Because of Him Chapter 22
By: Dizappearingirl (2016)
Summary: It was his job. It was what he did. It was all he thought half-ghosts were allowed to do. But then he meets her and everything changes. His world expands. His memories begin to return. And he remembers. Remembers who he was, what happened to him, and who was responsible (AU)
Ch 22: What You Want
It was dark. Night. I was supposed to be sleeping but there was something scary. I had just seen something really scary and I couldn’t sleep. Even though it was nighttime and I was supposed to sleep in my bed, I couldn’t. I was afraid. I was terrified. I huddled in a ball on my side, eyes open and staring into the darkness. The only gleam of light amidst the black was a faint blue-green glow from under my half-closed door. I focused on the way it lit the top edges of the carpet that covered the floor, highlighting them almost white.
Looking at the light didn’t help me fall back to sleep. There was a monster and I was scared and I wanted someone to make it better. I blinked. I knew who would make it all better. I could ask them. But they were so far away…they were all the way down the hall. I bit my lip and curled in a little tighter. I didn’t want to leave my bed. It was scary here but at least I was safe under the covers. If I moved I would be exposed! But if I didn’t, I would just remain here awake and terrified.
I held back a whine, unwilling to make a sound and let whatever monsters hid in the shadows know where I was. I had to move. I had to go, but I couldn’t move, I was afraid to go. But I had to. I had to. I repeated this to myself several more times until I got the courage to pull back the covers. Cool air brushed over my now exposed feet and goose bumps prickled over my skin. I shivered, eyes darting back and forth to check that nothing had changed.
After several moments of tense silence, I unfolded my body and pushed myself up into a crouched position. I scooted to the edge of my mattress and peeked over the edge. Nothing was down there that I could see but I studied it for a long time before deeming it safe. Okay, time to go. Time to get out of bed. Just jump down and run, run straight for their room. Nothing would be in my way. I could do this. I continued to psych myself up, hands reaching for a stuffed puppy dog I slept with and pulling it tight against my chest once I found it. Okay…go!
I sprung from my bed and landed a few feet away from the edge before shoving myself forward towards my door. I darted around the edge of it and found myself bathed in the blue-green glow of the nightlight that was plugged into the hallway wall. I paused for a second to get my bearings, feeling a little safer now that I was in the halo of soft light. But I didn’t let myself stay too long before moving on. The door I wanted was farther down, past the safety of the nightlight.
My feet padded quietly across the carpet until I was at their door. It was closed so I reached up for the handle, twisting the knob until the door creaked open. I pushed it in and the faint glow from behind me lit the stretch of floor between me and the large bed that took up most of the room. The consistent rumble of snoring resonated from one side of the bed and I found faint comfort in the familiar sound. They were sleeping… I remained still in the doorway, suddenly feeling a little shy. Would they be mad at me if I woke them?
But I was scared and they would make it better. I inched my way forward, hugging the puppy doll closer. I crept to the non-snoring side and paused again once I was next to the woman sleeping there. She would be okay with me waking her, she would wake up and tell me it was okay. She loved me, she cared for me, she would make it better.
I reached out a hand and shook the arm closest to me gently. She didn’t move and I frowned before deciding to shake her harder. This made her shift and hum quietly. I stopped and waited, biting my lip. She rolled onto her back but didn’t open her eyes. My shoulders sagged and a little whimper escaped me. I pressed myself into the side of their mattress and shook her again.
“Mom,” I called quietly. “Moooom.” She shifted again but I didn’t wait to see if this was enough to rouse her. I kept jiggling her shoulder and repeating the word over and over until her eyes flickered open and turned towards me.
“Danny? What’s the matter?” she murmured. Relief washed through me and brought tears to my eyes. Finally. I reached out to her as the first drop fell down my cheeks. Her eyebrows drew together and she sat up, grabbing me under the armpits and pulling me into her lap. “Did you have a nightmare?”
I nodded and curled into her body, finding an immense amount of comfort now that I was surrounded by her warmth and smell. I was safe now. I was okay now. She’d keep the monsters away from me.
She wrapped her arms around me as I sniffled. “It’s okay, it’s okay. You’re not alone anymore. I’m right here.”
