“Lydia,” Delia called in a sing-song voice, swinging the door open without knocking.
The room was dingy, just how Lydia liked it, but the lack of a frustrated, “Knock first!” ringing out around the room signified that she wasn’t home.
Delia turned to leave.
“Ever learn to knock?” A gravelly voice whispered, and Delia whipped back around.
Floating above Lydia’s bed, legs crossed, head resting on his hands, was Beetlejuice. Delia relaxed a little; at least this was a familiar murderer.
"Oh, it's just you," Delia grimaced, partially from disappointment and partially from the smell. "Lydia must still be out with her father."
"Yeah." Beetlejuice stopped levitating above the bed and collapsed onto it. "Inconsiderate of her. I'm bored as shit here!" He rolled over a couple of times, burrito-ing himself in Lydia's duvet, then propped his chin up on his hands. "Whaddya want, Doreen?"
Delia's lower jaw dropped. She closed it with her hand, after remembering what Otho said about gaping: fish can be pretty, but it's never because of their open mouths. "It's Delia. And I just wanted to know if Lydia wanted to come dress shop-"
"Oh boy!" Beetlejuice wriggled wildly in the duvet until it landed in a heap on the floor. He jumped up. "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Dress shopping!"
Delia regarded the creature in front of her. She'd, unfortunately, seen him every day for the past month, and always in the same tattered suit. It wasn't stylish either; more like the everyday business wear of a used car salesman. Although his nails were painted and his hairstyles were questionable he wasn't particularly feminine; in fact, Delia thought quite the opposite.
"You, you like dress... shopping?" She choked out.
"Well, I've never actually been, but Lydia makes it sound so fun! And if Lydia loves it I'm sure I would too." Beetlejuice made a dive for the discarded duvet and wrapped it around himself like a toga.
"So, do you, uh, would you-" Delia couldn't believe what she was about to ask. This would be like - no, not be like: would be exactly - taking a dead body to the mall with her. "Would you like to come?"
"More than anything!" The toothy grin fell from his face. "But alas, I am tether to this establishment. Lydia summoned me here, ya see? If I step outside I'll become somebody's lunch."
"Ah, alright then." Every muscle in Delia's body screamed for her to abort and get right out of there. Lydia seemed to have settled her differences with Beetlejuice, but the same couldn't be said for the rest of the household. He would follow Lydia around like a rescue puppy, watching their TV and eating their food, but mostly they holed up in Lydia's room doing God-knows-what. As far as Delia was concerned he was still the creature who'd terrorised her family and threatened to go on a murdering spree.
But she had to ask. "Do you own any other clothes?"
"That aren't a wedding tux and a cowboy hat?"
"Why not?" Delia was of the opinion that everyone needed just one outfit that made them feel amazing. In her case, she had a whole wardrobe full of them.
"Where am I s'pose to get 'em from? Most people don't bring a wardrobe of clothes with 'em into death. Whatcha got is whatcha got." He slipped off his jacket to show Delia where it had been repaired at the back. "Not fun when you eat your feelings as much as I do."
She smiled slightly. He was... almost like a person. A pale-as-death, filthy-as-dirt person, but a person all the same.
"Do you want something?" She asked.
Beetlejuice cocked his head in a way that reminded Delia of that rescue puppy again. "Something specific, or just something? Because I'd kill for-" Delia recoiled. "Okay, okay, not kill for. I'd l-like? I'd like a vibrator, a cheeseburger, and a set of pre-used false teeth."
"I, uh, I meant something specific. But the vibrator I can help you with. Charles is a... vivacious lover, I've found I don't need mine anymore." She waited for him to grimace in disgust at the mention of her sex life, but Beetlejuice looked captivated.
"Screw the vibrator, I wanna hear about the hot, hot sex you have with my best friend's dad!"
A lewd smile crept it's way across Delia's face. "Maybe later. Come with me." She held her hand out to grab Beetlejuice, then retracted it. He was sexy, sure, but in a New York City sewer rat kind of way; she didn't want to touch him.
Delia lead Beetlejuice into her bedroom where she opened the wardrobe (Charles' side of the wardrobe) and gestured to its contents dramatically.
Beetlejuice looked star-struck. His snowy-white face turned a soft pink and he clasped his hands together. "Oh boy," he breathed. "Can I touch it?"
"Take something," Delia said with a flick of her wrist. "I'm sure Charles won't mind." She didn't know that for certain, but she did know that once Beetlejuice had touched it no one would want it.
