Rock N Soul
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I’m Tyler Lindsey, and until recently, I had an okay apartment, an okay girlfriend, and an okay job as a bellboy at a respectable Boston hotel. Then rock star Chris Raiden died right before I brought his room service—stiffing me on the tip, by the way—and my life went to hell. My fifteen minutes of fame was more like five seconds, and my girlfriend left me in disgust.
But even worse—Chris is haunting me. Not the room where he died, like a normal ghost. No, somehow he’s stuck to me and is insisting on taking care of a bunch of unfinished business in California. So now I have to traipse across the country with the world’s most narcissistic ghost.
But . . . I keep having these weird thoughts. Thoughts about how much I like the way he makes me laugh. Thoughts where I kind of want to kiss the emo-narcissist, even though he’s a ghost and an asshole and I can’t touch him anyway. And even if I could, what will happen when he finishes his business and nothing’s keeping him here anymore?
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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I didn’t actually hear a chorus of angels singing when I saw the bag of grapes sitting on the refrigerated shelf of a tiny Asian food store at two in the morning, but I definitely heard it in the back of my mind. Here, sitting before me, was a miracle. Red grapes. In a store that was still open. The words on the bag were Korean so I had no idea if the grapes were seedless or not, but Chris Raiden had been waiting for his room service for over an hour now. Which meant we were quickly approaching the point where a famous rock star’s wrath over late food might trump his wrath over seeds in said food, so they’d have to do either way.
Still, it’s always best to know exactly why I’d be getting fired, so I reached into the bag and pulled out a grape, then popped it into my mouth.
And the angels sang again because there wasn’t a seed. This beautiful, perfect plastic bag in this beautiful, perfect Asian food mart contained red. Seedless. Grapes.
“Hey,” a voice called from the direction of the cash register. “You can’t eat those. You have to pay.”
“I know, I know.” I snatched the bag from the cooler and trotted up to the register, giving the cashier a big lopsided smile. “Man, you don’t even know how glad I am that you guys are open right now.”
The guy shrugged as he rang up my purchase but didn’t answer. Not that I blamed him. People who have grape-related emergencies at 2 a.m. aren’t generally the type of people you want to be having a conversation with during said emergency. So I just closed my mouth and handed over the corporate card my boss had given me to make the purchase.
Cashier Guy could have been nicer, though. It wasn’t like I’d asked to be out running around Beacon Hill in the middle of the fucking night looking for overly specific types of fruit to keep a drugged-out bass player from complaining to my boss, so I felt like I should get a pass on this one. Still, though, there wasn’t time to explain, and I’m not usually that big on small talk with strangers anyway.
After paying for the grapes, I muttered a “Thanks,” scooped up the bag, and started jogging back toward the hotel. I slipped my phone out of my pocket and hit Call on Richard’s number.
“Tell me you got them,” he answered.
“I got them,” I practically crowed.
Richard let out a heavy, relieved sigh. “Thank God. How long will it take you to get back here?”
“I don’t know. Fifteen minutes?”
“I’m in Beacon Hill, Richard. It’s gonna take me a bit.” I stopped and scanned the street for cabs. And, in a burst of luck, one rounded the corner just as I was looking. I lifted the hand with the grape bag in it and started flagging like a lunatic. “Hold on. There’s a cab. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” I paused for a moment, fumbling with the phone while I added my other hand to the flagging. “Is he bitching about it?”
“No, he hasn’t called again. But it’s only a matter of time. You know celebrities.”
“I can imagine.” The cab turned toward me and pulled up to the curb so I could get in. I slid in the backseat and gave the driver the hotel address, then went back to the phone. “I’m on my way.”
* * *
The steak was done when I got there, but it took the kitchen staff a few minutes to wash and plate the grapes, and Richard’s hovering and hand-wringing made it seem like the longest few minutes of all our lives. To make matters worse, by the time I finally got the room service cart wheeled out of the kitchen and down to the service elevator, my phone was buzzing like an angry hornet for the tenth time since I’d made it back to the hotel, and I knew who was calling. I considered just ignoring it, but I had a few seconds while I waited for the elevator and then while it took me up to the top floor of the hotel, so I decided I might as well answer.
Besides, Carmen and I had been together for almost a year, and even though she could be incredibly high maintenance and a class-A jerk when she was mad at me—which seemed like always, these days—I wanted to keep her happy. After all, if I was nice to her now and showed up with a Chris Raiden autograph when I got home tonight, the sky was the limit as far as the sex-having went. So I pulled my phone out of my pocket and answered.
“Hey, babe,” I said, pushing the Up button on the elevator and tapping my foot while I waited for the doors to open.
“Have you seen him?” she asked in the sweetest voice ever.
I bit back a sigh. “Not yet.”
“It’s been over an hour since he called for room service,” she pointed out, as if I didn’t know that. As if Richard’s increasingly frantic texts during my grape adventure hadn’t been keeping me up-to-date on the subject. As if I don’t know how to read a fucking clock.
“Thanks. I’m aware of that.” I leaned against the wall by the elevator and pinched the bridge of my nose.
She hmmphed loud enough for me to hear through the phone. “And you expect me to believe you haven’t seen him yet?”
“I wasn’t in the lobby when he came in,” I told her, pinching harder like that would make the conversation end faster. “Mark took his bags up. And you know I’ve been out grape-hunting for the last hour. So no. I haven’t seen him.”
“I told you I’d call after I saw him, okay?” I was being sort of bitchy by interrupting, but there were only two floors to go and I needed to hurry this thing along. “I’m working. Let me work.”
The sweetness disappeared and there it was, the hard-edged bitchy voice that I’d gotten used to hearing lately. “I am letting you work, Tyler. You told me not to come down there, and I didn’t. So excuse me for wanting to know how it was going.”
The elevator doors picked that moment to open, so I pushed the cart inside and hit the button for the penthouse while I willed myself to be nice instead of snapping at her. “I found the grapes,” I said, trying to make it into a peace offering. “Had to go all the way to fucking Beacon Hill to find some, but I got the stupid grapes.”
“Good,” she said, still bitchy but a little brighter. Good work, Tyler. “Are you sure they’re seedless?”
“I’m sure. I’m not getting fired because I served a seed to Chris fucking Raiden.” Rolling my eyes, I muttered “douche bag” under my breath, then tucked the phone against my shoulder while I heaved the cart out of the elevator and into the hallway in front of the penthouse suite. “I gotta go. I’m about to knock on the door.”
“Put me in your pocket?” she begged, back to sweetness and light, and I sighed.
“Fine.” I started to slip the phone into my pocket, then put it back up to my ear. “But you have to shut up so he doesn’t hear you, got it?”
“Promise,” she purred, and I rolled my eyes again and dropped the phone into my suit pocket without ending the call.
I took a second to straighten my suit, and then knocked on the door. “Room service,” I called through the heavy wood, then stepped back to wait. And wait. And wait. I tapped my foot on the carpet and knocked again, yelling a little louder this time.
