I’m annoying my whole family. I just can’t seem to hold in the terrible grief I feel since my mother died.
“Homer,” my dad said to me, “you have to get dressed today. People are coming over for the memorial service.”
“I don’t want to go to the service, Dad,” I said, and sniffed. I wiped at the tears that I just couldn’t stop.
“It will help, Homer,” Dad said. “You need closure.”
I knew I needed to get myself together, but it was much harder for me than it seemed for Charlotte and Dad.
“What’s really bugging you Homer?” William asked me the day after the memorial. “I can tell that you’re still thinking about Mom.”
“I can’t help it,” I wailed. “Don’t you wonder about her?” I asked.
“If maybe she will come back like you?”
William looked thoughtful. Finally he said, “I don’t think she will. I mean, we’ve never really seen any other ghosts.”
“I know, but what if she does? I mean, you’re here. Couldn’t she come back, too? I just want to see her one more time!” I broke down sobbing and my brother wrapped his ghostly arms around me.
“Sometimes death is just death, bro. People are supposed to die. It will get better in time.”
The thing is, I just couldn’t accept that death is death. There had to be something more, right? I know that I had never seen a ghost besides William, but sometimes when I was fishing in the cemetery, I would get these feelings…
Of course, when I’d look around, I couldn’t see anything and I’d laugh at myself for getting spooked.
“It’s a graveyard,” I told myself. “It’s good fishing and quiet. There’s nothing here but flowers, fish, birds, the occasional moth, and me.”
By the time my sister’s birthday came around, I was more in control of my feelings. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was feeling normal, but at least I was able to act like I did. I’d even managed to go out a few times with Julie and I’d invited her to the party as my date.
I was a little surprised when Germane Lyon’s showed up. We’d just watched Charlotte blow out her candles and he knocked on my door. I answered it and tried to let him know we were in the middle of a family party.
“I know,” Germane said, “but I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
Reluctantly I invited him in. “What’s the emergency?” I asked.
“No emergency, but I have a proposition for you.”
“One that couldn’t wait until after my kid sister’s birthday? One that I couldn’t just hear about over drinks at the Watering Hole?”
“Fine,” I said. “Out with it.”
Germane leaned into me and lowered his voice. “I wanted to offer you a job.”
“What?!” I exclaimed loudly, taking a step away from him. “This is your oh so urgent, important thing that you just had to come here and talk to me about?”
Germane looked around to see if my outburst had attracted any notice. Most people were eating cake and talking, so they didn’t seem to notice. Julie did. I could see her frowning at her co-worker from across the room.
“Look Fields, I know you don’t know what I do for a living, but I want you to come to the Science Institute tomorrow. We’ll talk and you’ll see why I came here today.”
“Fine,” I said. I was confused, but I had always been curious about Germane and Julie’s job, so I agreed.
The next day, when I headed to the Science Institute, I didn’t know how much it was going to change my life.
As I had told my brother I was going to do, I moved into an off-campus house and advertised for two roommates. Ironically, the roommates I got were twin brother and sister, Timothy and Tiffany Sidles. The three of us got along really well. Tim was a business major with an interest in art. Tiffany was a communications major. Both liked playing video games and the three of us could be found doing that whenever we had spare time.
I got along well with both Timothy and Tiffany, but William didn’t like either of them that much. I think he was just jealous that I had found friends outside of him. He was constantly lurking around when I was spending time with either of the siblings. I had to really concentrate to ignore him so they wouldn’t think I was completely crazy.
“She’s hot,” William said about Tiffany, “but don’t you think she’s a little bit of an air-head?”
“No I don’t think that!”
“Well, she’s not as smart as you, for sure. She’s a communications major. What does that mean exactly? She’s good at talking to people?”
“Stop it William. I like her. She’s easy to get along with. I haven’t ever had a friend like her. It’s interesting.”
William snorted. “Just don’t ask her to solve any equations,” he sneered. “Her head might explode.”
“Go away, William. You’re being a jerk!”
If William had a low opinion of Tiffany, he was even more critical of Timothy.
“He’s too skinny,” William said. “If I was corporeal, I could wipe the floor with his ass. I mean, he’s a vegetarian, for Sims sake! Who eats like that?”
“Lots of people are vegetarians!”
“Well, he’s weak. And he smells! He wears all that stupid incense perfume to cover the fact that he just needs to take a shower! And he needs a frickin’ haircut!”
“Tell me what you really think about him William,” I laughed. I thought my brother was being ridiculous.