He stared at the wardrobe for a while, taking in all the different fabrics and items of clothing, then snatched something from the bottom shelf. "Can I have this?"
In his hands was clutched a straw summer hat, complete with a flower crown. He plopped it down on his head and straightened it, then cackled softly. "Cool, right?"
Delia regarded Beetlejuice carefully. He glanced at his reflection, spun on his heels, tipped the hat. He brushed his lapels back and shoved his hands in his pockets. He grinned so widely he had to close his eyes to make room for more teeth.
"God," Delia whispered. "You're just a kid."
"Huh?" Beetlejuice whipped round, but before he could meet Delia's gaze something else caught his eye. He grabbed hold of Charles' gold tie. "Can I have this?"
"You look like a grown-up, and sound like a grown-up, and God knows you must fuck like a grown-up." She took a couple of steps closer to him. "But really, inside-" Tentatively, unsure, she reached a hand up, "You're just a kid." She cupped her palm against his cheek.
Beetlejuice stopped grinning. He closed his eyes and leaned into the touch.
"So your mom just let you go out into that, that disgusting place Charles and Lydia went to and put your penis in stuff?"
"Yeah!" Beetlejuice leaned back, but raised a hand to touch the spot on his cheek where Delia's had just been. "And let other stuff put their dicks in me! It's a riot out there! But..." He looked back at the wardrobe; levitated a little to see onto the top shelf, "I like it better here."
When he placed both his feet back on the ground he had a bundle of fabric in his hands. "Can I have this?" He unfurled it to reveal a tacky Hanukkah sweater.
"I'm a demon from the actual afterlife who doesn't experience time, so no. But I speak Hebrew, so I dabble." He inspected the pattern. "Organised religion is pretty. So many people who act like a family."
The sickening crunch of an un-dead demon being demolished by a sandworm rang in Delia's ear. "Do you miss your mom?"
"Nah, she was the worst." Beetlejuice had ventured over to Delia's side of the wardrobe now. "And she never understood me. Or wanted to talk to me. Or-" Delia watched in wonder as the green streaks in Beetlejuice's hair melted to purple, "Loved me. And she was always so angry, and so busy, and so mean." He shrugged, a heavy, tired shrug he'd given a million times before. "It's fine though, totally doesn't bother me at all or anything."
Delia had always wanted to be a mother. She'd pretended she hadn't, of course, because to admit to wanting something so mundane and feminine was social suicide, at least in Delia's circles. By the time she'd realised it was more important to have a family she loved than friends that she didn't her husband had already left.
Lydia was wonderful, and in the past few weeks they'd become much closer, but Lydia already had a mom. She was willing to allow Delia into her life, and seemingly happy for her with her father, but she knew she'd never fill the mother-shaped hole left in her life.
But Beetlejuice, though a demon and potentially some kind of adult, wanted a mother figure. He wanted Delia to help him pick out clothes and talk about relationships and impart life lessons. She had never wanted an ageless, gremlin-like creature as a son, still didn't if she was being honest, but something about the way he stared forlornly down at his tattered shoes tugged at her heart.
Delia stepped past Beetlejuice and rummaged through her wardrobe, then pulled out a green, elastic dress. She held it up against his chest. "Green's more your colour."
He reached to snatch it, but stopped himself. "Really?" He ruffled his hair, turning a few strands back to their usual colour.
"You did want to come dress shopping."
Beetlejuice tilted his head. "I'm... chunky."
"That's okay, it stretches."
"But... won't it look bad."
"Beetlejuice, I mean this with the utmost sincerity and kindness when I say: no one will ever see you wearing this. You are a dead guy trapped in our house. If I were you I'd be far more concerned about the whole being dead thing." Then she smiled; patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Plus, nothing looks bad as long as you're happy. That's not something my ex-guru Kevin said: that's all me."
Beetlejuice seemed to nod sincerely for a moment, before he said, “Kevin was sexy, I should’ve asked him to bang.”
Delia couldn’t believe the next sentence to come out of her mouth. “He has always wanted to give a ghost a blow job.”
“I’ll settle for that-“ Beetlejuice began to unzip his pants.
“No, no, not me!” Delia exclaimed.
“Yeah, I know not you. You’re my best friend’s mom now, so you’re off limits. Physically, that is. Mentally-“ he shrugged, “I can still do whatever I want up there.”
“Gross. But still: why are you taking your pants off in my bedroom!”
