I know what people think when I tell them that I still live with my parents. I also know that when I inform them that I fish for a living, that impression they made of me suffers even more. But the truth is that they just don’t know what it’s like to lose a family member like we lost William.
Since Charlotte went back to Smugglesworth, I’m the only child my parents have. They are getting older and they need someone to be there in case things go wrong. And besides, we’re a close family and there’s nothing wrong with that.
‘Course that doesn’t mean that I only spend time with my parents. I’m not that much of a homebody. I have friends. I met most of them at the gym. There are a regular group of guys who hang out there and work out together. Christian Bingley and William Darcy are cops and Germane Lyons does something at the Science Institute. He’s really vague about it.
I met a few other people at the local tattoo parlor. Maisy Rockett (can that be her real name?) is my tattooist. She’s a pretty tough girl, but I like her sense of humor and I trust her to do a good job on my ink. I also met some other girls there including Julie Glover and Eve McLaren.
I know it’s sort of weird to meet so many girls at the tattoo place and so many guys at the gym…isn’t it the other way around?…but the tattoo parlor is just below a busy salon. None of the chicks except Maisy have any ink, so I met them coming out of the salon.
The only other place I go for socialization away from my family is the local bar. It’s a pretty hot spot. I frequently see my friends when I go there. Even Penelope Coddle hangs out there.
William had been right about her. She and I were nothing more than friends. After our uncomfortable-ended date, we only saw each other at the gym or the bar. Turns out she was good friends with Eve from the salon. The two of them were often together.
“Hey Germane!” I greeted my mysterious friend one night when we were both out for a drink. I was surprised to see him. Usually he worked nights, or so he said. I had never known any scientist to work nights, but then he told me he wasn’t really a scientist.
“Then what do you do at the Institute?” I asked.
“This and that,” he said cryptically. “Can’t really talk about it. Classified.”
I saw Germane again a few nights later when I was hanging out with Julie Glover. Eve was also there, but she came with her roommate Elisabeth Lindsay and Penelope.
I was ordering a drink when Germane came up to us. “Yo, Fields,” he greeted me.
“Hey Germane. You have the night off again?” I asked.
He shrugged and motioned to the bartender who seemed to know what Germane usually drank. I turned to Julie to introduce her to my friend and caught her glaring at him.
“Do you guys know each other?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she narrowed her eyes at Germane.
“We work together,” Germane answered.
“Oh,” I said, realizing that I really had no idea what Julie did for a living.
“I didn’t know you worked for the Science Institute,” I said lamely.
“I don’t,” she said. “We work out of that building, but that’s not who we work for.”
“Oh? Can you tell me, or would you have to kill me like this guy always says?” I joked.
She gave Germane another glare. “It’s classified.”
“I don’t get it,” I told William the next day when we were out fishing at the cemetery (this was William’s favorite place to fish).
“What’s to get?” he asked. “They obviously do something top-secret. Maybe they’re spies. Maybe they are covert agents or something.”
“I’d believe that of Germane, but not Julie.”
“What? Girls can’t be super secret spies?”
“That’s not what I meant, but you’ve seen her. Does she look like a super secret spy? She doesn’t look like she could fight her way out of a paper bag!”
“Just because she’s skinny and kind of wimpy doesn’t mean she’s not deadly, bro. There are other ways to fight.”
“So you think she might be an assassin or something?”
William shrugged. “She always looks like she swallowed something sour. I think she could do murder, yeah.”
“Well that’s just great. I kinda liked her. I think her scowl is a bit sexy.”
“You have sick tastes, Homer. Why don’t you find a sweet girl to be with like that Eve. She looks all soft and nice.”
Eve was a teacher at the school. She was a very sweet person. I had a chance to talk to her a bit when she took her class to the beach for a science field trip. I was there pulling in some rainbow trout and some clownfish.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her when I first saw her. I knew she was supposed to be at school.
“We’re studying water eco-systems,” she said and pointed to the group of children who were poking around the shore.
“Oh. That’s cool.”
“It’s fun to get away from school,” she agreed. “And it’s even better if we can learn something while we’re away.”