Still nothing. Typical. Rich fucks always thought they were so much more important than a working-class bellboy, which seemed to mean that they got their rocks off on making me wait in the hallway while they finished filing their nails or whatever. And rock stars were even worse, always wanting weird shit like red seedless California grapes even when they weren’t in season and making me run around Boston in the middle of the fucking night trying to find a twenty-four-hour fruit store.
I mean, I assumed so. This was the first rock star I’d done room service for. But the fact that this guy actually had demanded weird shit seemed like good evidence for the generalization.
“Mr. Raiden?” I yelled through the door, in case he was having hearing problems from the concert he’d just come from. “Room service.”
After a couple of minutes had passed, I sighed and pulled out my master key card. “I’m coming in, sir,” I called, wrinkling my nose at the sir but not wanting to offend a celebrity and lose my job. When there was still no response, I swiped my key card and let myself in.
Chris Raiden was passed out on the floor beside the bed, a pool of vomit in front of his face. I wrinkled my nose at the sight—leave it to a rock star to order a fucking rare steak and grapes and then waste my hard work by puking all over himself before passing out—and went over to him, then toed him with the tip of my shoe. “Mr. Raiden.”
He didn’t so much as twitch, so I sighed super hard and knelt beside him, calling his name again. No response.
He was so still, lying there on the carpet. His legs were twisted, like he’d fallen to the floor. His skin was pale and washed out, his eyeliner smudged everywhere. There was a trickle of blood smeared all down his arm, most likely from where he’d stuck himself with a needle. But most importantly, he wasn’t breathing.
“Oh, shit.” I pressed my fingers against his neck, feeling for a pulse, and didn’t find one. “Shit,” I said, louder this time, and scrambled to my feet.
Carmen was shrieking from my pocket, and I pulled the phone out and pressed it to my ear. “Shit, Carmen, I think he’s dead. I think he’s dead. What the fuck do I do?”
“Call an ambulance, you dumbass!” she yelled through the tinny speaker, and I stumbled my way over to the room phone and picked it up, dialing the front desk.
“Reception, Anthony speaking.”
“Anthony,” I said, a little bit of a whimper to my voice. “It’s Tyler. I’m in Chris Raiden’s room and I think he’s dead and I need you to call an ambulance. Now.”
“Shit,” Anthony said. “Okay, okay, I’m calling.” He hung up with a loud, resounding click and I raised my own phone back to my ear with a shaking hand.
“Carmen.” I eyed the corpse on the floor a few feet from me. “Holy fuck. He’s dead.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Then she took a deep breath and said, “You know this is all your fault.”
I blinked a few times. “What?”
“You killed him,” she said, her voice rising in pitch and volume. “If you hadn’t taken so long to find the fucking grapes, he’d be alive.”
“What?” I asked again, straining to hear her through ears that seemed to be filling with cotton. The edges of my vision constricted in on me as I stared at Chris’s body. “What’re you talking about?”
But she just kept yelling, and after a few seconds I let the phone fall to the floor as I looked down at the corpse of rock star Christopher Raiden and tried to figure out what I was supposed to do from here.
“No,” I said. It seemed like a good response given the circumstances.
Richard crossed his arms and did a twitching-jaw thing at me. “You don’t get to say no, Tyler. It’s your job.”
I eyed him, trying to figure out how much of a bitch-face I could give him before I crossed a line and got fired.
So far today he’d been mostly smiling and friendly despite his current hostile stance, but just to be safe I only dialed up my bitch-face to about seventy-five percent of its capacity. “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist,” I said. Richard’s mouth opened slightly, and he stared blankly at me. “I’m a bellboy,” I explained, “not a maid.”
“Mr. Kingston wants his room cleaned,” Richard said, tightening his crossed arms and twitching his jaw even harder.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “That’s housekeeping’s job.”
Richard let his arms fall to his sides, then shrugged. “He doesn’t trust foreigners with his stuff.”
“Okay, first off, that makes Mr. Kingston a douche. But second off, that pretty much just rules out Malika. Make the others do it.”
Richard hesitated. “He says they’re all foreigners.”
I blinked. “Natalie was born in, like, Iowa.”
“I know. Still. He says she’s foreign.”
“You can’t get more corn-fed American than Iowa. And she doesn’t even look foreign.” Which was true. Natalie was gorgeous, a platinum blonde with bright-blue eyes who stood about five eight, with five feet of that being pure leg. I’d tried to hit on her once. It hadn’t gone well.
“He thinks she’s Scandinavian, and Scandinavians are raging thieves.” He rolled his eyes. “According to him, anyway.”
I stared at him for several seconds. “You’re kidding me.”
“I promise you I’m not.” Richard looked almost sympathetic to my plight. “But he’s a good tipper, so just go swab out his toilet and throw some new sheets on the bed and stop your complaining.”
“I want security to give me a full, televised pat down after I get done.” I crossed my arms. “I’m not going to jail because Mr. Kingston thinks I stole his gold-spun butt floss.”
“Just go clean the room, Tyler.” And then he turned around and walked into his office and shut the door.
I stood there eying the closed door for a moment while I regrouped, then headed to the lobby to see if any guests needed help before I had to go up to the stupid penthouse. I could do this. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been back up to the room since Chris died in it—it’s the biggest room in the hotel and the people who stay there are usually VIPs, so excellent bellboy service is something they expect—but this was going to be the first time I’d been farther inside than just past the doorway. And even then, I’d made a point not to look deeper into the room, and especially not at the spot on the floor where I found him.
I’m not ashamed to say I’d had nightmares about it, at first. I’d woken up in cold sweats in the middle of the night and grabbed at Carmen for comfort, only to realize that she wasn’t there anymore. And honestly, even if she had been, she would have just rolled away from me and said, “Fuck, Tyler, I’m trying to sleep.” She’d never been much of a cuddler except on special occasions, and even less so there at the end of the relationship.
But anyway, the nightmares were weird, because he never got up and came at me like a killer zombie or anything. Most of the time in the dreams I just stood still and stared at his corpse, with its shallow glassy eyes pointed at the floor beside it, until my skin started to crawl, and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t move for anything in the world. The sight of him had been burned into my mind when I found his body, and now my stupid subconscious kept making sure that I couldn’t forget a single gory little detail.
But I am a grown man and I am not a coward, so I decided to stop being a baby about it and go clean the stupid room. Chris’s body wasn’t going to be there. It had been hauled off in a body bag and buried somewhere in New York state, which seemed weird since I’d read the band biography and as far as I could remember, Chris had never lived there. Maybe he had family in the area or something. Who knows.
Time was passing, though, and I definitely wanted to be done and out of the room long before Mr. Kingston came back from wherever he had gone and decided that my blond hair meant that I was Scandinavian too. So I left the empty lobby and walked very briskly to housekeeping and took a cart into the service elevator.
