A couple of months ago, I wrote a new short piece in The Ghost and the Goth world. It didn’t officially have a title at the time, but I’m calling it “Will’s New Apartment.” (Which totally makes me think of the Monsters’ Inc. short film, “Mike’s New Car.” :D)
I’m so excited to share it with you guys. I get lots of questions about what happened to Will and Alona after the last book, and there are some answers in this.
This short story takes place almost immediately after the end of Body & Soul and touches on several of the issues I would have covered in a fourth book. So, you know, spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the whole series.
So without further ado…
Alona Dare/Ally Turner
Being dead had its perks. And I missed them sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong: dying sucked. Being invisible to almost the entire living world had not been a whole lot of laughs either.
But the complete freedom to do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with nothing standing in my way, not even physical structures? Yeah, I’d never fully appreciated those benefits until it was too late.
Like now, when the ability to take a hard left through the living room drywall and out onto the driveway would have been super helpful.
“But it’s a Tuesday,” Mrs. Turner—I had to start thinking of her as Mom—said, frowning at me as I kept watch at the big bay window at the front of the house.
“Yep. All day,” I said brightly, refusing to meet her gaze. She was a champion of the guilt-stare-down, and believe me, I had some experience in that arena. The only way to win with her, I’d found, was to simply not to engage. That was way easier said than done, though. I cared about the Turners, and I was trying to get used to them caring about me. But apparently being in a relatively healthy family unit meant NOT ignoring each other and doing whatever you wanted without consulting the others.
I knew it was too good to be true.
“What I mean is that it’s a school night,” Mrs. Turner said pointedly.
“Technically, it’s a school afternoon, and I’ll be back by nine.” Nine, please. That curfew killed me. No pun intended. The good parties never got started until well after that, but since that wasn’t exactly a priority for me these days anyway, it didn’t really matter.
Well, except for the sheer ridiculousness of it. Nine!
Plus, Will had a class that ran from seven to nine on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which meant between school, homework, and my stupid curfew, I wouldn’t get to see him those days at all.
And…I missed him. Not that I would ever say that to him so directly. Not that I’d even have a chance to. We’d been alone together every day for months when I was a spirit and he was a ghost-talker, but now? Our opportunities for private conversation were frustratingly limited. I had no car or car privileges, my cell phone time was still restricted, and using the house phone here was just asking for Tyler, my/Lily’s younger brother to listen in. Not to mention, I was stuck in school from 7:45 until 2:30. By the time I was done, Will was either in class or picking up a few hours at the diner. He’d gotten his busboy job back for now. The ghost-talker business was still a work-in-progress, but my considerable lack of freedom was severely curtailing any advancements.
It was more than enough to make me long for the days when I’d wake up every morning at 7:03 wherever Will was. Including, once, in the shower.
That had been pretty spectacular: his spluttering embarrassment as he wrapped the mostly see-through shower curtain around himself, pulling it off the rings, and my very rewarding glimpse of surprisingly nice abs.
Hey, it was his fault. He knew I was linked to him and what time I “arrived” every morning. It wasn’t like I could control it.
Okay, maybe I could have not looked. Or, walked out of the bathroom before he realized I was in there. But where was the fun in that?
“And what exactly are your plans with Will?” Mrs. Turner persisted.
I swallowed a sigh of frustration. My new parents were having a little trouble letting go of me, of “us.” But I guess that’s what happens when you get your kid back from the brink of death after a horrible car accident. One that she caused herself, I might add.
“There’s an apartment he wants me to see. And then we’ll probably get some food. Hang out for awhile.” At the restaurant? Possibly. In the backseat of his battered Dodge, the only place where we had some semblance of privacy? Way more likely, especially if I had anything to say about it.
My pulse picked up at the idea, and I could feel warmth rising in my face. Yeah, okay, so there were pretty nice advantages to having a physical body too.
“An apartment. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that,” Mrs. Turner said, her forehead wrinkling with concern.