“I think he’s an idiot, and he better stay away from you!”
This pronouncement made me really laugh. “I’m not interested in him that way anyway! We’re just friends.”
William snorted, echoing the same disgust he felt toward Tiffany. “He’s not good enough for you even as a friend.”
“You don’t get to tell me who my friends are! Go away and leave me alone William. I have to study.”
My goal at the university was to get all A’s and to graduate early. I already had quite a few credits due to my studies at Smugglesworth and my internship at the Science Institute. It was quite feasible for me to think that I might be able to graduate in only two terms.
Besides, I loved my classes at the university. They had some of the same equipment that Smugglesworth had, so it was good to be able to work at the same level that I had once done.
I don’t know why William was so bent out of shape because of my friendship with the Sidles. I barely had time to spend with anyone, let alone my roommates. It seemed that every waking moment I had while not in class was spent studying my course texts or doing extra analytical work with my portable analyzer.
Tiffany Sidles did her best to try to get me to socialize and have fun. She was always asking me to hang out with her and her brother. “What are your plans this weekend, Charlotte?”
“I have to study for the bio-chemistry test I have next week. Then I was thinking of duplicating the lab we did in class the other day.”
“Wouldn’t you rather spend time outside of this house?”
“I am going out later,” I said.
“Oh? What are your plans?” Tiffany raised an eyebrow. I looked down.
“I’m going to the quantum mechanic lab and testing a theory that my professor gave us,” I muttered, ashamed that my plans were not that exciting.
Tiffany laughed. “That’s what I thought. I’m going bowling,” she said. “If you get done with all your math stuff, you should join me.”
I blushed. “Thanks. I’ll think about it.” Tiffany patted my shoulder as she headed into the kitchen to get a snack.
“You do that. Have fun with all your studying!”
Tiffany was always trying to tempt me into doing things besides my work. She even got her brother to follow me to the outdoor laser lab.
“Hey, Charlotte!” he called out to me. I looked down and was surprised to see that a light dusting of snow coated the ground. I guess I had been too absorbed in my work to notice the weather.
“Hi Tim. What are you doing here?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to see this thing. Also, my sister wants you to come out with us tonight.”
“I can’t. Lots to do.”
“She said that I am not allowed to let you say no. She said that you can take one night off.”
“I don’t know…” I hesitated.
“Come on, Char. Tiffany insists. You don’t know what she’s like when she doesn’t get her way. Just come with us tonight. It won’t be that bad. You can do all this studying and testing and whatnot tomorrow, right?”
Timothy had been right about Tiffany getting her way. When I got home, she gave me no opportunity to say no to her request that I join her and Tim that night. It turned out that we went over to another off-campus house where they were having a party. Though I was reluctant to go, I had to admit that I had a pretty good time. It was actually sort of relaxing to do nothing more than play pool and talk to people.
After we won the pool game (How could we not? I figured out the geometry quite easily and learned how much force to apply to achieve optimal results), Tiffany and I played video games together on one of those ancient arcade machines.
“I told you, you’d have fun,” Tiffany teased me.
“You did. And I discovered that there is a game that I am actually good at,” I laughed. “If only I had played pool while I was in high school! It’s nothing like foosball!”
“Let me guess, you’re awful at foosball?”
“Terrible. My friends hated playing with me.”
“Well, you can be my partner in pool anytime.”
“I’m glad you made me come tonight,” I admitted. “I need to take time to have fun more. I know I can be too focused.”
“Well, I’m good at having fun.”
“I know,” I agreed. We both smiled.
I told William all about the party. He had refused to go because there were too many people there. He had no problem following individuals around, but he avoided crowds saying that they made him uncomfortable. “Too many people walk through me,” he explained. “It’s really disconcerting.”
“We need to get a pool table,” I told William. “I think you’d like it. And one of those old arcade things. Tiffany was better than me at that, but it was fun to play. I know I could figure out the pattern of the game if I spent time at it.”
“Don’t get too distracted, Char,” William turned to me, concerned. “You don’t want to fall behind. You could lose your scholarships!”
“I won’t lose anything,” I said. “I’m acing every class.”
And I was. All of my professors loved me. I had the top grade in all of my subjects. I don’t know why William had such a problem with me occasionally abandoning my labs in favor of going to a party or two.
“Charlotte?” Tiffany interrupted me as I was considering the chemical formula for a new potion I was concocting.
I turned and smiled at her. “Yeah?”