A creaking moan woke me up. I opened my eyes blearily, blinking several times until the world around me came into focus. I was curled up in a ball on the crate I had sat on last night, my back wedged between the two stacks of boxes next to me and head propped up against one of them. It wasn’t very comfortable but moving would have meant losing the small amount of heat that had accumulated around my body so I had stayed balled up most of the night.
I wondered if that was why I had the dream about the woman hugging me…it was almost the same position. Maybe I just really wanted comfort, wanted to pretend to be like a human kid who could go running to his parents. Why else would I call her mom? I didn’t have one. My mind must have just taken the first woman to pop up in my head and used her to play the role of a caretaker. So why had I chosen that woman in the blue suit?
I sighed and shook my head. This made it throb a little and I grimaced. I rubbed it for a moment and then made myself stretch out, wincing as my limbs ached and popped. My chest felt irritated and I mentally noted to check the wound later and see how it was doing. I shivered a little as I let my legs dangle off the edge of the box, refusing to huddle back together and further irritate my body. The morning air seemed much cooler than usual. Or maybe that was because I was generally in my ghost form and didn’t notice it. Though normally I didn’t mind the cold much in either of my forms… Was it some aftereffect of being inside the hospital? Maybe…? And maybe the headache was too. I rubbed at my forehead again, trying to massage the throbbing ache that pulsed behind my eyes and nose.
The sudden sound of the voice startled me and I jerked around to see where it came from. The Angry One stood a few feet away, just having turned around the corner of a row of crates and come into view. His eyebrows were up in a rare show of surprise, though they quickly creased as his expression turned guarded. I stared back, shock freezing me in place. When had he come in? A brief stab of anger directed at myself followed as I realized I had not been paying attention. But that feeling was just as quickly overwhelmed by thick and heavy relief—especially as two more figures stepped out from behind the boxes to join him. The Big Man…and him.
They were okay. They were here. They came back. I wasn’t alone. I could still do my job. My eyes landed on him and the happy feelings deflated under trepidation and a little bit of fear. Except that I hadn’t done my job, not completely. I had left. Would they let me explain what happened? Would he be okay with the choices I had made? And what would happen when I told him where I had been? He had been anxious last time I had been in the hospital, he had hated it. What would he think now?
“Halfa,” he said, his red eyes locking onto me. I met his gaze, unable to move as I waited to see how he was going to react. The other two also seemed to be waiting, The Angry One—Neil’s—expression watchful and, his brother, Donovan’s impassive. He took a few steps forward, closing the gap between the two of us.
“Where did you go?” He was watching me closely, his eyes narrowed and calculating. “What happened?” I licked my lips. My apprehension grew as all their eyes bored into me. They wouldn’t like my answer, but I had to tell them. Besides, I was being given the chance to explain. I had to take it.
I opened my mouth and then coughed when I tried to speak with a dry throat. I coughed again and then rasped out, “A ghost attacked me here. He chased me and I wanted to get him away from here so I…I ran…” I flinched, unsure of how he would respond. His eyes had widened at first when I had said ‘ghost’ but then they narrowed again.
Neil muttered something to his brother, his usual glower back in place. The Big Man did not reply though he crossed his arms over his chest, frowning slightly. He remained silent, his face indicating that he wanted me to continue. So I did.
“He chased me a long time. I tried to hide but he found me and then he attacked me and I…I blacked out.” Once again I paused and this time he did speak.
“Blacked out? Where? Did anyone see you?”
I hesitantly nodded, thinking of the two security guards. He scowled, his gloved hands curling into fists.
“They saw you were half-ghost?”
“N-no!” I quickly shook my head. “I was already human. That’s…that’s how I hid from Skulker.”
“The ghost. He was the one chasing me.”
“And what happened to him?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. The police said they scared him off.”
“The police?!” He exclaimed, making me jump. “You talked to them?!”
I cowered under his glare, my eyes darting to the other two, who had both gone rigid. “I…I didn’t say anything—not anything I couldn’t. I did what you told me last time.”
“What last time?” he demanded, bringing my focus back to his face.
“The last time I was in the hospital.”