I had to remind myself to breathe a few times on the way up to the room. It helped to know that I, of all people, was sure that he was dead. Really dead. So his body wasn’t going to be there when I opened the door. The nightmares weren’t real, and I had to face them one of these days. It might as well be today.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Incite the Masses. I mean, they were fine, I guess. Basic rock music, harder and edgier than the inoffensive bore-fest music that pumps out of the speakers at the hotel bar, but not thrashing death metal either. Alt-rock, maybe. What I’m saying is that if they came on the radio I wouldn’t change the channel but I also wouldn’t crank up the volume. They were okay.
I had a T-shirt, though. And all their albums. And I’d been to the concerts. I’d even gone to a fan convention once. But that was not because I was a huge fan—it was because Carmen Anders had great tits and tended to put out after listening to rock music, and she was a big fan of Incite the Masses. I mean, massive. Like when we started dating, she’d included a clause in our verbal contract that if she ever had the chance to sleep with any (or all at once if possible) of the band members, she was totally going to do it and I just had to be fine with it.
She hadn’t felt the same way about me putting Zoe Saldana on my free-pass list. Or even of me having a free-pass list. But that’s another story.
So anyway, playing the part of an Incite the Masses fan was sort of a requirement for getting to see Carmen Anders naked, and I didn’t hate their music or anything, so I’d bought a T-shirt, learned a few of their songs and (bam!) got laid. And then I’d skipped out on paying my internet bill so that I could buy her mosh pit tickets, and then I had to pay Vic Mitchell fifty bucks to cover my shift so I could take her to it, and then I got punched in the jaw by a very burly, sweaty biker type for elbowing my way past him to get her right next to the stage, but it had been worth it because after the concert, she kept me up all night long. And I do mean that literally. All. Night. Long. And it was awesome.
Which was mostly because she swore up and down that Eric Painter had made eye contact with her in the middle of “Strike a Match” and it was apparently the hottest thing that ever happened to her. And I’m about ninety-nine percent sure that she’d been closing her eyes and imagining that I was Eric with his deep raspy singing voice and his spiky gelled hair while I was boning her, but you know what? Still counted.
And after that, wonder of wonders, she’d stuck around. For a while, at least. Over a year. Then Incite the Masses came back to Boston on this year’s tour, and I’d been bare-ass broke and not in the mood to take a fist to the jaw again; plus, I’d been starting to get pretty tired of putting up with her shit, so when she’d not-so-subtly hinted that I needed to repeat last year and get her up to the stage again, I’d just told her I had to work. And she’d bitched and moaned and threatened to dump me, but I’d stood firm, man. I’d stood firm.
She hadn’t dumped me, though, mostly because while we were having a big screaming match about it, Richard called me freaking out over how Christopher Raiden had booked a room at our hotel for after the show and how he was probably going to want a rhesus monkey skeleton and where the fuck was he going to get a rhesus monkey skeleton on short notice and on and on and on about the damn rhesus monkey skeleton until I couldn’t even take it anymore and had to hang up. Not hang up on him, of course, because I need my job, but the “oops, I left the casserole in the oven gotta go” type of hanging up.
Carmen stared at me as I put my phone back in my pants pocket. “What the fuck, Tyler?”
“What? What did I do wrong now?” I picked up my jacket from where I’d thrown it on the floor earlier and fished around in my pocket for my keys.
“You took a phone call in the middle of an argument,” she said, her voice rising slowly in pitch like the argument was about to start up again.
Luckily, I knew how to shut that down. “Chris Raiden just booked a room at the hotel. Richard’s freaking out and talking about rhesus monkey skeletons.” I pulled my keys out and curled my fingers around them.
Carmen’s mouth dropped open. “Chris Raiden is staying at your hotel?”
I exerted a monumental amount of willpower and just barely managed not to roll my eyes so hard my retinas detached. “Yeah, that’s what I just said.”
“Well . . .” she said, a slow, dangerous smile spreading over her face. “Then I guess you know how to keep me, then.”
I had put on my jacket. “No idea what you mean.” After all, if you want your boyfriend to pimp you out to a rock star, you have to say the words.
“You’re going to let me in his room.” She leaned forward with an upsetting gleam in her increasingly cold eyes.
“Um, no.” I patted the sides of my jacket, more out of habit than anything else since I’d already found my keys. “I’m not doing that.”
“He’s on my free-pass list, Tyler!”
“Yeah, well, fuck your free-pass list.” I raised an eyebrow at her in a clear challenge. “I never signed off on that bullshit, and you’d bust an ovary if I asked you to let me fuck some other chick, so no. Not doing it.”
“This isn’t some other chick, Tyler. This is Chris Raiden. He’s my idol.”
“Oh, please,” I scoffed. “He’s not even your favorite band member.”
“Well, no.” She pursed her lips in her “trying to be alluringly sensual while deep in thought” expression. Which is duckface, of course. The crazy ones always think duckface looks sexy on them. They’re also always wrong.
After several seconds of duckface thought, she nodded as if she’d decided something important and smiled at me. “Surely Eric will be there too?”
“Doubt it,” I said, letting my words be clipped and harsh.
“But . . . they’re best friends. And bandmates. Surely . . .”
“Pretty sure Richard would have said that the band has rented out our penthouse if that was the case. And he just said Chris.”
“Oh, so you’re on a fucking first name basis with him now? All buddy-buddy?” She put her hands on her hips and sneered at me. “You’re some sort of bestie with Chris Raiden now and you won’t even let me talk to him?”
I actually rolled my eyes at that. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not sure if you can stop being ridiculous, but it would be fantastic if you could make an effort.”
“Fuck you,” she spat.
“That’s pretty much the only reason I’m still with you,” I snapped back.
“Let me in his fucking room, Tyler!”
“No. I’m not losing my job just so you can get a rock star to knock you up.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Then get me an autograph. If you can’t even do that, we’re through.”
“Yeah, whatever.” I reached for the doorknob. And then, because I felt sentimental for some stupid reason, I didn’t turn it. Instead, I sighed and looked back at her. “I mean, yeah. I can do that.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You’re not going to fight me on that, too?”
I shrugged. “Least I can do, I guess.”
She came over and wrapped her arms around me, laying her cheek on my shoulder. “Thank you, baby.”
I sighed and kissed the top of her head.
Apparently, the prospect of getting an autograph gets her off too, so I’d taken advantage of that newfound knowledge. Because only morons turn down chicks as hot as Carmen when they’re pressed up against them.
I, Tyler Lindsey, am not a moron.
Up at the penthouse, I stood outside the room for longer than strictly necessary while I talked myself into going inside. Finally, in a wild burst of energy so I wouldn’t have time to stop myself, I swiped my access card and wheeled the cart into the room. I closed the door behind me and eyed the carpet where he’d been lying, half expecting to see a body outline still there even though that was stupid.