My patience—already frayed after a long day of attending my second senior year and trying to figure out how to be “Ally” instead of Lily or Alona—gave way suddenly, and I turned to face her. “You know, I managed to get good grades and not get pregnant on my own for years, thank you very much,” I said. “I’m capable of making my own decisions.” I was tired of paying for Lily’s mistakes. She was the one who’d hooked up with Ben freaking Rodgers and in her distraught, post-break-up state, nearly gotten herself killed. Not me.
I was just the spirit permanently inhabiting her body, trying to make a new life as a living person, while also being a good daughter, sister, and girlfriend.
Mrs. Turner took a step back, her hand flying up to her throat like a startled bird.
Crap. Too far.
Tyler stuck his head in the living room from the hallway, where he’d likely been eavesdropping, his eyes wide.
“Go watch TV, Ty,” I said wearily. “Everything’s okay.”
He nodded reluctantly and vanished back into hall, probably staying within listening distance still. His relentless curiosity about the personality changes in his sister, attributed to trauma and brain injury, had not lessened yet. But whatever, I was doing my best.
I turned my attention back to Mrs. Turner. “Mom…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
But to my surprise, she waved a hand, dismissing my apology. “It’s not a question of you being responsible, Lil…Ally.”
Except that it clearly was.
“I just think maybe this is an opportunity for a fresh start. For both of you.”
Except a “fresh start” typically required some kind of end, first.
My appropriated heart stuttered with fear. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean, that the two of you were close before the accident. Will was a good friend to you.” Her mouth twisted slightly as if the words tasted bad. “But after everything he’s been through and all that’s happened…”
Meaning, that time in the hospital where the Turners thought maybe Will had tried to abduct Lily/me, but it was actually this whole other thing that involved him saving me from evil ghost-talkers and a girl with bad hair. Not that we could explain that.
“Will is moving on with his life,” I said as calmly and reasonably as I could, when I felt like shouting. But shouting would be bad. The Turners had control over my life as Ally. They could make it even more difficult—or even impossible—for me to see Will. “He’s doing really well in his classes, and—”
“Exactly.” Mrs. Turner nodded rapidly. “He’s entering a new phase of his life, and I think maybe it’s something you should consider, too. A clean break.”
Wait. Was she seriously suggesting that Will and I break up? It was kind of a little late for that.
“He’s had a difficult life, and he’s trying to improve himself,” she said gently. “That’s certainly admirable. Maybe that would be easier for him without reminders of his past.”
In other words, without me.
I stared at her, unable to even find words to communicate the impossibility of what she was suggesting.
The crunch of tires on gravel as car turned into the driveway saved me from the futile effort.
“I have to go,” I said. “Will is here.”
Without waiting for a response, I turned and walked away, heading for the front door. She couldn’t really mean what she’d said. Could she?
“We’ll discuss this tonight when your father is home,” Mrs. Turner called after me, as I pulled open the door.
Evidently, she could.
“So looking forward to that,” I said grimly. I tugged the door shut after me and hurried as best as I could down the steps to the driveway. The damage to Lily’s leg, now my leg, held me to a slower pace than I would have wanted.
The driver’s side door of the Dodge opened, and Will got out. “Hey, I was just coming up to get you,” he said with a grin that made the tightness in my chest ease. His pale blue eyes looked even lighter in the bright sunlight, and his black hair was rumpled from where he’d been running his hands through it, probably during his Econ 101 class this afternoon.
Just the sight of him made a ridiculous and scary amount of love swell in me. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to run and throw myself at him, wrapping arms and legs around him and counting on him to catch me. He would. Always did. I’d tried it more than once, after discovering my new ridiculously short stature was actually good for something. But with Mrs. Turner watching from the window in disapproval, no doubt, it didn’t seem like a good time to indulge myself and test how far she and my “dad” were willing to go.
What was I going to do if they really pushed the issue? What made them even think that it was open for discussion?
I shook my head, pushing those thoughts away and fighting the urge to start chewing on my thumbnail. “It’s fine. Let’s go.” I moved to the passenger side door and pulled it open.