“A bunch of us are going over to the dorms later for a bonfire party. Do you want to go?”
“A bonfire? I’ve never gone to a bonfire party.”
Tiffany laughed. “Before I came along, you hadn’t gone to any parties! You study too much, you nerd!”
“That’s true,” I said, laughing with her. “But I like studying and I’m proud of being a nerd.”
“Well that’s good, but take time off from your nerdiness to go with us to the bonfire. It will be fun.”
“Alright,” I agreed.
I did enjoy the bonfire, but I can’t say that I spent the time socializing with other people, which is what Tiffany said I need to do more. Instead the two of us spent almost the whole party talking.
My brother might have been skeptical of Tiffany’s major, but she explained it to me and what she was doing seemed fascinating.
“There is so much you can do now with social media,” she said with enthusiasm. “In fact, computers have revolutionized how we communicate.”
“Don’t you think that computers take away some of that personalization and face-to-face communication that you are always telling me I need in my life?” I asked.
Tiffany launched into an explanation of the pros and cons of interpersonal relations related to computers. I actually learned a lot from her. William was wrong about her being an air-head.
Later on during the party, Tiffany convinced me that I should try some of the juice they were serving in the juice keg.
“What will it hurt?” she asked when I hesitated. “I won’t let you drink too much,” she promised.
She stayed true to her word, but she did persuade me to help her do a keg-stand and then to do one myself.
“This is ridiculous!” I laughed after I finished. I had to wipe my face because it was covered with juice. I was a sloppy keg-stander, I guess.
“It’s fun!” Tiffany laughed at me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think I will just stick to cups from now on.”
Tiffany smiled at me. “Well, at least you tried it. It’s good to try new things,” she said. Then she gave me this sort of strange look and leaned into me. “You have juice on your chin,” she whispered. I lifted my hand to wipe it off but she stopped me.
“No, let me get it,” she said, and she moved toward me to lick the juice off my chin.
“What are you doing?” I asked, pulling back from her, startled.
“Oh god! I’m so sorry!” Tiffany stepped back. “I’m sorry! I misread the signals. I thought…”
“You thought what?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips. What signals had I been sending that said, ‘please, lick me’??
“Well, I mean, I just thought…I guess…I don’t know. I thought you liked me. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. Please don’t hate me, ok?”
I cocked my head. “I don’t hate you.”
“Oh good. I’m sorry,” Tiffany apologized again. “I won’t do that again. I mean it. We’ll just be friends.”
“We are friends,” I said.
“I know, but I thought…I guess I was wrong. Let’s just go back to the party.”
I nodded. I was confused. I had no idea how to respond to what had happened and Tiffany’s continuous apologies were annoying me.
“Maybe we should go home now,” I said. Tiffany agreed. She followed me to the car and we drove home in uncomfortable silence.
After that, things between Tiffany and I were tense. I wasn’t actively trying to avoid her, but every time I saw her, Tiffany would just look at me and then leave the room. I didn’t know how to repair our friendship.
First I went to my brother for help. Both Tiffany and Timothy were out of the house so I didn’t have to ignore him while we were exercising.
“What should I do?” I asked.
“How am I supposed to know?” he said. “I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never even kissed a girl let alone had one lick me!”
“Stop it,” I said, scowling at him. “It’s not funny!”
“Well, I think it is.”
“I just want to be her friend again,” I said miserably. “I hate how uncomfortable she is around me now. Things were so much easier before.”
“Before the lick?”
Since William was no help at all, I talked to Timothy next. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “She likes you more than as a friend. And since that’s not the way you feel about her…”
“I just want things to be like they were,” I said for like the thousandth time.
“Give it time,” Timothy advised. “Eventually, you guys can be friends again. Just let my sister’s feelings settle down. She won’t pressure you or anything.”
“I didn’t think she would!” I said, appalled that he would even think that I would worry about that.
“I know, but some people…”
“I’m not some people. I don’t care about your sister being a lesbian!”
“Ok. That doesn’t bother you. But right now, she likes you. Since you are not a lesbian, that makes things difficult.”
“This sucks,” I said, realizing that Timothy was right.
Nothing I did seemed to ease the tension now present between me and Tiffany. I tried talking with her, but all we managed was small talk. Tiffany was better at it than I was. I always got flustered and ended up not saying much at all. Eventually either Tiffany or I, or both of us, would get up and leave the room.
The stress of losing Tiffany’s friendship was starting to get to me. Eventually, William got sick of me moping around.
