me! I didn't think that was possible.
Stepping back, she looks up with an adoring smile. "How was school?"
His mother walks towards the kitchen. "An eventful day?"
Dale looks over his shoulder with a wry smile. "You could say that."
"But a good one?" She turns at the kitchen counter. Her eyes are dancing with sweet merriment. It's really hard not to look at them.
Dale smiles and nods his head. "Yeah, mom, it was great."
Far out, she looks as though she's about to cry. She obviously really wants Dale to do well at school, or be happy... or something. My heart gives a little squeeze as I watch her genuine interest as Dale runs through the bland parts of his day and makes up some excuse about why he's late.
"Dinner's in half an hour. I'll call you when it's ready."
"Awesome, I'm starving." Dale kisses her cheek and scoots up the stairs just off the kitchen.
I can't help gazing around the house as I follow him up the stairs and down the hallway to his room. The whole feel of the house is different to mine. It's m
uch older — looks like it was built in the 70s or 80s. The carpet's been redone though, but with a nice rich burgandy color that gives the house a yummy warmth.
Yummy warmth? Really?
I shake my head. That's what it feels like. I don't know how else to describe it.
I run my hand along the wall, trying really hard to stop my fingers going through. I feel nothing and scowl as my digits pass through a painting.
"So this is my room." Dale opens his door.
I walk in and am once again hit by the warmth.
I wonder if my mom sold them this house. It's so not her style, but knowing her she would have chucked that warmth word in numerous times.
There's a double bed in the corner of the room with a bright green duvet. It's quite over powering, but I resist the urge to comment. It's his room, not mine. Dale dumps his bag next to his desk and scans the shelf above it.
"What are you looking for?"
"When we first moved here, Dad bought me a map book of the area. We highlighted a bunch of hiking trails we wanted to do."
"And let me guess, you haven't done any of them."
Dale looks at me with surprise. "No, we've done about eight so far."
"Oh." I run my fingers through my hair and turn away, feeling stupid.
"Here it is." He pulls it out and flicks through the pages. "Okay, so this is where we drove today." He rummages through his desk for a highlighter and crosses out the section of the road we
were on. "So maybe tomorrow I can get up early and we can do this section before school."
I look over his shoulder. "You'd have to get up pretty damn early."
"I know." He nods. "I just can't play hooky. I'm really sorry, but..."
His face bunches with regret.
"I'm not asking you to play hooky." The words come out a little snappier than I mean them to. I guess it just bugs me that he assumes I think skipping out of school is something I never put any thought into. What he will never know is that I've never missed a day of school when I've had an important test and I've never once handed in an assignment late. My hooky days always coincide with the days I can't bear facing the student population. I invite Amber because she's too self-absorbed to notice my moods.
"Should I be calling the police?" Dale's question makes me turn to face him.
"I don't think they take these kinds of cases seriously for at least 48 hours."
"Maybe the sheriff can help us."
"Sheriff Hutton?" I shake my head and start scanning his room. "I doubt it. He tends to be a stickler for the rules."
"What if I tell him what I know.
I bob down to peruse Dale's book collection. "He'll wonder how you know this stuff. You can't tell him you can hear me. Everyone will think you're crazy."
"I can't just sit here and do nothing."
I stand up and face him, loving the fact he wants to try so hard.
"You need food and sleep, Dale. You're no use to me starving and exhausted." I keep my voice as casual as I can. I'm right. I'm being sensible. There's nothing more we can do right now.
Fear coils in my belly.
I try to ward it off with distraction and move to Dale's second bookshelf. Man, this guy sure likes to read.
"You have some good titles here," I murmur.
"Yeah, well reading's good for the brain." He steps towards my voice.
I glide past him and move to his desk. It's in disarray with piles of books surrounding his computer. I notice a huge stack of pages in a neat pile and lean over to see what they are.
The Trojan's Secret by Dale Finnigan
"I didn't know you liked writing?"
"Uh," Dale nervously jumps towards his desk. "Don't read that."
"It's not finished." He picks up one of his textbooks and covers the first page.
"Fine." I cross my arms and mumble, "Spoil sport," as I turn away.
"It's just that I—"
"Who's the older woman, Mr. Cougar Hunter?" I lean down to inspect the photo I've just spotted. Dale has his arm around a gorgeous woman with dark curls and a beaming smile.
Dale steps up beside me. "Firstly gross and secondly, she's my sister, Rachel."
"Really? How old is she?"
"Thirty." He picks up the photo next to it. "These are her kids Emma and Tim."