“Everything okay?” Will frowned at me over the top of the car, reading something in my expression.
“Yeah, great,” I said quickly, despite the lump in my throat. With as little time as we had together these days, the last thing I wanted to do was spend any of it rehashing my latest ridiculous argument with the “fam.”
He climbed behind the wheel again and started the car with a worried look at me. “Al—”
“I’m excited to see which apartment you like.” I’d spent the last couple of week assembling a list of the best ones I could find within his price range, which admittedly wasn’t great. It would be a lot easier next year, when I could move out and join him. A couple of the buildings I’d found offered studio apartments that Will could afford on his own and one-bedrooms we could move to once I graduated.
That was, by the way, yet another “discussion” I was not looking forward to with the Turners. But whatever. They didn’t know, didn’t understand what Will and I had been through in the last five months. I’d been sent back from the freaking light to help him. Okay, I’d chosen that the second time at least. Maybe the first time, too. But the light had offered me the choice, which said to me that it wasn’t viewed as a spectacularly bad decision by whoever was in charge up there. Good enough for me.
Will and I were in this together. We were bonded.
Will shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Um, yeah. About that list…”
Ally regarded the brick apartment building with raised eyebrows. “You’re kidding. People actually pay to live here?”
“It’s not that bad!” I protested, closing my door to join her in the small parking area out front of the three-story structure.
“That window is broken, the gutter is totally falling off, and oh, hey, nice dead guy on the porch.” Ally ticked off the points on her fingers.
“It’s student housing. What do you expect? Also, the window is just cracked, the gutter…is, okay, mildly tilted and, as for the dead guy…” I shrugged. “That’s just Bill.”
The ghost of the jogger, dressed in sweats and a fuzzy green headband, continued his stretches on the concrete steps, as if he hadn’t heard us. And he likely hadn’t. He was lost in his own tiny portion of the spirit world, completely unaware of us or anything else.
“Bill?” she repeated, skepticism heavy in her voice.
“He’s on a loop. He’s not going to bother us,” I said. Just as he had every time I’d seen him, Bill took off on his afternoon run, vanishing into nothingness on the edge of the parking lot. He’d evidently died on his run, whether from natural causes or an accident, I wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sentient exactly, more like a remnant, a memory.
“The apartments I found were in new construction,” Ally said as we climbed the steps to the door. “Like in the last century? Definitely fewer ghosts.”
They were also on the opposite end of campus and even farther from town. “It’s fine. We can take care of Bill when his death anniversary comes around.” Remnants were always strongest around the time of their deaths, but particularly so if you could find the time and date they died.
I hesitated, then added. “But, uh, there also might be a screamer on the second floor.” She was going to find out sooner or later anyway.
Ally raised her eyebrow, her mouth quirking. “Really?”
“Shrieker? Moaner?” I tried. God, why did everything sound sexual? “There’s a ghost of a girl who cries really loudly on the second floor,” I said finally, determined to ignore the heat in my face.
“This gets better and better by the minute,” Ally muttered.
I ignored her and led the way in, past the tiny foyer, where the metal mailboxes were set in the wall, and up the stairs to the top floor and the apartment on the right, 3B.
“Here it is,” I said, twisting the key in the lock and pushing the door open ahead of me. A blast of hot, stale air, mixed with the scent of socks left in a gym locker over summer. “It’s small and it needs a little work…”
“This place is tiny. And dirty,” she pronounced from the doorway behind me, without moving.
Okay, to be fair, she wasn’t wrong. The kitchen/living room was basically one big open area, just big enough for a couch on the right hand side. The faded and chipped linoleum marked out the kitchen area on the left. A small hallway on the opposite wall led to the bedroom and the bathroom.
“It just needs a little scrubbing,” I said, feeling a little defensive.
“Please. Gasoline and a box of matches couldn’t save it. And who, exactly, do you think will be scrubbing?” she asked.
“I have no problem with scrubbing.” It was kind of my job at the moment. “It’s going to be fine.”