But there wasn’t a corpse on the floor this time, which was probably comforting for Mr. Douchey Kingston, being as the room was his now. I looked around at his boring businessy suits and his multiple spare briefcases—which were a huge difference from the guitars, eyeliner, and syringes I’d seen in here before, although I tried not to think about that—and then pulled the cleaning cart farther into the room and parked it where I usually park my luggage cart. I eyed the carpet where the body had been again.
You’d think that it wouldn’t bug me. But it did.
It also shouldn’t have bugged me that Carmen blamed me for Chris’s death, since she’s batshit crazy and there’s no way any sane person could think it was my fault that the guy died. But when you get text after psychotic text about how if you’d just gotten off your lazy good-for-nothing ass and taken room service up five minutes earlier, you would have been able to save somebody’s life, it starts to really fuck with your mind.
And apparently with my motor skills too, because when I tore myself away from staring at the boring hotel carpet and went into the bathroom to clean, I fumbled as I was reaching for the half-empty bottle of complimentary hotel shampoo sitting on the side of the tub. The bottle hit the ground and rolled under the claw-foot sink.
I groaned. I was going to have to reach down there, and God only knew when the maids last deep-cleaned under that thing. Whoever designed that sink was a complete idiot, because there was just barely enough room to get your hand through but not enough room to scrub, and you could forget about using any kind of cleaning tool, because it wasn’t going to fit either. Mostly the housekeeping staff ignored the whole area unless somebody specifically complained about it, which hardly anyone ever did.
But I didn’t want to lose out on tip money because Asshole Kingston decided to get on his hands and knees and shine a flashlight everywhere to catch me leaving something dirty, so I crouched on the floor and reached down to fish around for the bottle.
My fingers hit something small and cold. I frowned and raked whatever it was out from under the sink. It was a ring, white gold with Celtic symbols on it. Chris Raiden’s ring, one that he’d gone on and on about in interviews until anyone even vaguely familiar with the band would have recognized it.
I peered at it for another few seconds, then put the ring on my hand. I mean, that sounds weird, but it’s a basic human instinct. You find a ring, you put it on. That’s totally normal.
What wasn’t totally normal was that when I looked up, Chris Raiden was staring at me from the doorway of the bathroom. And he was . . . slightly transparent.
I blinked at the cart for a few seconds while my brain tried to process everything. Then, without planning to, I screamed.
“Shut up, dude!” the ghost of Chris Raiden said, holding his hands up. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Like hell you’re not,” I shouted, and was pleasantly surprised that my voice had returned to its usual pitch. “I’ve seen plenty of horror movies.”
Chris tilted his head a little and stared at me. “What?”
“You’re going to drown me in the tub. Oh God.” I covered my face with my hands and began . . . well, I won’t say “whimpering” because that’s totally not something a guy like me does, but . . . well, okay, whimpering. But come on, there was a ghost and the bathtub was right there and that was how someone always ended up dying in the first five minutes of a horror movie to show the audience how gory the whole thing was going to be. I’m not an idiot. I know how movies work.
When he didn’t respond immediately, I peeked out through my fingers, and Chris frowned down at me. “What are you doing wearing my ring? And why the hell are you in my room when I’m still here? If you’re trying to steal my shit, I’ll have you fired so fast you’ll leave your shoes behind.”
A version of the truth was probably the best place to start. “Um . . .” I scooted backward toward the tub, even though that would just make it easier for him to drown me in it if he decided to. “I was just cleaning under the sink and I guess the ring rolled under there?”
“Why are you wearing it?” He scowled at me.
“I’m not wearing it,” I said, even though that was clearly not true. I mean, come on. The thing was right there on my finger. “I just, you know, tried it on.” I reached for the ring to take it off, but Chris took a step toward me and I cringed back against the tub, flinging my arm up to cover my face like that was going to help me not die.
“Dude, calm down. I’m not going to drown you in the fucking tub. What am I, a psychopath?” I peered up at him over the top of my arm, catching him mid-eye-roll.
Carefully, I lowered my arm the rest of the way and took a second to look him over. He was wearing the same clothes I’d found his body in, although the dried blood and vomit were gone, and his face and hands had lost their unsettling purple tint, thankfully. His eyeliner was back to stage-ready perfect, and his hair was freshly styled. In other words, he looked just like he would have if he hadn’t been out of his mind on heroin and/or dead due to the heroin. Really, the only thing that made him seem ghostlike at all was the fact that I could sort of see the outline of the cleaning cart behind him through his stomach.
Carmen would have immediately commenced trying to fuck him. Ghost or no ghost.
“So . . .” I said, slowly getting to my feet. “What do you remember? You weren’t in the room a second ago when I came in to clean.”
“Are you kidding me?” He rolled his eyes. “I was lying on the floor. I mean, right there. You couldn’t have missed me.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Yeeeeah. I think maybe you’re confused.”
“I’m not confused. Now give me my ring and get out of my room.” He held out his palm.
I pointed at his finger, where a see-through version of the ring in question was gleaming transparently. “You mean that ring?”
He inspected his hand. “Huh,” he said after a moment. “You have a replica, then?”
“. . . I think they sell them, yeah.” I cleared my throat. “But dude. I might need to tell you something.”
“You’re . . . well, you’re dead, dude.”
He narrowed his eyes and glared my own death at me. “Is that a threat?”
“No, it’s an observation.” I ran my hand through my hair for something to do. “You died like two months ago. In this room.”
“I’m calling security. I don’t care if you work here.” He stalked back into the suite. I tagged along behind him.
“Security sounds like an awesome idea, man. If you’re not dead, you have a lot of people who are going to want an explanation.” If he’s not dead. What a joke. I could see through the guy’s abs.
He shot me a black glare and reached for the phone, then frowned. He tried again. We both watched as his hand went straight through the handset and into the nightstand below it.
“Huh,” he said, then tried one more time. Silence fell as his eyes flicked comically back and forth between the phone and his hand. “Um . . . I guess that’s pretty good evidence for your ‘I’m dead’ theory.”
“Yeah, no joke,” I said. “So . . .” I tried for a minute to think of a way to finish that sentence, but there didn’t seem to be a good ending. “So.”
He looked around the room, then lowered his eyes to the floor. “Right there?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I was actually the one who found you. I was bringing you room service.”
“What . . . happened?” His face was pale in addition to being transparent, and he sat down heavily on the bed like he couldn’t keep his legs under him. The bed didn’t move at all when he flopped down on it, which was way more unsettling than you’d think it would be.
But anyway, that was a dumb question, so I raised my eyebrow at him again. “You’re seriously asking me what happened to you?”
“I don’t remember much,” he said, his voice soft in that way that makes men want to run for the hills before the crying starts.
