I faded into the house and saw Julia sleeping. It felt like I had been gone for ever, but also that I’d been here just yesterday. I watched her sleep. Her breath slow and even. It was late. Perhaps I should wait until tomorrow. I hesitated.
I grinned and moved found. “I’m back,” I said as she sat up. Then froze. “Julia?”
“Oh James,” she whispered fiercely. “Where have you been!?” She was smiling so bright, so happy to see me. But I was locked in place, trying to figure out what had gone so terribly wrong.
“I…I got lost,” I managed. I still couldn’t believe my eyes, it was Julia but she was so different, so much older.
“Tell me everything,” she insisted and smiled and patted the bed next to her. Urging me to sit and talk like we used to. Like she hadn’t just suddenly grown up. I sat on the edge of the bed and glancing at urging face, started to talk. I told her about the angry ghost and about running away.
She agreed running was the right thing to do. “No one likes a crazy ghost in their house,” she teased. I think she remembered the stories I’d told her of the previous owners and what I’d done to the house back then.
At first it felt weird, it felt wrong to talk to her, to look up to see her smile. I’d always been taller than Julia, but now she was taller than me. But as we chatted, I forgot sometime that this was a new Julia. By the time I told her about the Grim Reaper, I was completely comfortable again.
“So he was there!”
“I think so, it was really weird. Not the same as the normal darkness, and oh, he said he couldn’t help me. That I was stuck as a ghost.”
I nodded. The disappointment coming back now. It’s not that I minded being a ghost, not really. I didn’t know anything else, but to be told you’re a mistake and that you will be a ghost forever? That felt wrong. “He said I’m not in his book.”
Julia frowned, “Do you remember that book I found in the library?”
“Yes, that was like yesterday to me.”
“Well not for me.” She stuck her tongue out. We laughed and the last of the tension between us faded away. “Anyway, I read it a lot while you were … gone. And I think I read something about a book of life. I’ll go look tomorrow, I can’t quite remember.” She yawned and I knew it was time to go. I stood up.
“You don’t have to leave!”
I shook my head. “You need to sleep. I’ll be back tomorrow night.” I didn’t want to leave, but it dawn wasn’t far away either.
Julia nodded, but she looked doubtful. “Promise?” For a second she looked as young as she had the last time I’d seen her.
I nodded. It wasn’t always easy for me to tell when it was night, but I was going to make a special effort. “I promise, as soon as the sun goes down.”
Julia loved the mornings, she loved hearing the birds and smelling the fresh morning air. It was the best time for writing as well. Some of her best work was written in the morning before the house was up.
Today though, her brain was too fuzzy to create a sentence much less a poem. She sat outside watching the neighborhood wake up, clutching her coffee. She was so tired, but it had been worth it to see James again.
He’d been gone six years. It was enough time that she’d started to believe her parents that James was just an imaginary friend. After two years she’d been pretty sure he was never coming back. The Darkness was a lot more dangerous than she’d thought. She remembered James had been nervous to go into the Darkness, but she’d pushed him. She wished she hadn’t. But at least he hadn’t been lost longer. Imagine if he’d come back to find her an old woman!
No, it was awful that he’d been gone so long, but he was back now. So everything was going to be okay. Behind her she heard her house start to still.
“Mom!? Have you seen my homework!?” That was Molly, always misplacing things. She’d pick something up and never remember where she’d put it down. Once Julia had found half a sandwich in the shower, courtesy of Molly.
“Cereal again?” Wailed Lara. Lara was never satisfied with anything. Julia likened her to a cat, she always wanted whatever wasn’t available. If they’d had pancakes, she would have declined with a huff and demanded a toaster pastry, or cereal.
Her parents were up now too, though Julia could only hear her father’s heavier footsteps on the wood floors. She knew there was no way anyone slept through the chaos that was the morning rush to school.
She looked at the time, thirty minutes till the bus. She finished her coffee and stood up. Time to change. After school she’d swing by the library for that old book of gods. She could almost remember the page, but she wanted to be sure before she talked to James again. Especially as last time hadn’t turned out so well.