She crossed into the apartment reluctantly, her arms folded across her chest as if she was afraid she might accidentally brush something. After a dismissive look at the living area and kitchen, she poked her head down the hall to the bedroom/bath area and then just as quickly retreated with a shudder.
There might have been a slight mold issue on the tile in the shower. But like I’d said, scrubbing. Not a problem.
“The kitchen has a full-sized fridge,” I tried as she returned her attention to the main room, moving to study the cabinets and sink.
“No dishwasher,” she said dismissively. “And no oven?” The incredulity in her voice hit a nerve in me.
“How often am I going to be baking something?” I asked, frustrated. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but I had reasons.
Ally froze and then turned around slowly, her face a shade paler than normal. “You already signed the lease. Didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question and the deadly tone in her voice left no doubt about how she felt about this particular decision.
Shit. “Um, yeah. But listen—”
“Right.” She took a deep breath and nodded fiercely. “Remember, when you write the rent check, I think “˜slumlord’ is one word, not two. But asshole is definitely one.” She pushed past me, limping for the door to the hall, but not before I caught the glint of tears in her eyes.
A little baffled, I followed her. “What’s wrong?” I’d expected her to be mad—at least until I had a chance to explain—but not crying. “I know it’s not like the places you sent me, but—”
She paused with her back to me and laughed bitterly. “No, it’s definitely not.”
“And?” I prompted.
She didn’t answer right away, and I risked touching her shoulder, rubbing the tightened muscles at the base of her neck with my thumb. Her hair was growing out, but still shorter than it had been when she’d been Alona instead of Ally.
Her breath escaped in a long shuddering sigh. “You’re taking classes and moving out on your own. I have to spend all day in high school still, pretending to care about that stuff. You know, it’s way harder now that I actually have to be nice to people!” She gave me a baleful look over her shoulder. “And okay, maybe some of it’s easier because they’re nice to me, but whatever. I was a month away from graduating and now I’m stuck doing stupid craft projects in Government class when—”
“The state capitol project?” I ask with sympathy. I’d had Stevens for Government.
She spun around, her eyes wide with frustration. “Oh, my God, yes. Seriously, what is that about? Popsicle sticks. Are we in fifth grade? I got out of it the first time because I just pleaded my case with Mr. Stevens. But Ally Turner just doesn’t have as much pull as Alona Dare.”
“Al,” I said. “I can help you with the—”
She shook her head. “It’s not that. Not entirely anyway.”
She took a deep breath. “Mrs. Turner thinks I should let you go. That maybe a fresh start would be better for you.” Fresh tears streaked down her face, dripping off her chin. “God, freaking Lily. It’s like she has tear ducts permanently set on PMS.” She swiped at her eyes angrily.
I stared at her. “Wait, Mrs. Turner said what?”
“That you’re doing so well, that maybe it would be better if you weren’t stuck with me. And then we could both start over.” She stared down at her feet.
“Is that what you want?” I asked, fighting to keep my voice even.
She glared at me. “No! Of course not.”
I let out a slow breath. Okay, good.
Ally shook her head. “It’s just we already barely see each other and they’re going to make it even harder…”
And then I’d gone and ignored her recommendations and rented an apartment that was pretty much the epitome of everything she hated. Which, in Alona-land, would pretty much read as a giant “fuck you.”
All right, now I was starting to get why she was upset. But I was pretty sure I could fix this. Maybe.
I took her hand, lacing my fingers between hers. “Hey.” I squeezed her hand gently until she looked up at me. “Ask me why.”
She blinked at me. “What?”
“Ask me why,” I repeated. “Why this apartment.’
She made an exasperated noise. “Will—”
“Just do it,” I persisted.
She rolled her reddened eyes. “Fine. Why this apartment?”
I tugged her toward the window that faced out the front of the building, which she allowed reluctantly.
“There.” I tipped my head toward the glass and the view beyond. “What do you see?”
She sniffled. “Besides the homeless guy peeing in the trash can?”