“The hospital!” He stared at me and then whirled around. He began pacing back and forth between me and the other two. He cut his hand through the air towards me. “Elaborate!”
“I…I was in the hospital because Skulker hurt me,” I explained. “They tried to find out who I was and I didn’t tell them anything. I did what you said.” He continued his rapid movement and I felt compelled to add more. “They…they said they were going to try to find out who I was. They were going to take me away to another place—Heather was, the CPS lady.”
“CPS…” he muttered. An intense look of concentration was on his face and I couldn’t tell if he had said that to us or to himself.
“If the authorities are involved we’ve got a problem,” Neil said tersely. “I haven’t been monitoring them—not for this. They could have all sorts of information on the freak in their system now.”
“You can erase it, can’t you?” he asked, pausing in his movement to focus on him.
The Angry One scoffed. “Of course. But that’s not the point. They’ve had whatever he,” he jerked his chin towards me, “gave them for however long he’s been with them—days. It’s not just in the one system anymore. Half of them could have local copies, printed copies…I can’t delete all of those from the outside…not to mention that certain other organizations might have caught wind of this too.”
He shook his head, his curly hair flopping, and crossed his arms. “There’s no way we can stay off their radar now if that’s the case. Not with what happened a few nights ago. They’re gonna be all over this. We should cut our losses—like we told you—and skip out of town before we have the whole idiot brigade breathing down our necks.”
“No!” he shook his head sharply. “We can’t leave yet! And we don’t know if they even have anything. All the police knows was that a ghost was after a human boy, who was injured and brought to the hospital—“ He whirled back towards me, his red eyes fierce. “—Right?!” I jerked back at his sudden movement and nodded vigorously.
“And you didn’t tell them anything?” I nodded again. Nothing that could give them away that I could think of, at least. Everyone had seemed much more interested in me and who I could be. And they had thought I was that boy and then they took my picture…Oh, should I tell him about that?
“Yes, a human boy who was being chased by a ghost!” Neil spat out, diverting his attention back to himself. “Who do you think the police are going to inform about that?!”
He pressed his lips together, nostrils flaring, but he didn’t immediately respond.
The Angry One sneered. “Yeah, now you’re getting it. Even if they don’t have anything else yet, they’re going to be crawling all over this thing just because a ghost was involved. And if they do have anything, it could lead them right back to us!”
“But they don’t,” he growled.
Neil shook his head again, rolling his eyes in exasperation before jabbing a finger in my direction. “You trust that thing too much!” I winced, though he was easily ten feet away from me. “He could say anything and you’d just take it at his word! How do you know he’s telling the truth?!”
There was a moment of tense silence where his hand wrapped protectively over one of the pockets in his trench coat. “I know,” he said simply. There was a beat of silence and I felt a little bubble of happiness rise within me at the confidence in his tone. He…trusted me?
Neil opened his mouth but he interrupted, “And that’s all that you need to know.” He pulled his shoulders back, straightening his stance. “We have an agreement, Neil, remember? And part of that is letting me deal with what is mine. I know that Halfa is telling the truth. He cannot lie—not to me.”
The Angry One’s lip curled. “Forgive me for not being so blindly trusting of your little half-ghost freak. I’m not willing to risk our necks,” one of his hands jerked in the direction of the Big Man, “on his word alone. Give us proof, Showenhower.”
The two men glowered at each other and then a cruel smile stretched across his pale face. “Proof, “he repeated. “Solid, concrete proof. That’s always what you want, isn’t it? Easy, straightforward, and mundane.” He spat out the last word.
“I told you once that you were stepping into the shadows with me, that the world you knew had a much darker and stranger underside to it than even you had experienced.” He took a step towards the brothers, his hand still wrapped around the pocket in his coat. Both men watched him warily. “Halfa is part of that shadowy world and he listens to me. Whatever I tell him to do, he will do without hesitation. You know that.”
He moved closer to them, coming eye to eye with Neil. “Maybe I need to have him show you just exactly what that means,” he said quietly, his voice deadly calm. “Would that be proof enough for you?” The Angry One swallowed hard and his eyes darted to me before returning to him.
A long moment of tense silence passed between the three of them and then he stepped back, his tone smug. “Yes, now you’re getting it.” Neil’s face reddened but he didn’t say a word.