“I always liked fieldtrips,” I said inanely. She smiled at that, so I grinned back.
“Well, I’ll let you keep fishing. You said this is your work?”
“Yeah. I sell what I catch to the market.”
“Must be nice to have such a relaxing job.” I started to tell her that I also helped my family around the farm but just then a kid started screaming because he saw a jellyfish. Eve had to run off and assure him that the jellyfish wouldn’t harm him unless he got into the water or tried to touch it.
I went back to fishing, but I was aware of her talking to her students in the background. I could feel her presence like a tingle on the back of my neck until she told the children that they had to go back and catch the bus.
After that encounter, I seemed to see Eve and her roommate Elisabeth all over town. We’d smile and exchange greetings, but not much more. Meanwhile, I found myself going out more and more with Julie.
She approached me one evening as I was leaving the bar to go home.
“Why do you always leave so early, Homer? The bar doesn’t close until 2am.”
I laughed. “I wish I could say that I just need my rest, but that’s not really true.”
“You fish on your own time, right?” Julie asked. “Can’t you stay out a bit longer? We could play darts or pool or something.”
“True, I don’t have to work at any particular time, but I do need to get home,” I said.
“My parents get up early,” I added. “We have a small farm.”
“Ah, so you are also a farmer.” Julie nodded as if this explained a lot about me. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“Well, not really. I’m not that great with plants, honestly. But my mom and dad are getting older and they need the help. They won’t admit it, though.”
“You live with your parents still?” Julie raised an eyebrow. I blushed and was glad that it was too dark for her to notice.
“My family’s close,” I said, “but also my parents need me. I’m the oldest. My brother died when he was young and my sister goes to Smugglesworth Academy in Bridgeport.”
“I see,” Julie said. I wasn’t sure that she did. But, if she was going to judge me for living with my parents, I couldn’t stop her.
“Anyway,” I said. “I have to get home.”
“Goodnight Homer. Give me a call sometime. We can go out.” I was stunned when she handed me a card that had her number and address on it. “Thanks,” I said. “Sure. I’ll call.” The heading on the card said: S.E.E. I looked at it curiously, trying to figure out what it meant. I was going to ask Julie, but she had already headed back into the bar.
I did call Julie the next day. I debated about how long to wait, but finally said “screw it” and called her. I was surprised when she suggested going to the Red Rooster for lunch.
“I work nights,” she said. “I’m sure you knew that because of Germane.”
“I guess so. I didn’t really know because I always seem to see you out at night.”
“Only if we finish work early or if it’s our night off.”
“Oh. Well, the Red Rooster sounds good. You know my time is flexible.”
We had a pretty good time on our date. I enjoyed myself playing darts with Julie—she was really competitive and much better at the game than me. I also enjoyed talking with her. We conversed about a lot of topics. Julie wasn’t a light-hearted girl. Everything she does, she seems to do seriously. I know I’m pretty laid back, but that doesn’t mean I’m lazy or stupid. It was good to be able to engage in more serious discussions. I’m not particularly fond of small-talk. It’s tedious. Unlike some first dates, this date didn’t seem to involve a lot of inanity.
Unfortunately, my time with Julie was cut short when I got a phone call from my dad.
“Homer,” he said when I answered. “Come home. It’s mom.”
My last memory of my mother was of us sitting on the porch discussing my return to Smugglesworth Academy.
“I’m bored here,” I told her. “I miss being able to do the more complicated math and science. I miss the special lab equipment we used to work with.”
“What about your friends?” Mom asked. She was always worried that I didn’t seem to have friends like William and Homer had. I think she found this abnormal.
“I miss my friends, too,” I said. “I just don’t have anything in common with the kids here.”
Unfortunately, while I was away, Mom was in the kitchen when she suffered a cardiac arrest. Dad said it happened quickly and he wasn’t able to revive her with CPR.
I was called home from school.
Mom’s death upset everyone in our household. Even the cats moped around, seeming to mourn her (I know that’s not possible, but if cats had emotions, ours were in mourning).
My brother went around crying all the time. He was the worst. I have to admit that I got kind of sick of him. He is a grown man! It’s not like Mom suffered. And it’s not like she was a young woman with a lot of time left in her life. Mom was old.