“Duh, to put the dress on.” Beetlejuice rolled his eyes. They both rolled in different directions.
“Go-“ Delia ushered him into the corridor, “Out there and do it, I don’t want to see you naked.” She paused. “I’m assuming you don’t wear underwear.”
“Exactly.” Delia shut the door.
A couple of minutes later Beetlejuice burst back in, looking exactly like a chubby demon wearing a human’s dress. He looked ecstatic.
“It’s not even dirty,” he garbled. “I didn’t think I’d like that, but I kinda too. It’s tight, but in like a sexy way, not an uncomfortable way, I feel pretty great, I do miss the suit though.
"Will you zip it?" He asked. Then, after a short pause, "Please?"
"Of c-" Delia paused, hands hovering over the zip. There was a gaping wound in the middle of Beetlejuice's back, piercing right through his spinal column.
In the mirror, Beetlejuice caught sight of Delia's horrified expression. "Yeah, that happens," he shrugged. "Nothing really changes in the Netherworld, so how you die is pretty much how you stay."
"That's horrible. Isn't there anything you can do?" Gingerly she ran a finger around the wound. Beetlejuice didn't even seem to feel her touch.
"Not much. I've stitched the front one shut, I'm a pretty bitchin' seamstress, but the wound'll never close."
Delia pinched the zipper between two fingers and began to zip up the dress. “I’ll stitch it for you later, if you want.” Just the thought of it made her want to gag. She’d applied to be a mortician’s apprentice once and had rapidly decided the job was not for her. But her step daughter was the one who’d bludgeoned this man in the back; she felt at least partly responsible.
“That would be uncharacteristically nice of you.”
“I think you’ll find that people out here do nice things for each other all the time,” Delia smiled.
“Like stab each other in the back?”
“Touché. You’re all done.” She stepped back to allow Beetlejuice to admire what was really a glorified potato sack on him. He looked like a child playing at dress up.
“I look like a snake!” Beetlejuice declared proudly. “Fuck yes!”
“That what you were going for?” Delia was fishing around in the wardrobe for the first aid kit. When she resurfaced Beetlejuice was regarding his reflection with the same reverence he usually reserved for simple questions.
“I don’t know.” His voice was soft enough to have lost some of its edge. “I just wanted something that... nah, that’ll upset the kid.”
“What?” Delia asked. “Lydia?”
“It’s nothing.” Back to his usual growl. Beetlejuice began to stalk out of the room, then halted.
“Can you still stitch my spine closed?”
This is absolutely in line with vegetarianism, Delia told herself. “Of course.”
“Beetlejuice!” Lydia threw the door to her room open. “I have so much- Oh.” The room was empty.
Lydia was about to stalk disappointedly to her bed when a yell from down the hall startled her.
“Dad?” She dashed back into the corridor.
“What is that thing doing in our bedroom?” Charles demanded.
Lydia leaned past him to be met with one of the strangest sights of her younger life - and she’d seen a lot. Delia was leant against the headboard, which was not an unusual sight in itself. But beside her, lying on his stomach, dressed in a sunhat, winter sweater, and one of Delia’s dresses, was Beetlejuice. His face lit up when he saw Lydia.
“Babes!” He jumped up. “Check this out!” He also had her father’s gold tie on.
“Groovy outfit, Beej,” Lydia laughed.
“I’m sorry, did I miss something?” Charles asked. “Why is there a demon hanging out in our room? And wearing our clothes?”
“I-“ Beetlejuice started.
Delia raised a hand to stop him, indicating that she’d take it from here. “I just felt like we should get to know our daughter’s best friend,” she said. “He’s basically part of the family now.”
“No!” Charles stressed. “No. The Maitlands are part of the family. This thing is a nuisance!”
“He’s not a thing, he’s just like a person,” Lydia and Delia said in unison. They both smiled.
“I thought you were on my side,” Charles grumbled to Delia, but it was light-hearted. “Lydia, take... him away with you.”
Lydia started towards her room and Beetlejuice bounced off the bed, eager to follow her. He made an abrupt stop beside Delia and stared at her for a moment; let his head loll to the side a little.
“I won’t make you hug me,” he said eventually. He reached out to clasp her hand; she took it. “Let’s hang out more, Delia.”
“I’d like that,” she replied.
Lydia smirked to herself. True, Delia would never be her mom. But she was on her way to becoming a great step-mom, and, by the looks of things, not just to her.