“Um . . .” I swallowed hard. I mean, normally I’d just leave, push the awkward potential crying situation off on someone else, but I had no idea what the protocol was about leaving an emotionally compromised ghost to work things out for himself. Maybe that’s where vengeful spirits come from: some guy bailed on them instead of giving them a ghost hug or whatever and so they start killing people in their sleep. I couldn’t have that on my conscience. But I also couldn’t think of anything to say, really. Who wants to be the one to tell a person how they died? Nobody, that’s who.
But still. He needed to know. I cleared my throat. “I think they said it was a combination of anxiety medicine and, um, you know . . .”
He cleared his throat too. “The heroin.”
“Eric always said I was going to kill myself with that shit,” he said, still alarmingly softly. “Maybe I should have listened to him.”
“Yeah, you probably should have.” I crossed my arms and watched as he stood up from the bed, then knelt to run his hand over the carpet where his body had been. After a second, curiosity got the better of me. “Can you feel that? The carpet?”
“Sort of,” he said. “It’s like . . . when you put your hand on the surface of water. You can feel the resistance, but it wouldn’t take much to push your hand through.” He dipped his hand into the floor and then pulled it back out. “How long has it been? You said two months?”
“Yeah. It happened in September. It’s the end of November now.” I pushed the toe of my shoe against the carpet, ruffling it up one way and then smoothing it back down. “Um . . . for whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry, man.”
He sighed. “My own fault.”
“Yeah, but still. Sucks to die young.” It was a dumb thing to say, but really, no amount of life experience prepares you for this shit.
He let out a huff of laughter that didn’t sound terribly humor-filled. “Thanks, I guess.” His eyes got wider. “Fuck, I’m dead.”
“You’re dead,” I confirmed.
“No, you don’t understand.” His voice had an edge of hysteria to it that somehow made me less nervous than the thought of him crying. “I’m dead. I died.”
I stared at him for a second, not intending to respond. But he just stared back like he was waiting for an answer, so I shrugged and said, “You’re dead, yeah.”
“I wasn’t supposed to die,” he said, a little louder. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“Calm down, dude.” I spread my hands out in front of me in a helpless gesture. “There’s not a lot you can do about it at this point.”
“I’m not ready.” He scrambled back to his feet. “Jesus, I should have called him. I should have apologized.”
“Eric,” he said, biting his lip and gazing at the carpet. “I told him I hated him, and I shouldn’t have said that. Because I didn’t, not really.”
“Um . . .” I looked around the room like that was going to give me answers. “I guess I could send him a letter for you or something.”
“No, he’d just rip it up.” He closed his eyes and left them shut for a while, squeezing his eyelids together. When he opened them again, they were a little less wild.
“I’m sure he knew you didn’t mean it.”
Chris didn’t answer that—he just poked the toe of his own shoe at the carpet like I’d done a few minutes ago. His foot disappeared through the floor. “I wonder how I’m even standing and not just falling into the room below?” he murmured.
“I don’t know, dude. It’s probably a matter of perspective. Mind over matter, you know. You think you can walk on the floor and so you can.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” He met my eyes with a businesslike expression. “So . . . are you some sort of angel or something?”
I laughed out loud at that. “Oh God, no. What, do I look like an angel?”
“No,” he admitted. “But I thought maybe you were somebody who took souls up to heaven or whatever.”
I could have pointed out that borderline suicidal heroin junkies who sleep with dubiously legal groupies and go out in a blaze of stupid futile glory in their twenties probably don’t make it to heaven, but that seemed unnecessarily cruel. And plus, I don’t make the call. I guess if God’s an Incite the Masses fan that might have some sway in the afterlife cabin assignments. So instead I just shrugged. “Not an angel. Just a bellboy. I work here.”
“Oh.” He pushed his foot through the floor again before straightening up and squaring his shoulders. “Well, I guess that’s it, then. I’m dead.”
“Yeah.” I shifted uncomfortably. “So I guess you’ll be wanting to . . . move on? Or whatever?”
“I don’t know how,” he said. “That’s why I thought there would be an angel or a guide or something.” His gaze slid around the room. “I don’t see a light to go towards.”
“Do you see a flame?” I asked, then wished I hadn’t.
To my surprise, he laughed. “No, not one of those either. Although I guess that would be more likely for a guy like me.”
I smiled, and he smiled back.
It was at that moment it hit me: I was talking to a ghost.
The screaming started again.
I only screamed for a few seconds, but by the time Malika rushed into the room I was crouched in the corner of the suite, hugging my knees to my chest and rocking back and forth. It was actually a little pathetic, and I was glad it was Malika who found me, because Vic or Natalie would have given me so much shit about it that I would have been forced to leave the country. Anyway, Malika saw me and ran over, falling to her knees beside me dramatically.
“Tyler! What’s wrong?” She reached for my arm, and I yanked it out of her reach. Frowning deeply, she tried again. “Do I need to call an ambulance?”
“No,” I whimpered, hoping she could hear me through my knees. “It’s him.”
“It’s who?” Malika’s eyes flitted around the room. “Mr. Kingston? Did he hurt you?”
“No!” I summoned all of my strength and lifted my head. Chris was standing behind Malika, his brow knitted and his arms crossed tightly against his chest. I pointed at him. “Him.”
Malika turned and scanned the room behind her, then looked back at me with a ridiculously calm expression. “There’s nobody there, Tyler.”
“He’s there.” I pointed harder at Chris. “Can’t you see him?”
She glanced around again, checking for longer this time before slowly turning back to me. “Maybe you should lie down. I’ll help you to an empty room, okay?”
I stared at Chris. “Let her see you.”
“I don’t know if I can.” He frowned for a minute, then shrugged. “Doesn’t seem to work.”
Malika pursed her lips a bit. “Tyler. Who are you talking to?”
“Chris Raiden,” I said. “He’s here.”
“Oh yeah,” Chris said, rolling his eyes. “If she can’t see me, she’s totally going to believe you.”
Malika got to her feet. “I think maybe I should call that ambulance.”
“No!” I glared at my legs and tried to will them to straighten out and agree to support my weight. “I’m okay. I’m just . . . maybe you’re right. I should lie down. I’m just . . .” I glanced at Chris again and then tried to act like I wasn’t seeing an apparition in the room. After all, I’m too pretty to go to a psych ward. I swallowed hard and turned to Malika. “It’s been a long day. I’m just tired.”
She narrowed her eyes.
Chris poked her experimentally. His hand went through her neck.
“I’m going to lie down,” I said. Even though this was our largest, most luxurious room, it suddenly seemed claustrophobic. “Is 612 empty?”
“Yeah. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m good,” I said, finally managing to scramble to my feet. “Can you just throw some sheets on this bed for me?” She nodded, and I gave her a bright smile. Really, it was probably a few shades too bright, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. “Okay, then. I’ll be fine in a bit. I just need a little nap.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll come check on you in an hour if you’re not up by then.”
“Thanks.” I forced my feet to move. After a few steps had proved to me that I could walk on my own without face-planting, I sped up and went to room 612 at a trot, then passed the management key through the room card reader and went inside.