Sure, I was sad that mom was gone. I felt like there was a hole in my life where she should be, but I wasn’t going to go around crying day and night.
I did my crying in private. It usually hit me when I woke up that Mom was gone. She wasn’t going to make me pancakes or help me clean my animal cages. She wasn’t going to worry about me not having friends or if I was working to hard on a project or experiment. Mom wasn’t going to be at my birthday or my wedding (if I chose to have one). Mom was gone.
“Are you sure this is the right thing to do,?” Dad asked me in the morning before I got on the bus to go to Twinbrook high. “You know your mom was proud of you and wanted you to have the best education.”
“I know dad. I’ll be fine at Twinbrook.”
I’d made the decision to remain at home soon after Mom’s funeral. I just couldn’t seem to make myself return to Bridgeport and the Academy. I suppose a psychologist would say that I was suffering some sort of Post Traumatic Stress syndrome because this was the second time that I had lost a family member while I was away at school.
I guess, if that sort of science is to be believed, it might be true. It was illogical, but I didn’t want to go away again and have my brother call me to tell me that dad had passed, too.
“I’m glad you stayed, sis,” William told me. He sat with me on the bus. “I miss going to school.”
“I thought you could go wherever you want?” I muttered, barely moving my lips. I didn’t want the bus driver or any of the kids to think I was crazy talking to myself.
“I can, but it’s not as fun going to the school without you. I like watching how annoyed you get when they do something dumb.”
“I’m glad I amuse you.”
“It’s just too funny. Those teachers don’t know how to handle you!”
William took perverse delight in tormenting me now that I was home full time. He got a kick out of setting traps for me around the house. I don’t know why I continued to fall for them. I am a genius and I should know better! But I never seemed to suspect where my brother had done his handiwork.
“I hate you!” I seethed after one incident with the sink. William had rigged it to spray water everywhere when the next person used it.
“Ah!” he said, clasping his hands to his chest and affecting a wounded tone, “You know you love me!”
“How do you always know that I’m going to be the one to fall for these ridiculous pranks?”
William laughed. “I don’t. But it’s a win-win for me. If you don’t fall for it, someone else will and since I’m not really here, being deceased and all, then guess who will get the blame!”
“I really hate you!” I screamed.
Dad, who had been upstairs doing work in the office, heard me and yelled down, “What’s going on?” He came to the top of the stairs and noticed that I was soaking wet and the sink was still spraying.
“Damn it Charlotte! I told you not to mess with the faucets!”
“It wasn’t me!” I wailed. “It just happened! Would I purposely do this to myself?”
“I don’t know, but you seem to have a habit of breaking things. I didn’t think you used to be so clumsy!”
While Dad went to get his tools to fix the sink, I glared at my brother. “I’ll find a way to get you for this!” I hissed at him.
One good thing about coming home to Twinbrook was that I got an internship at the Science Institute. There were a few of us at Twinbrook high who were accepted into the program. I loved going to work there and suddenly I found myself with friends who enjoyed science as much as I did. Mom would have been so happy to see me hanging out with people my own age!
I even had a best friend, Regina Sharpe. She was everything I’m not: stylish, outgoing, and fun to hang around with. The fact that she could match me intellectually, just made her more amazing.
“Hurry up Char!” Regina urged me to throw my horseshoe.
“Just a sec,” I said, moving slightly to the right and adjusting my stance a bit. I’d noticed a light breeze coming from the west.
“Leave her alone,” Fred Cavetti said. He was my partner. “She’s figuring out the perfect angle for her throw. You know it takes Charlotte longer. She has to calculate everything in her head.”
I frowned. I didn’t do that, did I? And was Fred paying me a compliment or was he being insulting. I couldn’t tell.
“Just throw the damn thing,” Regina said. “We don’t have all day. I’m hungry and your dad said he was going to throw some burgers on the grill.”
“But I don’t eat meat,” Ryan Hatch whined. He always did that. He was Regina’s boy of the month. He was the only one of the four of us who didn’t intern at the Institute. I didn’t like him.