I gaze at the three impish grins in the picture. Dale is holding his two ice-cream covered
relations. "Look at your face." I grin. "The proud uncle."
"I can't help it. They are two cutie-pies."
"I can't believe you're an Uncle Dale."
"Yeah, well, Unky Dee at this stage."
He blushes red while returning the picture to its rightful place.
"So..." I look to my feet then casually shrug. "How old's your mom?"
Dale shoves his hands in his pockets and turns away from me.
"What, you're not going to tell me?"
"Look my parents are awesome, okay." He spins back to face me. "I don't need you spreading gossip about them."
"I wouldn't!" I try to ignore his dry look, but it's hard to miss. I huff. "You don't trust me."
He shrugs. "Why should I?"
I open my mouth with a sharp response, but I'm interrupted by a black
labrador that bursts through the door with a happy bark. I yelp and jump back.
Dale laughs. "It's okay, he won't hurt a fly."
I dubiously move to the edge of the room, grateful the jumping mutt can't see me. His slobbery tongue is hanging out of his mouth in ecstasy as Dale rubs behind his ears. All of a sudden the dog's nose twitches and springs into the air, sniffing loudly.
"What is it, boy?"
The dog hunches down and starts sniffing the carpet, weaving its way across the room until it's at my feet.
what are you doing?" I yell at the dog.
He sniffs around my ankles then starts working his way up my legs until his nose is in my crotch.
"GET out of there!" I try to slap the dog away. "Dale! A little help!"
"Wow." Dale stands back in awe. "That's amazing."
I try to wiggle away from the dog. "What's amazing? The fact your stupid dog can't stop sniffing my crotch?"
"Jess, come here, boy." Dale slaps his thigh. "Jester. C'mere."
After a few more requests, spurted out between bursts of laughter, Dale's dog finally does as he's told.
I brush off my jeans with a shaky hand and raise my body with as much dignity as I can.
"Sorry about that." Dale simpers.
"I'm sure you are." I cross my arms.
"It's pretty amazing that he can sense you though. I wonder why."
knows. Just keep him out of my crotch, okay."
"Yes, ma'am." Dale nods, fighting to keep his lips from popping back into a smile.
Rolling my eyes, I relent with a small smile he can't see. Stepping closer, I hold out my hand and let Jester sniff my fingertips. He starts licking air. This is too bizarre.
"I don't understand how he can sense me."
"That's your answer?"
"Sometimes we just have to accept the fact we can't explain everything. Life happens, whether we want it to or not and we don't always have a reason why. Our job is to try and make some good come out of it."
I have a feeling he's referring to Jody, so I clear my throat and change the subject.
"Why'd you call him Jester?"
Kneeling down, Dale gives his dog another rub behind the ears.
"At the time I got him, he was the only thing that could make me laugh. Jester seemed the perfect name."
"What happened to you?"
Dale gives his dog a final pat and stands.
"Is it to do with your scar?"
He doesn't look at me.
"Is the knife fight rumor true?"
"Falling through a glass door? Cycling accident? How about the one where you're surfing on a reef?"
He gives me a pitiful look.
"Okay, fine just tell me then. How'd you get the scar?"
Shaking his head, he turns to his desk and starts rifling through some pages.
"Come on. You know all about my past."
"Do I?" He turns.
I scowl at his open expression then look to the ground.
"Okay, fine, don't tell me." I look up with a sniff. "I don't care anyway."
"Dale! Dinner's ready!"
He shoots me one last disbelieving look before walking out the door.
I stomp down the stairs behind him, annoyed he's being so secretive. It's so completely unfair. Thanks to his interrogation of Adam, he now knows about Jody. The least he can do is tell me why he looks like Frankenstein.
I wince; glad I'm not talking out loud.
Dale takes a seat at the table, opposite his parents. His Dad gives him a friendly smile and asks how he's doing. They share a quick joke I don't understand then hold hands and say grace.
Holding hands around the table?
"Amen," they all say in unison then smile at each other.
Dude, we're like five shy of the Brady Bunch here.
I lean against the wall and watch as Dale's Dad, what's his name again?
"Charles, can you pass the pepper please?"
He hands his wife — Mary? Yeah, I think it's Mary — the pepper and gives her a private smile. Man, they look so in love it's sickening. I mean, ewww. How old are these people?
I ignore the thought that my parents used to look at each other that way and instead return my attention to the fact Dale is being a stubborn ass. I can't believe he doesn't trust me. After all we've been through today.