I went directly to the bed and sat down. I put my head in my hands and took a moment to gather my thoughts.
“So that was awkward,” Chris said.
I looked up at him. “I’m crazy,” I said after a moment. “I’ve lost my mind.”
“I don’t know what you are, man. Maybe I’m crazy. I’ve never had a trip like this, though, so it seems weird.” He crossed over to the bed and put his hand on it, then slowly lowered himself to sit down. “Huh. I guess I can sit.”
I thought about mentioning that he’d already found out he could sit in the other room, but I didn’t really have the stability to string together a long sentence yet. I put my elbows on my knees and focused on breathing normally. Chris reached over and touched my knuckles.
“Can you feel that?” he asked.
I moved my hand so that his fingers dipped into it. “No. Not really. Not at all, actually.”
“The movies say ghosts are cold. It’s not cold or anything?”
“No.” I pulled my hand away. “But it’s weird, so stop it.”
“All right,” he said, pulling his own hand back.
“Could you feel it?”
He shrugged. “Same as the floor and the bed. I can tell when I’m touching something, but it doesn’t feel like really touching it. Just like there’s a barrier there. A little token resistance.” He dipped his hand into the mattress. “But it’s easy to break through.”
I nodded, then sat up a little straighter. It was time to get back to business. “You appeared when I put on your ring, so . . .”
He jumped to his feet and jabbed his finger at me. “Aha! So it’s not a replica! You did steal my ring!”
I rolled my eyes. “Dude, I told you. I found it on the floor and tried it on. That’s not the same thing as stealing.”
“Give it back,” he demanded, holding out his hand. “It’s mine. My dad’s wedding ring, man. It’s important to me, and I need it.”
I laughed. “And where are you going to put it? In your ghost pockets? It would just fall right through you.”
“Take it off. It’s not yours to keep.” He scowled and shook the hand he was still holding out like he was reminding me it was there.
“Okay, okay.” I reached for the ring, then paused. “You appeared when I put it on. So if I take it off, you might disappear.”
He considered this. “I’m not afraid.”
“You’re not? That must be nice. Because I’m fucking terrified, let me tell you.”
He gave me a Look. “You’re not the one who’s dead.”
“Maybe not, but I am the one who’s sitting in an empty hotel room talking to a ghost while my coworker is probably on the phone with the guys in white coats, so I think of the two of us, I’m worse off right now.”
“How is that worse than being dead?” He started pacing back and forth.
I watched him for a few seconds before answering. “Well, it’s not like you’re getting any more dead. But I could potentially be getting crazier and crazier by the second.”
“I think it must vacillate back and forth between more and less crazy,” he said, and for some reason the fancy GRE word sounded natural in his voice.
I raised an eyebrow. “How do you figure that?”
“Well, you were screaming,” he pointed out. “And then you were pretty chill with the whole thing for a little while. And then you started screaming again. And now you’re back to chill. So you’ve gone from crazy to not crazy and back to crazy and now you’re back to not crazy.”
I thought about this for a moment. “Well, maybe. But I think maybe the screaming was the not-crazy part and the chillaxing is the crazy coming back out.”
“That could be true,” he conceded. “So . . . good-bye, I guess.”
I blinked. “What? Good-bye? Are you, um, moving on?”
He stopped pacing and turned to face me. “Not that I know of. But if you take the ring off and it launches me into whatever afterlife I’m headed for . . . good-bye.”
“Yeah,” I said, drawing out the word. I put my fingers on the ring again, but still didn’t pull it off.
Poor guy. He’d just learned he was dead and now he might be getting even deader, despite what I’d said earlier. That must suck. I’ve always thought it might be better to die suddenly, without any warning, because although it would be shitty to die without saying your good-byes, at least you didn’t have to lie there dreading the last moment. I raised my eyes to meet his and felt like maybe I should, I don’t know, say a few words.
“You were a good musician, you know.” It was really all I could say, since I didn’t know the guy personally. But maybe it would be enough. “Your music and your life meant something to a lot of people.”
He swallowed, even though that must be pretty useless for a ghost. “You’re a fan?”
“Not really,” I admitted, then felt bad, both because maybe it would be better for him to be talking to a fan right now and because it’s not strictly true that I’m not one. “Well . . . I’m not a hardcore-psycho-screaming-in-the-mosh-pit kind of fan. But I like Incite the Masses, yeah. And my girlfriend was a huge fan.”
He tilted his head. “Was?”
“Yeah, was.” I paused, then realized what he meant. “Well, she still is a fan. She’s just not my girlfriend anymore. Hence the past tense.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I guess it’s good. That people appreciated me.”
“They did,” I assured him. “And you know, the fans went crazy when you died. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some kids ran out and got tattoos in memory of you. There are fan sites and oh my God, you should have seen the crowd outside the cemetery where they buried you.”
He blinked. “I’m buried?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Why? Does that surprise you?”
“A little, yeah,” he admitted, hugging his arms to his stomach. “I mean, it shouldn’t. I’m dead.” He blinked hard, then sighed. “How many people get to stand there saying ‘I’m dead’ and mean it literally?”
“No idea, man,” I said, shrugging. “I really don’t know how widespread ghostism is.”
“So you’re not Haley Joel?” He laughed awkwardly. “I mean . . . you don’t see dead people all the time? Walking around like regular people? Who don’t know they’re dead?”
“Not all the time, no,” I answered. “You’re my first. But who knows? Maybe finding your purple corpse awoke some latent psychic powers in me or something.”
“Maybe— Wait. Purple corpse?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah. What, you thought after you shot yourself up with that much smack you’d look pretty?”
“I kind of hoped I wouldn’t look dead,” he snapped. “Or even be dead, for that matter.”
“Well, when you die of a heroin overdose you’re purple. The more you know.” I shot him a pointed glare. “But you looked okay otherwise, I guess. Well, and the fact that you’d puked yourself. So that wasn’t very attractive either. And your makeup was everywhere.”
He grimaced. “I really didn’t think I took enough to die of it.”
“The entire medical community disagrees with you,” I said. “And you know what they say about heroin, dude. Not even once.”
“You mean you’ve never tried it? Not even once?”
“Um, no,” I said, letting the contempt creep into my voice. I mean, sure, I’ll be nice to the guy to help ease his transition from life to afterlife so he doesn’t become a vengeful ghost and rethink the whole not-drowning-me-in-the-tub thing. But I wasn’t going to sit there and defend hard-drug use to him like it was a good idea that went tragically wrong.
“I find that hard to believe.” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall, slowly and carefully like it was an experiment.
I raised my eyebrow again. “Dude, not that many people actually do heroin. I mean, pot, okay. Meth. Even crack. But heroin is a pretty small subset, as far as I know.”
“Just about everybody I know has at least tried it.”
“Well, you’re a rock star. You have a skewed sample,” I pointed out. “I bet everybody you know has boned Zoe Saldana, too.”