“I already told you that Dad will make you a tofu burger.”
“Yeah,” Regina agreed. “Now throw it!”
I did and missed. Fred groaned. “Jesus, Char, you couldn’t hit a barn with that thing. All that thinking and you still can’t throw worth a darn.”
I really have no idea why my friends always asked me to play games with them, but they did. Even though Fred always complained, he would always end up as my partner.
“Now, don’t think so much, Char. This is foosball, not calculus.”
“It’s a game about force and distance, mass and acceleration,” I said earning a frown from him.
“True,” he nodded, “but you have to add in the human element, too. And that human element is you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s talking about how spectacularly uncoordinated you are and how much you suck at foosball,” Regina teased.
“Hey, let’s get this game started,” Ryan said, rubbing his hands eagerly.
“This time I’ll surprise you all,” I insisted. “I’ve been practicing.”
In the background I heard a disembodied snicker. William had followed me again! He knew I’d been lying, but I ignored him and did my best to concentrate on my side of the game.
A little movement here, a bit more force there…“Damn it!” I had missed the ball completely and Regina scored.
Making the decision to stay in Twinbrook had been a good one. Maybe I wouldn’t have a prestigious Smugglesworth graduation diploma, but I had something my mother always said was greater than all of the science awards and academic trophies put together: I had people I cared about surrounding me and wishing me well.
“It was a pretty awesome birthday, wasn’t it?” William asked after everyone had left.
“I had a great time,” I agreed. “I’m just sorry that Mom missed it.”
“I know. I wish she could have been there.”
“I just don’t get it,” I sighed. “How can you be here and Mom has never once come back?”
William shrugged his ghostly shoulders. “I don’t know. I don’t understand why even I’m here.”
“Do you wish you weren’t?”
He shrugged again. “Sometimes.”
“Well, I’m still trying to figure it out,” I told him. At his frown I assured him that I wasn’t using him as an experimental subject. “I’m just studying death is all.”
“Well, how else am I to get some answers?” I demanded.
“Maybe you aren’t supposed to get answers.”
“Bull. There is an answer to everything and some day I will know the answer to this one.”
William shook his head in exasperation. “Does that mean you are going to take that scholarship to Sim U?”
“Was there ever any doubt?”
“This is going to be so awesome!” William said for like the thousandth time since I announced my intention to go the Sim U. He had insisted he was going with me. Since there was no way for me to stop him, I didn’t even complain once about him following me around all the time.
“Promise me you’ll join a sorority,” William said.
“Are you kidding?”
“No way! All those girls…in one house…and me, all by my lonesome!”
“I am not joining a sorority.”
“You’re no fun.”
I had already decided I was going to get an house off campus and live with a few roommates. I was going to take my time at college seriously and do my best to get all As. William thought this was deadly dull.
“Look. It’s my education,” I said. “You’re dead. You can do whatever you want. I’ve still got to earn grades and try to get the best job possible. I can’t do that if I’m constantly partying all the time.”
William gasped in mock shock when I pointed out his state of being (or lack thereof). Affecting a hurt ton he said, “You are such a party-pooper! And I prefer the term ‘life-challenged’!”
On the day I left for the university, I was more nervous than I thought I would be. I had a brief panic attack at leaving Dad all by himself. Homer hadn’t been home as often lately, so he didn’t count.
Dad, didn’t seem to be that upset at my going. After I had hugged him as tightly as I could, he shooed me off to the van.
“You better get going,” he said. “Study hard. I’m sure you’ll have a great time.”
I forced myself to smile and I kept my eyes wide so I wouldn’t cry as I lugged my suitcase into the van and climbed inside.
I looked out the window and waved at my dad. That’s when I saw William’s translucent figure approaching the van from the side. As much as I might be annoyed by him, I was glad when William glided into the van. He sat next to me and made his hand solid enough to hold mine.
“It’s going to be fine, Sis. Dad’s happy for you. Look at him.”
“I know. I’m just going to miss him. This is the third time I’ve left home for school. It doesn’t get easier.” William squeezed my hand again. Then we both waved at Dad one last time before the van drove away.