Julia made it through the morning, but by afternoon she was dragging.
As she walked to her next class, she thought longingly of finding a hidden spot in the school library and just closing her eyes for a moment.
“Julia! Wait up!” Breana’s hand fell on Julia’s shoulder as her friend caught her. “I haven’t seen you all day? Are you ready for Cook, Serve, Delicious! tonight?”
Julia’s heart sank. She had completely forgotten about going to the new movie with everyone after school. It was opening day. “Oh, Bre. I totally forgot.”
“Something came up?”
Julia nodded. “Honest, I’m not bailing.” Although she was itching to get to the library and see James again, but she knew she’d never stay awake through a movie. The moment the lights went out she would be too.
“Well,” Breana gave a laugh, “I’ll let you off, but you’ll owe me for having to entertain Devan and Marq myself.”
“Anything,” Julia said with a huge sigh. She’d bailed often enough in the past that Breana the right to insist she show up today.
Breana’s eye held a mischievous gleam. “I’ll hold you to that.”
The two girls entered English together and sat down in their regular seats. English was one of Julia’s favorite subject, but today she wished they were having gym or something. Anything more exciting than Ms. Pancakes lecturing on the Bard. That topic normally had Julia taking copious notes and asking questions. Today, she was struggling to keep her eyes open.
“Miss Pigglewiggle,” Ms. Pancake said her voice full of censure. Julia turned, startled. When did she get there?!
“Y-yes, Ms. Pancakes?” she asked.
“Are you paying attention now, Julia?”
“Yes.” Julia flushed. She could feel the whole class’s attention on her. She wanted to sink into the ground.
“Ms. Pancakes?” Breana’s hand shot into the air, drawing the attention away from her. Julia could have kissed her.
“Julia’s not feeling well today.”
Everyone’s attention turned back to Julia and she felt her face burning. She shook her head.
“She told me this morning,” Breana continued. She was either oblivious to Julia’s silent protest or didn’t care.
“You do look a bit puny,” Ms. Pancakes said, studying her. Her tone softened, “but I can’t have you disturbing class.”
“I’ll take her to the nurse’s office,” Breana offered.
“Thank you, Breana.” Ms. Pancakes said. “Let us resume class now.” She moved back to the front of the class, capturing everyone’s attention again. “Now, who can tell me one of the Bard’s more famous works?”
As the classed turned its attention back to studying, Breana grabbed her books and held her hand out to Julia.
“I’m fine, Bre” Julia protested softly.
“You’re not,” Breana said and pulled her to her feet. “Just come.”
They left the class quickly, but Breana didn’t head toward the nurse’s office. Instead, she led Julia one of the side doors and outside. With a giggle, she pulled Julia down the sidewalk to the park across the street.
Breana was grinning. “Ah – I couldn’t wait to get out of class. I was bored to tears.”
Between the shame of being the center of attention, the walk, and now fresh air and sunshine, Julia was awake again.
“I wasn’t snoring, was I?” Julia hadn’t thought she’d been asleep, but she definitely hadn’t heard the teacher sneaking behind her. She’d nearly had a heart-attack when Ms. Pancakes had said her name.
“No. Were you sleeping?” Breana was incredulous.
“Stayed up too late?”
“Yeah,” she looked at her friend and thought about telling her about James. Breana hadn’t been around in elementary school so she hadn’t been a part of the teasing. Even so, Julia knew Breana was a practical person, like her father. She wasn’t the type to believe in ghosts.
They chatted until school was let out and when they heard the final bell ringing across the street, the girls hugged goodbye. Julia to the library and Breana into town to watch the new movie.
“Remember!” Breana shouted as she crossed the street back to school. “You owe me!”
I visited Julia that next night and the next as well. Every time we met was a little easier and at the same time, a little harder. It was easier each night to remember she was older and easier to see “my” Julia inside her smile.
But it was getting harder and harder to talk to her. I’d never been nervous to talk to Julia before, but now, my heart raced whenever I was with her and I found myself talking too fast or not talking at all. Half the time I wasn’t even aware of exactly what I as saying. I hoped she didn’t notice.
She’d taken to researching the Darkness and the Grim Reaper after my return. I often came to her room to find her bend over the dusty books or writing notes. I wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but the few notes I heard and read made me a bit worried. What was this Ritual of Ashes?
“If only you could remember more,” Julia said giving up and sitting down next to me on the bed.
I shrugged. I’d told her everything I could about my time in the darkness. But she seemed certain that there was a clue I was forgetting. We sat in silence. She leaned back again the wall, her eyes closed. And I watched her out of the corner of my eyes. I wondered what she was thinking. I’m glad she couldn’t read my thoughts.
“Oh,” she sat back up. “I almost forgot, I’m going to be gone tomorrow night.” She grinned. “A sleepover.”
I knew Julia had friends now. Back in elementary school, she had only me as a friend. The other kids had teased her, but sometime while I was gone they’d stopped. And she’d made friends. But I thought they were just friends she hung out with at school. Now, she wanted to spend more time with them.
“But what about me?” I asked. I cringed, I sounded like a baby.
Julia just gave a small smile. “That’s why I’m telling you now, I owe Bre for helping me out earlier this week.”
Bre. That was her friend that she talked the most about. Bre was in her English class and had dyed her hair green and purple. Julia had wanted to dye her hair as well, but her parents had said no. Bre hadn’t been over since I had been back, but already I hated her for taking Julia away from me.
“I need a break from all this anyway.” She gestured at the desk and all her research.
My heart sank at her words. Did that mean she was giving up? If she was giving up did that mean she was tired of me? I might not know what she was looking for exactly. But knowing she was doing it for me made me happy. It gave me a reason to visit.
“I see.” It was probably time to go back. It was getting late and Julia was tired. I only got to spend a few hours with her after the sun set. If she wasn’t going to be around, why had I even left the Darkness?
“James – wait,” she said. I stopped and turned back to her. “I don’t mean you should leave now. I just don’t have any new ideas. Taking a break means I might think of something new.”
“Have you told Breana about me?” I couldn’t help but ask. If she had told her friend…
“No,” she shook her head sadly. I couldn’t help but feel happy at that. “I don’t think – no, she wouldn’t understand.”
“Why are you helping me this way?” The question had been bouncing around in my head since I came back and she started doing this research. Why was she so driven to find out how to help. And what did helping me even mean? I was pretty sure it was useless since the Grim Reaper said no. But I couldn’t help but be happy that she wanted to help. I just wasn’t sure why.
“Don’t you want to move on?”
Move on? Stop being a ghost? I hadn’t ever thought of that. “I don’t know, maybe?” I said. I lied. I knew that I didn’t want to move on if it meant I wouldn’t see Julia again.
* Classroom modified from themcgfamily’s History Classroom found on the gallery.
* Distressed furniture, floors, walls, and windows from Daer0n, mainly from the haunted house set
* Challenge details: CitizenErased14’s Ambrosia Challenge
* Library Exterior is by pronterus: Wooden Hovel