He laughed. “Not her specifically. But I guess I see what you mean.”
I offered him a smile, then let it slip back into a less amused expression. “But seriously, dude. Why’d you do it?”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I tried it because I wanted to try new things. Experiment, you know. And then I just didn’t stop.” He opened his eyes again and gazed past me, unfocused and distant. “Eric told me to stop. But all I could think was, you know, fuck Eric. So I did what I wanted and now I’m dead.”
“I thought you and Eric were best friends.” And I really did. They acted like besties in all their interviews, elbowed each other and smiled and giggled and told stories about shenanigans and hijinks they’d gotten into. I’m pretty sure there’s a subset of fans who are convinced that they had been doing it too.
Chris pondered that for a few seconds. Finally, he sighed. “We were. But that was over a while ago. We’ve been barely civil to each other for a long time now.”
“So the interviews where you said you were like brothers . . . that was all for show?”
“No, we’re still like brothers,” he said, chuckling bitterly. “Just brothers who don’t like each other and only hang out when we’re obligated to.”
I nodded slowly. “Hence the separate hotels.”
“Yeah.” He tried to push away from the wall and almost fell backward through it.
I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did. He just looked so ridiculous, flailing for balance as his limbs disappeared into the wall and out of it, and then the dark glance he shot me set me off more.
“It’s not funny.” He wrinkled his nose and crossed his arms. “I nearly busted my ass.”
“Your ghosty ass!” I said, laughing even harder.
“Shut up,” he demanded, but his mouth twitched.
“Okay, okay.” I took several deep breaths and managed to compose myself. Barely. “So anyway, should we try the ring thing? See if that sends you on into the hereafter?”
“I guess so,” he said, his voice getting a little soft and vulnerable again. “Thanks, man.”
“For what?” I asked, my fingers pausing on the ring.
He worked his jaw for a moment. “For . . . I don’t know. I guess for explaining what happened. Could you, you know, pass on a message for me?”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “A message. To who?”
“To Eric. And to my sister.”
“That you love them? That you’re sorry?” I guessed.
“Yeah, tell Allison that.” He grimaced. “And tell Eric . . . I don’t know. To go fuck himself. Or that he was right. Or that if he gets Nathan Vale to replace me, I’ll find a way to come haunt the shit out of him.”
I raised both eyebrows. “Um. Well, this is awkward.”
Chris’s mouth dropped open. “He did not.”
“They said it was only for the rest of the tour,” I pointed out helpfully.
“He did not,” he said again, louder this time. “That fucker!”
“Don’t drown the messenger in the tub.” I spread my hands in the universal “please don’t kill me Mr. Ghost” gesture.
“I’m going to find that asswipe and haunt him. I’m going to make his life miserable. He’ll regret doing this.”
“Hey, now, don’t go all vengeful spirit on me.” I gave him an exaggerated wide-eyed look. “I don’t want to have to shoot you with a salt gun.”
“With a what?” He stopped grinding his ghosty teeth and frowned at me.
“A salt gun,” I said. “Because you’re a ghost and, you know, salt . . .” He still looked completely in the dark. I rolled my eyes. “And then I’d have to burn your bones.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?” he demanded.
Jeez. Richard didn’t get the Star Trek references and Chris Raiden had never watched Supernatural. I was surrounded by cultural cripples, all the time. “Never mind. If you didn’t watch any decent shows when you were alive, it’s too late to start now.”
“What show is that from?”
“Supernatural. It’s pretty good. They hunt ghosts and monsters and shit.”
He tilted his head again in what I was already starting to recognize as his thinking stance. “They hunt ghosts? Let’s watch it.”
I blinked at him. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, as a heart attack,” he said, then went to the bed and sat down facing the TV.
“Or as a lethal dose of junk,” I muttered, then picked up the remote. “It’s probably not even on, anyway. And the hotel TVs don’t have internet access.”
“Just find it on pay-per-view.” He flipped his hand like he was saying “any time you’re ready. Slowly McTakesforever.”
“Um, no,” I said. “Richard will kill me if I use pay-per-view in a guest room.”
“Then charge it to me.” He smiled like this was the greatest plan ever. “You still have my credit card information on file, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But. You’re. Dead. I’m pretty sure they cancel your credit cards when you’re dead.”
“Oh.” He paused and looked lost for a second.
And there was no way I was going to deal with a crying ghost if I could possibly help it, so I smiled super brightly and patted his ghost hand as best I could without being able to feel it. “Well, let’s just try the ring thing. Maybe you’ll go to heaven and then God can get you Netflix access or something.”
“Or I’ll go to hell,” he grumbled.
“Then you can watch Rock of Love,” I said. “Surely they play that one in hell on repeat.”
He laughed. “I like you, Tyler.”
I rolled my eyes. “Just because you’re stuck with me right now.”
“Well, yeah,” he admitted. “But you seem all right.”
“‘All right’? I can live with that.” I gave him a half smile. “So . . . are you ready?”
“Yeah.” He stood up. “If I disappear, can you put the ring back on before you just get rid of it? See if I come back when it’s on your hand again?”
“Sure. But if you don’t . . . well, it was good to meet you.”
“Same here.” He took another deep breath.
I watched him for a few seconds, then slipped the ring off of my finger.
Chris Raiden was a tall guy. Not freakishly tall, but easily six feet. A little taller than me. He had dark hair, almost black, and dark-brown eyes. He was slender with decently muscular arms, and he liked to wear tight T-shirts on stage to show off his biceps. He was the sort of guy who was attractive enough on his own, but fame suited him well. However, the most unusual thing about Chris Raiden was that he was still there.
I looked at the ring in my hand, then put it down on the bed beside me so that I wasn’t touching it at all. He stood there in front of me with his eyes squeezed shut.
“Any day now,” he said after a moment.
“I already did it,” I told him. “And you’re still here.”
He opened one eye and peered at me. “I didn’t disappear?”
“Nope. Not even a flicker.” I pointed at the ring on the bed.
“Well,” he said, opening his other eye. “That explains a lot.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What exactly does it explain?”
“I have no idea,” he admitted. “But if we knew what the hell was going on here, I have a feeling it would explain a lot.”
“That’s extremely helpful,” I said sarcastically. “But it doesn’t help the situation.”
“What’s the situation exactly?” He started pacing again.
“That apparently you’re just, you know, here. And you’re not seeming to go anywhere.” I leaned back onto the bed and held myself up by my elbows. “Still no light to go toward?”
His eyes slid out of focus, and he gazed off into the corner of the room for a few seconds. “Nothing. I get the feeling that I can’t leave. Or at least that if I tried, something bad would happen.”
“Something bad like what? An explosion? Tearing open the fabric of space and time?”
“No, more like . . .” He paused and tilted his head. “More like I won’t like where I go if I leave now.”
“Oh.” There was a little bit of awkward silence while every hellfire and brimstone sermon I’d ever heard ran through my head. None of that seemed helpful, though, so I just sat there and let my head fall back to stare at the ceiling.