He turned towards me, the dark smile still on his face. “But I don’t mind giving you the proof you need. Halfa, what did you tell them? What did you say exactly?” I bit my lip. He didn’t look angry but I knew that smile and the ice in his voice put me on edge. As far as I knew I had done what he had told me to do. But what if I had messed up? What if I had said something I shouldn’t have? But I had to answer him of course.
I took a deep breath and said, “I-I… I did what you told me. I…I only said if I was hurt or if I was hungry. I didn’t tell them about you. I didn’t say anything about this place. I did my job.” My tone was turning defensive and I paused to take a breath. I did do what I was supposed to, but…I had spoken more than that. That’s what they wanted to know.
“They…they asked me about me. They wanted to know things, but I didn’t tell them anything. I…” I shrugged, my eyes dropping to my hands which were fiddling with the strings of my new hoodie. “There’s nothing to tell. I’m not…I’m not…” I stopped, unable to finish that thought out loud. I’m not like them, I’m not real.
“Lots of them came,” I said instead. “They asked me about the ghost. I talked to them about him.” My eyes jumped up to him, not sure what he would think of that. It had nothing to do with them, but it also wasn’t on the list of things I could or couldn’t talk about. He seemed to be thinking hard but did not interrupt me.
I opened my mouth to continue when Neil spoke up. “’Lots of them’?” We both looked to him. “Lots of who?”
“Police,” I replied.
“Just police?” I tilted my head at the question, unsure of what he meant. He didn’t explain and I looked to him. He was staring at Neil but not in the same manner as before. Instead he clenched his jaw, looking almost anxious.
He then asked through tight lips, “What color suits were they wearing?”
My forehead crinkled in further confusion, but I said, “the detectives wore blue and brown…?”
“No one in white?” As he said those words images of men in white suits popped up in my mind. Men in white. Men with guns. Men with black gloves reaching out to me from the room in my dream... I suppressed a shudder. Oh, they meant them…
“No,” I told him seriously. He studied me for a moment and then exhaled noisily, looking away.
“Then you were luckier than us,” he grumbled, so quietly I was sure I was the only one who could hear him. A wry smile twisted his lips, “But when have I ever been lucky? No, I can’t rely on luck. I must rely on myself…and what I can control.” His eyes focused on me still sitting on the box. He then twisted his head back towards the others. “Does that satisfy you?”
Neil’s usual scowl had returned, though his body remained tensed. “Well, was there anything else?” All three of them looked at me. My eyes jumped between each of them as I tried to recall anything else during the last four days. I couldn’t think of anything else…
“I don’t think so…They just…wanted to make me be someone. They wanted me to be this boy that went missing…”
He frowned. “What boy?”
I shrugged again. “I don’t know. A boy…they said he went missing a few years ago and they thought I looked like him.”
“That’s impossible. You were never here before,” he muttered. I gave a little nod. He was right. I had never been to this city before. I couldn’t be the boy, even if the police and that couple in the hazmat suits wanted me to be. His eyebrows were creased tightly, one hand rubbing his chin. “Still, we can’t have the police looking for you, even if they are mistaken…”
“I can clean them out, but it’s probably too late,” Neil commented. “Amity Park isn’t like Chicago; the police actually have time on their hands. I can’t just sluff the case and have it drop off their radars like last time.” He shrugged. “We’ll just have to monitor them too. Make sure to throw them off our scent if they poke their nose too far.”
He nodded, the intense look of concentration still on his face. “We have to be more careful…” he trailed off. I waited, my anxiety lessening when it appeared that they weren’t mad at me for what I had said. My head continued to pound. I had forgotten about it until this moment of silence. I focused on twisting my sweatshirt strings, resisting the urge to rub at the spot between my eyes to try and lessen the pain. I didn’t need to draw his attention back to me, not when he had calmed down.
“But at least now I can start on my new plan, now that I have you back.” It took me a moment to realize he meant me and I only did because his tone shifted suddenly from thoughtful to cold amusement. I looked up to meet his red gaze. A new plan?