“I think that’s the downstairs neighbor, and he’s still drunk from the party last night. But yes, besides, that.”
She sighed. “I don’t know. The park across the street is nice, I guess.”
I pointed with my free hand. “Bus stop.”
Ally looked up at me, confusion written across her features.
I hesitated. “Look, I know you hate buses, the germs and riding with the common folk or whatever, but that route will pick you up a block from the Turners’ house and bring you here. I think there’s one change, at the mall.”
She opened her mouth to speak.
“I know, it’s not ideal,” I continued quickly before she could interrupt. “But it gets you here, whenever you want. Even if I’m working or in class. You don’t need a car or driving privileges. And I want you here—”
She snaked her arm around my neck and pulled my mouth down to hers, warm and eager. I tugged her against me, enjoying the soft gasp she made when our bodies made full contact. Guess that meant maybe she wasn’t so mad anymore.
But there was more, before I got too distracted.
I stepped back slowly. “And then there’s this.” I dug into my pocket and produced a duplicate key I’d had made for her.
“It’s pink,” she said, taking the key and turning it over to examine both sides.
“Yeah.” I shifted uncomfortably. “The guy at the hardware store kind of figured out what I was up to. He said it was on the house, that you’d like it—”
“I love it. Thank you.” She looked up at me, her eyes still shiny and a bit swollen from crying, but she was smiling through her tears now. She tucked the key in the front pocket of her jeans carefully, as though it were something far more expensive than a key that would have cost just a few bucks.
Or, maybe it was just valuable to her. That idea sent a burst of warmth through my chest.
I let out a breath of relief. “Good. And don’t worry about the Turners. We just need to stay calm and keep talking to them. Maybe we can arrange to have dinner with them one night at the diner or something. Or, if you want to talk to them tonight, I’ll go in with you. We’ll work it out, okay?” I tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear and lingered to touch her face, running my thumb across her cheek.
The tension in her posture eased, and she nodded. “Okay.”
She turned her face toward my hand, into the caress. Then, with a smile, she moved closer to me, until her chest brushed against mine in a very distracting manner. “So…got any other presents for me?” she asked. Her hands pulled at front of my shirt until, somehow, her fingertips were moving against the bare skin of my stomach.
I pretended to think about it, when really, pretty much all of my blood was in a race away from my brain. “Can I maybe interest you in a closer tour of the bedroom?” I asked, catching her hands in mine.
She rolled her eyes. “Like a better look at the ceiling?” she asked.
“I have no problem staring up at the ceiling instead,” I offered. Yeah, that’s me, noble to the last.
“And risk rug burn or a staph infection from this carpeting? I don’t think so. But when you’ve got furniture? Let’s talk.” She tipped her head up toward mine in invitation anyway, her mouth reddened and a little puffy from that last kiss.
I reached out and touched her lips, unable to resist. “I love you, you know that.”
She nodded, a faint pink rising in her cheeks. “Yeah, I do.”
But a reminder never hurt either of us.
I bent my head toward hers, taking my time to thoroughly kiss her, to taste her. Her hands clutched at my shoulders, and she squirmed closer until we were pressed together.
Then she locked her arms around my neck and pulled herself up on her tiptoes.
No further hint needed.
I slid my hands down her back and lifted her up. She locked her legs around my waist without hesitation, sending a dizzying rush through me.
“I have a blanket in the car,” I said breathlessly against her mouth, my hands moving over her hips, trying to pull her closer yet.
She cocked her head to one side. “Big enough to double fold?” she asked, as if one layer of fabric wouldn’t be enough between bare skin and whatever might be in or on the flooring in here, and she was probably right.
“We’ll find a way,” I promised quickly as she slid down and took my hand.
“Yeah,” she said with a smile. “We will.”
We headed for the door and the blanket tucked in my backseat.
“Also, you can scrub, but I call dibs on decorating. This place is going to need all the help it can get,” she said, her nose wrinkling.
I held up my free hand in easy surrender. “All yours.”