I cross my arms and shoot him a few death glares, but he's oblivious.
"So, Dale, how
are you getting on with Mr. Moffat?"
"Yeah, okay." Dale nods.
"Okay? I was sitting next to you for half the class and you didn't take one note," I call across the room.
Dale's shoulders tense an
d he shoots his parents a closed-mouth smile. My eyes narrow. Stepping towards the table, I decide to play the bitch everyone knows me for.
Squatting down beside the Finnigans, I do my best to throw a squirm jamboree for my untrusting companion.
"Actually Mr. and Mrs. Finningan, your son is probably failing physics."
Dale shovels a fork full of rice into his mouth and glares in the direction of my voice.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a big, fat F on his transcript." I grimace. "Not so great for college apps, am I right?"
Leaning forward, Dale clears his throat and shuffles in his chair.
"If I were you, I'd be asking to see his school work, because if the amount of notes he took today were anything to go by, he might not be doing so well in other areas either."
The fork drops from Dale's hand and in spite of the fact he can't see me, he manages to aim a black glare right in my direction.
"Dale, sweetie, are you okay?"
He holds his breath for a beat,
and then shakes his head.
"No, actually. I need to tell you guys something."
"What are you doing?"
I step back from the table as his parents both lean forward, looking concerned.
"The truth is..."
"Are you insane, right now? They won't believe you can hear a ghost!"
He sighs. "I think I'm failing physics."
Confusion stunts my next statement.
Mrs. Finnigan looks disappointed and Mr. Finnigan leans back with a thoughtful expression. "Bummer," he eventually says.
"Yeah, I know, Dad. I'm really sorry, but I just... I really hate it and don't understand what Mr. Moffat is talking about half the time. I just don't think I can do well this year."
"But you're doing so well in everything else."
"Yeah, well Biology's a little hard, but I love my other subjects."
Mrs. Finnigan's lips bunch together, and then she looks at her husband. They have one of those silent conversations that only married couples seem capable of.
"We talked about you studyin
g a range of subjects this year," Mary wipes the edge of her mouth with her napkin.
"I know, but I don't enjoy it. I want to transfer out of the class and do something I'll excel in."
Like they're ever going to let that happen.
The couple finish their silent conversation then look to Dale.
"Okay, well I'm open to discussing that," Charles nods.
"We're really sorry it's not working out."
"Yeah, well I should have been up front from the start. I never wanted to take Physics."
"Then why did you?"
se I wanted to make you guys...proud."
"Oh sweetie." Mrs. Finnigan reaches across the table and grabs Dale's hand. "We'll always be proud of you and you know, your honesty right now is just making us prouder. We love you, kiddo."
Their conversation continues as they discuss other subjects that Dale might take. Their voices turn to static noise as I lean against the wall.
My eyes burn with unwelcome tears.
We love you, kiddo.
I can't remember the last time someone told me they loved me and they're just saying it like it's an everyday occurrence.
I notice Dale look over his shoulder. He slowly searches the room as he nods at his parents' comments.
He's looking for me.
I should call out and tell him where I am, but I can't.
Instead I creep out of the room.
The kitchen door is ajar, I squeeze through it, cross the road diagonally and turn down Piney Lane. A few hundred yards later, I'm walking around the back of my house and climbing the stairs. Mom always leaves the bathroom window open. I have no idea how I'm supposed to actually climb through it. I stand outside and look at the narrow gap. I might be able to fit through it... but with hands as dense as smoke, I have no idea how I'll grip the frame to pull myself up.
I let out an irate huff. I can't work this stupid ghost thing out. My feet seem capable of walking on solid surfaces and my butt seems capable of sitting on any kind of seat, so why do my hands glide through everything? Maybe it's a mind over matter type thing.
My eyes narrow as I study the window and will myself to believe it is a solid object that no part of my body can fall through it. I decide that the faster I do this, the less thought will be involved. Taking a breath, I launch myself towards the window, my foot lands on the sill as my hands touch the frame.
Of course my brain then decides to remind me that this is all just ridiculous and my hands fly straight through the glass followed by the rest of my body. I land in a heap on the tiled floor. Jumping up, I do a little heebie-jeebies dance. I whirl back to look at the window, shudder once more then make my way through the house. It's cold, dark and silent.
I step into my room and look around my pristine belongings. My bookshelf is neatly lined with untouched books, the clothes are neatly folded into every draw or hung neatly on every hanger. My subtle bedspread is pulled tight to perfection... just the way I like it.