His eyes dropped to my clothes and he arched one eyebrow. “You have new clothes.” I nodded. “Where did you get them?”
He frowned. “With what money?”
“I…didn’t have…money,” I mumbled, shrinking a little. He shouldn’t care that I did that; he wasn’t against stealing, but maybe he would be mad anyway.
“Did anyone see you steal them?”
I shook my head and then paused mid-motion. “A girl…told me to pay for them,” I admitted, before quickly adding, “but she didn’t see me leave with them. She didn’t know who I was or anything.”
“Hmmm…” He scrutinized me once more and I waited, my eyes dropping to my lap. “I suppose it was time to get you new clothes. And a sweatshirt will be good for winter. It’s not like there will be much warmth in our new place.” I peeked back up at him, any fear towards him disappearing with the news. We were moving to a new place? Where were we going? Was it still in Amity Park?
Wait, but, what if I didn’t want to leave here yet?
He shrugged and took a step back, crossing his arms while keeping his eyes on me. “You will need to do your job better than ever before,” he told me and I realized we were returning to the previous topic. Frustration fizzled inside me since that meant I wouldn’t get an answer to my unspoken question for a while, but I clamped down on it. What he wanted to talk about was more important.
He pinned me with a forceful look and I dropped my inner commentary to focus on him. “It is vital that you protect us after our poor performance earlier. We can’t afford them to get any closer to us.” He paused here as if expecting a response. I nodded solemnly.
This seemed to satisfy him and he turned away from me, taking a few steps in the direction of the other two. His voice flipped once more back to humorous as he continued, “And I think it’s time to expand your skills. Time to teach you a new routine that is sure to satisfy our cohorts.” He waved a hand above his head and there was a mocking edge to the action.
He stopped in front of the Angry One. “Then maybe they can stop their complaining.” Neil opened his mouth to retort, the ruddy color returning to his cheeks, but it was the Big Man who replied first.
“They make a valid point, Showenhower,” he said in his low lilting voice. “We have been loyal to your cause for eighteen months and nothing has come of it but danger. We will keep our agreement, but you should consider giving up on your goal.”
“Never,” he growled back, his hands clenching tightly. “I will get her back!”
“And if they do come after us?” Neil inquired.
“Are you worried they’ll outsmart you?”
Donovan’s eyes narrowed, a rare show of irritation seeping into his features. “My brother’s skills are unmatched.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about,” he coolly replied. “I will get her back and you three will get what I promised.” He whirled back around and I straightened up as his eyes landed on me.
“Change,” he commanded. I hastily stood up and pulled forth my ghost half, ignoring the lightheadedness that attacked me at the sudden movement. He dug a hand into one of the inner pockets of his trench coat, the same one he had been clutching earlier, and pulled out the black box. The box with the red glow. Red like the light that chased me in my dreams… I took a deep breath.
“We are moving to a new place,” he said, his voice dropping low. He held the box close to his chest, level with my eyes, and opened it. Red light radiated from within, instantly grabbing my full attention and washing away all other thoughts.
“You will follow me to the new place. You will not leave my side. You will be invisible and intangible the whole time.” Each phrase struck hard, cementing themselves in my head. They were the only things that mattered.
“Yes.” I phased out of sight and corporality and waited for him to move. Of course.
It was my job.
“My brain hurts,” Tucker grumbled as we exited Mr. Falluca’s classroom. I nodded in agreement, my own head throbbing a little with the motion. Neither of us was horrible at math but forty-five minutes of algebra problems on a Friday morning was enough to make anyone develop a headache.
“At least it’s over,” I sighed. “And the next unit should take a couple weeks based on how big it is, so no more tests for a while…”
“That is not comforting.”
I chuckled, once again on the same page. The bigger the unit, the bigger the next test. We turned towards our left and took the stairs down a level, heading towards our biology classroom.
“Shouldn’t you like math, techno geek?” I teased with a sideways look.
“Code and algebra are very different,” he sniffed. “And so are geeks and nerds. I like computers, not math and science.”
I smirked but gave a nod. “Alright. Well you can keep your computer class all to yourself, geek. I think I’ll just stick with art for my elective.”
His lips twisted into a smile, “and scare the teacher with all your depressing themes and dark colors?”