After a few seconds, he cleared his throat. “So . . . if it’s not the ring . . . why you? Why you and not that girl?”
“I have no idea, man. None.” I considered making up a story about séances or another arcane ritual, but I’m not really that good a bullshitter. “Maybe because I was the first one to touch the ring? Or because I was the one to find your body so there’s some sort of connection to your soul?”
“I wonder if it really is just you,” he said, sounding a little lost in thought. “Maybe I could show myself to other people if I tried harder.”
I shrugged. “You can try. But I’ve got to finish my shift. Richard will fire my ass for sure if I don’t. And even if he doesn’t, Malika will probably have me committed for my own safety unless I get out there and start acting normal again.”
He gave me an extremely dubious look. “You’re going to go back to work after all this?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Bills don’t pay themselves, man. And also, you owe me a tip.”
“I owe you a tip? For what?”
“For bringing you room service and stiffing me on the gratuity,” I clarified.
“. . . when did I stiff you on a gratuity? I’d never met you before tonight.” He blinked at me, his forehead wrinkled up. It was almost endearing, his confused face. Made him seem more like a real human being instead of an untouchable rock star.
“About two months ago,” I said. “You ordered a steak, medium rare with a bleu-cheese crust, and a side of grapes. Grapes. And not just any grapes, but red seedless grapes. We had to run out and find some grocery store that was open in the middle of the night and sold red seedless grapes because we didn’t have any in stock. It was so weird, dude. I didn’t know heroin gave people weird pregnancy cravings, but whatever.”
He stared at me, and I decided that it must not be possible to hear the gears turning in someone’s mind because if it was, I’d be hearing them now. But I saw the exact moment when he figured out what I meant.
“I didn’t stiff you,” he said, his voice rising in volume with each word. “I was dead.”
“Yeah, well, tell that to my cable bill.” I raised an eyebrow. “That was a hundred-dollar steak, man. Twenty percent of a hundred dollars is twenty bucks that I was counting on taking home.”
“You’re so bad off that twenty bucks is the difference between paying your bills and not paying them?”
“Zoe Saldana, man,” I said.
“What? Oh.” He looked a little sheepish, to his credit. “Skewed sample again, I guess.”
“Yeah. Welcome to the world of the working class.” I pushed myself up and off the bed. “Speaking of the working class, I have to get back to it.”
He looked around. “What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know.” I smoothed out the wrinkles in my bellboy jacket. “Didn’t you say you wanted to go haunt some people? Maybe you could do that. That would be fun for you.”
“I guess I could,” he said. “All right, then. I suppose this is good-bye.”
“Yeah.” I picked up the ring and put it in my pocket. “I’ll mail this to your manager and he can get it to whoever.”
“Probably my sister,” Chris said. “Thanks again.”
“Yeah, no problem.” I gave him a weird little salute and headed out of the room and down the hallway. Before I got to the elevator, though, I heard Chris speak from right behind me.
“So . . . this is kind of unsettling.”
I stopped and turned around to glare at him. “Why are you following me? Don’t you have people to haunt?”
“Yeah, about that . . .” He shifted. “I’m not sure I can be away from you.”
I raised both eyebrows this time. “What do you mean?”
“You got about twenty feet down the hall and then I had to follow you.”
“Well, that’s sweet and all, but I don’t think I’m your type,” I snapped. “Go away. Go find your sister or Nathan Vale or some groupie with a nice rack. I’ve got work to do.”
“No, I mean . . . I really had to follow you. As in, when you walked away, I had to follow you. It wasn’t optional.” I scoffed, and he continued, “I’ll show you. Walk away.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” I said. I turned my back and walked another fifty feet or so toward the elevator again. When I looked over my shoulder, Chris was about twenty feet behind me.
“I didn’t move on purpose. You dragged me with you.”
“I dragged you with me,” I repeated. “What the fuck does that mean?”
He glared. “Walk backwards and watch me.”
I rolled my eyes but did as I was told. For every step I took, Chris stumbled forward a little, reluctantly, as if someone was pushing him along. He could have been faking it, I guess, but it was pretty convincing.
“Huh,” I said, super eloquently.
“Yeah,” he said. “So there’s that.”
“So not only am I the only one who can see you, and not only do you not disappear when I take off your ring . . . but I’m stuck with, like, a restraining order. Except instead of you needing to be more than twenty feet from me at all times, you have to follow me everywhere.”
“Yeah, that seems about right.” He motioned at my pocket. “Or it’s the ring I have to follow.”
“Guess we should test that, huh?” I turned away from him and pulled it out of my pocket. “Here goes.” I squatted and rolled the ring along the floor away from him, then twisted around to look at him. He was standing in the same place.
I stood and took a big step backward, and Chris stumbled forward again. “Guess that answers that,” I said.
He scowled and walked toward me so that we were at a normal speaking distance again. “No offense, man, but this sort of blows.”
I laughed. “You have no idea.”
“Well . . .” He ran his hands through his hair again, and I watched it slowly fade back into its unmussed state, like he was resetting to always look the same. “What are we going to do?”
“I’m going to finish my shift, and you’re going to stay back and be quiet. And then when I get off work, we’re going to figure out what to do.” I walked over to where the ring had stopped rolling, then picked it up and put it on.
“So I just . . . follow you around and watch you do your job?”
“Pretty much, yeah. Maybe it will be educational for you. To see how the common masses live when you’re not Inciting them.”
“I guess I could do that,” he said. “After all . . .” He paused dramatically. “It won’t kill me.”
I groaned. “Okay, you’re going to have to stop with the ghost jokes.”
“That’s the only one I’ve told,” he argued, looking ridiculously put out by the whole thing. “Come on, man, I just found out I’m dead. Worms are currently eating my liver. The least you can do is give me a couple of free passes on ghost humor.”
He had a point. I sniffed so he knew how generous I was being, then shrugged one shoulder. “Fine. You can have a couple of ghost jokes.”
“Really?” He gave me a lopsided smile that would have sent Carmen into spasms of pleasure. “Thanks, man. That means a lot.”
“Don’t think you can just smile at me and get anything you want, though,” I warned, even going so far as to waggle my finger at him. “That only works on girls.”
He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. I gave him a moment to decide whether or not he was going to try again with the speaking thing, but he didn’t, so the seconds stretched on until they got sort of weird.
“Anyway,” I said to break the awkward silence. “I have to get downstairs. Just be quiet and, I don’t know, try and figure out if you can float.”
“All right,” he agreed. “Lead on.”
[A] richly rendered portrayal of death and love.
[A]n unexpected gem; funny, emotional and sexy.
[A] paranormal story that is different, funny, sad, full of angst, and has a happy ending.
Lauren Sattersbury hit a home run with her debut. She is most definitely on my reading radar. She turned what was a heartbreaking scenario into a beautiful love story and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.