Julia. A thousand memories with that name. A thousand smiles. How could I forget?
James. I was James. She was Julia, my best, my only friend. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten her, forgotten us.
I wanted to rush back, to see her again. To talk as we once had. To remember. But she was still there. Bre. That was her name. Julia’s other friend. The one she’d moved away to live with. The one she’d left me for. The one she’d married.
Except she hadn’t left me. Not fully. I remembered now she had come back. Tried to talk. But I had refused.
Why? Why had I refused to speak with her? Why had I hidden in the darkeness. Like a child. Like I was now. Hiding. But I dare not return. Not now. Not after I did…all that. Shame poured over me. I had been so… childish. Playing tricks. Bre could have gotten hurt. Stepped on glass, fell down the stairs, had a heart attack. That would make Julia sad.
No, I couldn’t go back. Not yet. But…soon. I had to see her again.
Julia sat in the chair, rocking Max. He was fussing again, refusing to sleep. Since she didn’t teach until the evening, she was on Max-duty. Bre had to be at work by nine and only after they switched rooms had she finally started sleeping again.
Not that James had come to play more tricks since that night. Max was growing heavy in her arms, but she didn’t dare put him down yet. She’d made that mistake before. Unless he was deeply, truly asleep, he’d wake the moment her hands left him and it would be another hour to settle him back down.
The air shifted. It felt like a new season had just begun and fresh air had swept through the house. It felt like the house had been tilted until now and was suddenly straight. Julia knew that feeling even though she hadn’t felt it in years. James.
Julia hadn’t dared hope he would appear again. Despite the haunting, it had been such a relief to actually see him. To know for sure he was still here. She’d worried that he’d been lost in the darkness again, but that this time he wouldn’t make it back. No matter how frightening he’d looked standing there, it had been a relief just to see him.
“James,” Julia whispered. Not wanting to wake Max or scare James away.
“This is Marcus,” Julia encouraged. “We call him Max.” Max was a dead weight in her arms at last and she stood slowly and placed in his bed, holding her breath. He didn’t stir. James watched her with wide eyes.
Once she was certain Max was not about to start screaming she turned to face James. Her heart sang. At last he’d come! It had been so hard knowing she couldn’t come to him. That he had to be the one to come to her. Knowing he could be lost, knowing he was hurting.
She motioned that they should leave, although Max would probably sleep through a herd of elephants now. She closed the door softly.
“Oh James!” Julia broke the silence that stretched between them. “It’s so good to see you.”
James shifted, clearly uncomfortable. “I’m sorry.” His voice was small and meek.
If Julia could have one wish granted right now it would be to scoop James up in her arms and hug him so tight. To never let him go again. “It’s okay,” Julia was forced to use inferior words. Unable to even touch him. She would willingly go through everything a second time since it meant James was here.
“No,” he shook his head, looking very small and young. “No. I messed up. I got upset and then… I .. I kind of forgot.”
“James,” Julia knelt down so they were eyes level like they used to be. “It’s okay really. You’re here now. I – I thought you were gone forever. I thought you might be lost in the darkness again”
“I almost was. But the door was too far away,” he whispered.
“Oh James.” How alone, how awful he must have felt. Words didn’t seem like enough to bridge this new gap between them. How could she let him know how much it meant to her to see him again. To talk to him again.
“I – I just wanted to say I’m sorry. And- ” he hesitated before continuing. “And I won’t bother you are Bre again. Or Max.”
Julia’s heart sank. No. No. No. He was already too pale in the moonlight and it took a second for her to realize he was disappearing again. Forever.
“James, no!” she shouted, not caring if she woke Max. If she woke the whole house it would be worth it. He stopped fading at her shout and finally, finally really looked at her.
“Please, don’t go. I’ve missed you so very much,” tears stung her eyes, but she didn’t dare wipe them away. She feared if she even blinked, he’d be gone. “I don’t care about what happened, I understand. It’s okay. You were hurting and – and it’s okay, really. Please. Please don’t leave me again.” She wanted to reach out and stop him from leaving.
James came forward slowly. Julia held her breath. They were as close as they could be. Eye to eye.
“I missed you too,” he whispered.
“Where does this go, Max?” I asked pointing at the yellow block in front of him.
Max scrunched his face and I tried not to laugh. You could always tell when he was thinking hard. He reached out slowly and touched the square hole. Looking at me shyly, questioningly.
“You have to try to be sure,” I said not willing to tell him if he’d picked right. But inside I wanted to cheer.
He picked up the block, still watching me. I nodded at him, unable to hide the smile from my face. He placed it in the hole and it fit perfectly. I clapped as a grin erupted on his face. His smile reminded me of Julia at this age. We’d played together the same way. Although his mother had been quicker to smile. Max was often a serious baby, but the reward of his smile was just as sweet.
His grin faded though and he was suddenly serious Max again.
“Why blue?” he asked.
I knew he wasn’t talking about the blue block. He was staring at my hands. I wondered if he was ready? Would he even understand if I told him I was a ghost?
“People are different colors. You’re kind of pinkish tan. I’m blue.” I hedged.
He nodded, but I knew he was still thinking. “No touch.” He frowned.
“True, you can’t touch me and I can’t touch you. That’s another way I’m different.”
“No talk.” He grabbed his mouth, covering it with both his hands. But his eyes were smiling now. He liked this game.
“That’s right.” I agreed, putting a finger to my own lips. “Only mama knows about me. I’m a secret.”
“James seacat,” Max said nodding vigorously and covering his eyes so that I would “disappear”. Peeka-boo was one of his favorite games.
The door opened and I vanished, slipped through the darkness tothe closet. Where I could keep an eye on him.
“Gone!” Max cried a huge smile on his face. “Pooph!”
I watched as Bre strode into the room and scooped Max up into her arms.
“What’s gone poof?” she asked grinning down at him.
He giggled. “Seacat.”
“Oh, you have a secret do you?” She placed him in his crib and tickled his belly until he squealed. “You keeping secrets from me, hmm?”
Max’s eyes grew wide and he nodded.
“Well,” Bre looked down at him. “As long as it’s not a bad secret?”
He shook his head. “Not bad.”
“Okay,” Bre grinned. “I guess you can have your secret. But now it’s bedtime.”
“Mamma’s at work tonight,” Bre said. “She’s teaching.”
Max wrinkled his nose. He didn’t like that. But Bre’s back was to her son as she picked up the blocks we’d been playing with. I knew that if Max started crying it would be forever to get him settled down again. And he’d been in such a good mood.
I popped back to visibility and moved out of the closet so Max could see me, but Bre couldn’t. His eyes grew wide as he noticed me. He looked at Bre and then back at me. I made a silly face. He worried to see me, but soon as my faces were more and more silly he plopped back down into his crib, giggling.
“So, my little, giggle face,” Bre turned around holding his favorite toy. “Ready for bed.”
“Mumma hug!” he held out his arms and Bre swooped him back into her arms spinning him around. Crisis adverted. Then she slowed her spin and rocked him slowly in her arms. Humming.
I slipped back into the darkness.