“Gotta have fun somehow. Besides, my class could use a little more variety. It’s not all about bowls of fruit, flowers, and pop culture when it comes to art. Not real art.”
Tucker didn’t reply and I glanced his way as we walked down the hall. The troubled look from yesterday had returned to his face. What did I say? “Tuck?”
He sighed and slowed down to a stop. “I gotta tell you something…”
I paused next to him. “Okay…”
“I was in computer class on Wednesday and I looked out the window and I…” he shifted uneasily. “I saw a ghost.”
My eyes widened. “A ghost? Really?” I had never seen one in this area before. You heard about people seeing them, but I never had. Phantom was still the only ghost I had met. “What did it do?”
He shrugged. “Not much. It looked in the window and then flew off. I saw it land across the street…” He waved a hand in that general direction, his eyes looking anywhere but at me. “Then it went into the park…but that’s not the point.” His tone turned annoyed and his brows creased angrily.
“The point is…it wasn’t just any ghost.” He looked up and met my confused gaze, his jaw tightening. “I’m pretty sure it was yours.”
Confusion escalated to shock. “What?”
“Your ghost—the one from the warehouse,” he replied. “I remembered that you said your ghost looked like the one in the photo from the news.” His eyes darted away again, his words coming out faster as he continued. “And in the picture there was the one that was gray and green and the other was white and black. You never really told me which was which, but I kinda thought it was probably the second one, the smaller one.”
He looked at me again, almost like he was expecting confirmation, but I was too stunned to react and he added. “So I saw this ghost and it was in a black hazmat suit thing with white hair and I realized it looked just like the one in the photo. And I thought that’s probably Sam’s ghost.”
There was a moment of silence as I tried to work my mouth into forming a response. Tuck had seen Phantom? Phantom had been here?! Emotions and questions tumbled like a load of laundry in my head. He was okay! Why was he here? Was he looking for me? Why? Where did he go? What had happened? Why didn’t I see him?!
Finally I managed to sputter one of them out, “Where did he go?!”
“The park across the street,” Tucker tilted his head towards the building entrance and then gave me a speculative look. “I was right—that was your ghost?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, still too overwhelmed to have any idea of what kind of expression I was wearing. I felt torn somewhere between elation and bafflement. “White hair, black tight clothing, green eyes…he’s okay?”
Tucker gave another nod. “It was kinda far away but I didn’t see anything that made it look hurt.”
This helped me settle on happy, a smile stretching across my face. “That’s great! That’s…that’s really good. Oh man, I feel so relieved...” My mind was racing now. Tucker’s computer class was during sixth hour so it hadn’t been quite two days since then. I wondered if Phantom had stuck around there…I’d have to go check for myself after school and see. It might have been too long. I mean, why would Phantom hang around at the park? I wish I had known right away… My thoughts grounded to a halt. Wait a second…
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I asked. “I could’ve gone and checked right after school.”
Tucker grimaced and I felt a flicker of annoyance at the tell-tale expression of guilt. “I…well, you’re grounded and I knew you’d want to go look for it if I told you. I didn’t want you to get into more trouble; you’ve been grounded for a week and a half already.”
“I’ve been out before without my parents finding out,” I countered.
He gave me a look. “Yeah, ‘cause that’s a good reason to keep breaking the rules.”
I frowned, though I couldn’t disagree. Still… “You should’ve told me anyway. We just talked about this on Monday; it’s not your job to decide whether I should do this or not.”
“Yeah, I know,” he crossed his arms. “That’s why I’m telling you now.”
“When it’s too late for me to go looking for him?!”
“No,” he raised his chin defensively. “I just…I knew that you would want to know, but I…I wasn’t sure if it was something I should do. I mean, encouraging you to break your curfew to go chasing after a ghost? That seemed really stupid.” He took a deep breath and some of the tension left his voice. “But you’re my friend and I knew I had to tell you, so here I am, telling you.”
His teal eyes met mine. “I don’t want us arguing again.”
I looked back at him, all the indignation leaking out of me. “I don’t want to either,” I said, sighing. “Though I kinda wish you had just told me right away. I doubt he’s there now…”
“Yeah…sorry. I wasn’t even sure if it was your ghost, but…” He shrugged.