“Look,” he said, “you know that I am not Tiffany’s biggest fan, but have you thought that maybe the reason things are so awkward between you might be because of you, not her?”
“What?” I asked, incredulous. “You think this is my fault?”
“No. It’s not your fault. But have you really explored how you feel about her?”
“She’s my friend. Well, she was my friend.”
William sighed. “Charlotte, you can be really dense about relationships. Let’s think about this in a way that might make more sense to you.”
“Ok. What would make this make sense?”
“Yeah. It’s like magnets. Remember those magnetic experiments you used to do as a kid?”
“Sure. But I don’t see what that has to do with Tiffany. You said you were going to make sense. What the heck are you talking about?”
“Maybe, you are attracted to Tiffany just as much as she’s attracted to you,” William explained. “You’re like magnets, but you are upside down, so you’re not connecting like you should. If you just flip your perspective, then voila!”
“Voila? Voila?! What do you mean by that? Are you suggesting that I have feelings for Tiffany, too?”
William shrugged. “Maybe.”
“But I’m not into girls.”
William laughed. “How do you know? All you do is focus on studying and experiments all the time. Have you ever even had a relationship with someone…girl or guy?”
I hadn’t. I’d never really felt like I needed relationships like that. “No,” I admitted.
“Well, think about it. What would it hurt if you liked her that way?”
I thought about what William had said over the course of the next week. I didn’t know if he was right or wrong. My emotions were all confused. What I did know, was that I had to mend things with Tiffany. That’s why I went to her room one morning to confront her. I hoped that doing it in her room wouldn’t make her run away from me.
“We need to talk,” I said.
“Alright,” she agreed, clearly reluctant. I could tell she was nervous.
“I’m not really good with emotions,” I started, trying to explain. “I mean, I deal with science and chemistry and stuff. I’m not really a people person.”
“That’s not true,” Tiffany shook her head. “You do fine with people. You’re not some emotionless robot.”
I shook my head. I was messing this up. “No. Sorry. That’s not what I meant.” I sighed. “I’m getting this all wrong. That’s what I meant.”
Tiffany looked confused. “You’re getting what wrong?”
“Well, I was talking with my brother and he said that maybe the reason things were so awkward between us was that maybe I was feeling the same way you are.”
Tiffany looked skeptical. “What way is that?”
“Um…I’m not really sure, but I think I might like you, too?”
Tiffany gave a little laugh, looking hurt. “Was that a question? You think? You don’t know?”
“I really don’t know!” I insisted. “I’m so confused! This is what I meant. I’m not good with emotions. I don’t know what I’m feeling.”
“I thought you were a genius.”
“I am!” I threw my hands into the air. “I get science, chemistry. I can tell you all about biology. You’re the communications expert. I don’t know anything about that!”
“If I’m such an expert,” Tiffany scoffed, “then I should be able to understand the point you’re trying to make. But I guess I’m not much of a genius.”
I sighed. “This was a mistake. My brother must have been wrong. I was just trying to tell you that I like you. Ok? Or at least I think I do. I’ve never really like-liked anyone before. It’s confusing! I don’t know what to think about it, but what I know for sure is that I hate it that we aren’t friends anymore!”
Frustrated that I couldn’t seem to explain things to Tiffany how I wanted, I turned to head out of her room. Maybe later I could actually manage to articulate my point better. Maybe I could write a letter. Maybe I could send her a text or something like that.
“Wait. I hate it that we aren’t friends, too,” Tiffany said softly before I could get out the door.
I turned back to her. “Do you think we could maybe be friends again? Maybe we can start there and see what happens?”
“Sure.” Tiffany gave me a small smile. I smiled back.
“Ok,” I said. Then I left the room.
Gradually, Tiffany and I began to hang out together again. At first it was just video games at the house. Then we went to the bowling alley and to a few movies together.
We talked a lot, getting to know each other even better than before. I’d never had such a close friend as Tiffany became, but she never repeated the more intimate contact that she’d tried at the bonfire party.
I still didn’t know exactly how I felt about her. Sometimes I wished that she’d just make a move, so I could figure things out. But that never happened. I guess she was waiting for me to do the same thing.
Maybe that’s why, while we were lying on my bed talking one night, I said, “Do you want to go home with me during the break? I mean, you and Tim can both come. I know my dad would like to meet you.”
“You want me to meet your dad?”
“Sure. And my brother Homer, too.”
Tiffany agreed and we both smiled.
And that’s how Tiffany and her brother came to stay at my house in Twinbrook.