I nodded, sighing again. I could still check. There was a chance he was still out there—maybe he got lost after that other ghost chased him across Amity Park—but I doubted it. Phantom seemed so adamant about protecting the warehouse. Even if it took him the whole week, he wouldn’t stop searching until he found it again. It would make more sense to go check back there…and, hey, maybe I could…
The shrill sound of the bell rang out over our heads and we both instinctively moved in the direction of our biology lab. I glanced at Tucker out of the corner of my eye. I could keep that idea to myself, but he had been open with me—even if it was belatedly. I should be the same. His hostility had gone way down this week.
“I wonder if he’s back at the warehouse…” I began as we turned down the hallway where our class was.
“Maybe,” Tucker said.
“I could try going there again and see if he went back.”
“Yeah, I guess,” he replied. There was a heartbeat of silence and then he added, “but that could be dangerous—especially if the people it’s protecting are there too.”
“Yea, but I need to make sure Phantom’s okay,” I told him. “I’ve done it before; I can go there again.”
“But you’re grounded.”
“I got out before,” I said with a mischievous smirk. I let it drop quickly and said more seriously, “but I’d probably wait until my ‘sentence’ was lifted.”
This only seemed to comfort him a little. “It’s still not that safe going there all alone…”
“Well,” I looked at him sideways, “you could come with me.”
He grimaced at me.
“What?” I asked with fake innocence. “I’m just saying if you think it could be dangerous, you could come along. Then I wouldn’t be alone, I wouldn’t be lying to my parents when I told them I was with you, and…” my eyes glowed impishly, “you could meet Phantom.”
“I don’t want to meet him,” he said, though it was with a lot less venom than the last time we had this conversation. Now, he just sounded annoyed. And did I hear a hint of resignation?
“Come on, Tuck,” I tried to persuade him. “He’s nice and he won’t hurt you. He’s—don’t tell anyone I used this word, or you’ll pay—he’s sweet.”
Tucker gave me an incredulous look, jerking to a halt outside of our classroom. In fact he looked stunned. Finally he sputtered, “Do you like him?”
“Of course I like him,” I rolled my eyes. “Why do you think I’ve been trying to get you to come meet him? You—”
“—No,” Tucker interrupted, looking uneasy, “do you like him? Like, like him like him.” The question surprised me and it took me a second to even articulate a reply.
“No,” I recoiled, holding up my hands defensively. “He’s just my friend! And we’ve only known each other for, like, three weeks! I can’t even say I know him really well yet! I mean, he’s great and I’m not saying there’s anything—I just, wow, Tucker, why are you saying that?!” A blush blazed across my cheeks.
“You said it was sweet,” Tucker said with a shrug, still looking a little unsettled but also slightly amused.
“He is,” I growled, embarrassed by the lingering blush, “but that doesn’t mean I like him! He’s just…I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like he’s…still a kid in a way, y’know? Not that he isn’t smart or mature or whatever; it’s just that he’s…” I struggled to come up with the right word. It didn’t exactly fit, but I finally went with, “he’s innocent.”
“Aww, that’s nice,” Tucker teased, definitely looking amused now. “A nice, sweet, innocent ghost. I guess you’re right, who wouldn’t like that? Especially not Sam, the resident goth…” There was a heavy layer of mocking in what he was saying and I didn’t like it one bit.
“Shut up,” I scowled at him, “Are you going to come with me or not?”
“Do you want me to come?” he asked, his tone suggestive.
I gave him a look. “Yes, Tucker! I want you to come! So…?!”
The humor left his face and he huffed. “I don’t want to come…” he trailed off. He didn’t continue and I took that as his answer. Disappointment hit me—harder than I expected considering it was a long shot that he would even consider it.
“Okay,” I sighed, grabbing the classroom door handle.
“I don’t want to come,” he repeated, “but, maybe…well, I’ll think about it. When you plan on going back, let me know.”
As quick as it came the disappointment was replaced with hope. “Yeah, okay,” I gave him a very small smile, still a little annoyed with his teasing.
“But only if you’re not grounded anymore,” he stated as I opened the door.