As soon as he turned the doorknob, the windows started rattling and noises sounded through the house. Will sighed and stepped into the house, quickly shutting the door behind him.
“GET OUT! I will take you-”
“Chill. It’s me.” He called out to the disembodied voice.
The house quieted instantly and a faint, ethereal figure appeared near the stairs.
“Oh hey. Have you sold it yet?”
Will rolled his eyes. “Obviously not, idiot.”
“Chill. Don’t be rude.” The hazy figure disappeared.
Will knew the ghost, or apparition, or whatever was still around. “I’m having an open house tomorrow. Maybe don’t scare off all the potential buyers?”
There was no response and he got to work making sure the poltergeist effect hadn’t loosened any floorboards or hinges, hadn’t broken any mirrors or window panes, hadn’t unscrewed any pipe connections. Generally making sure the house was in top shape to be shown and giving it a quick once over for dust.
He thought that the ghost’s silence during the process was agreement. The ghost was never completely silent while he was there working, so it made sense that the silence was the ghost showing how polite he could be.
Will watched the sun set over the trees as the last potential buyer pulled out of the driveway, spraying gravel and dirt as they accelerated too fast for the road. He sighed and turned back into the house. The furniture was for staging and he wasn’t really supposed to use it, but he dropped into one of the chairs and eased his leg up onto the ottoman. He stared at his knee while he rethought his life choices.
He was never meant to be selling haunted houses. Or any houses, really. He was meant to get a full ride scholarship to play hockey at a D1 school, and then hopefully be scouted to play professional at the AHL level or higher, but if not, he’d have a solid education in something stable and financially secure like computer science to fall back on.
But an unlucky hit his senior year of high school meant hockey was off the table along with any scholarships it might have brought. It also meant no lobstering and no construction. He should be grateful. His uncle paid for his classes and the license fee for him to become a real estate agent in exchange for Will working for him and continuing to take the required classes to progress up to becoming a broker.
At first, he hadn’t realized that the difficult properties were getting dropped on his desk. He didn’t think it was his uncle’s doing, but as the youngest and newest agent, it made sense for him to get the scut work. He was used to that at least. But it turned out that he had a knack for getting potential buyers to see the hidden opportunities in a fixer upper. He just told them what he’d do to the place if he lived there.
Then, he’d been handed the file for an actual, legitimate haunted house. It was Maine. That shouldn’t be a deterrent to selling the house. People came to Maine looking for haunted houses all the time. (Thank you, Mr. King). But apparently, they all wanted quiet ghosts of the widows of fishermen lost at sea who just stood at the window and looked sad. They didn’t want ghosts that yelled threats and rattled the china.
When he opened his eyes, he wasn’t really surprised to see the faint outline of the ghost hovering near the sofa. “So, that was a no to not scaring off the buyers?”
The indistinct outline wavered in a way that Will somehow knew was a shrug. Will rolled his eyes in response and then groaned as he moved his legs back down and stood up. Maybe an epsom salt bath would help.
“Oh, you’re leaving. Ok. Chill.”
Will didn’t bother looking up. “Ayuh. Open house was only until sundown, and none of the potential buyers are going to come back after the show you put on.”
“Are you going to have another? You should probably do another one.” The ghost sounded weird. Like he was being forcefully nonchalant in his question.
“I don’t know. Didn’t seem like it was worth the trouble.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Maybe I should just tell my uncle that I can’t sell the place.”
The ghost made a sad noise.
“Nothing. It’s chill. I just get lonely.”
Will turned and looked at the ghost incredulously. “Then why do you keep scaring off all the owners and potential buyers?”
“IDK. Why do you keep trying to sell a haunted house?”
“It’s my job!” Will knew he was effectively yelling at nothing, so he squeezed his eyes closed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“There you go.”
“What? It’s your job to scare people? The afterlife is Monsters, Inc and you have to scare people to make rent?”
The apparition huffed. “I’m a ghost. It’s what we do.”
“You don’t scare me.”
There was an inaudible sound that was faintly like words in response.
“I said I like you. I don’t want you to run off.”
Will stared with his mouth slightly open. He’d been liked before, of course. It just never seemed like people liked him for him. Just wanted to spend time with him doing whatever. In high school, people had liked the popularity and advantages of being with one of the star hockey players. After his injury, that was no longer a draw, but he still had friends, still got dates.
Finally, he sighed. “I gotta go. I’ve got an early showing in the morning.”
Derek watched through the window as Will got in his truck and left. He heaved a sigh and pushed himself back through the house. There wasn’t really anything to do now that Will was gone and no potential buyers were around to scare, so he drifted up to the roof and then let himself form into his normal shape. The one he was pretty sure he’d had when he was alive.
It wasn’t necessary. He was a ghost. He was sitting on the roof because that’s where he willed himself to be, not because it was actually supporting him.
He watched Will’s truck disappear into the distance and then lay back to watch the stars come out.
Derek hated being alone. There was nothing to do in the house. Nothing to see. No one to talk to when Will wasn’t there. The worst part was, he felt like when he was alive, he’d had something to keep his mind off of being alone.
At least, that had been the worst part. But then Will had spent two days in a row at the house. They’d only talked a little bit both days, but, well, Derek’s feelings had been hurt the first day and Will was busy most of the second. But still. Will had been there and Derek had liked that. Then he told Will that he liked him. And Will had left.
Will was going to tell his uncle that he couldn’t sell the place. Best case scenario, the listing was reassigned to a different agent and Derek never saw Will again. Worst case scenario, everyone stopped even trying to sell the house and Derek never saw Will again. Basically, no matter what, he was never going to see Will again because he had to open his big mouth and tell him that he liked him.
Who’d ever heard of a ghost having a crush anyway?
So, he decided the best way to spend the time alone was laying face down on the cellar floor. It would have been more effective if he wasn’t floating two and a half feet above the floor, but he couldn’t be bothered to use the energy to move himself down to the actual floor.
When he heard the key in the lock, he figured he should go up and see who was replacing Will as the agent for the house. Or if it was someone to take away the staging furniture and board the place up. He could get that real haunted house aesthetic then, at least.
He made sure he wasn’t visible and moved up to the foyer, but it was empty, so he floated towards the den.
Will looked up at the sound of his name. “Ayuh.”
Derek shook his head and let himself flow back into the faint outline that was easiest to exist as. “Didn’t think you’d be here today. Late showing?”
Will’s ears seemed to be turning slightly pink and he looked away. “No showing. The ottoman was just wicked good for my knee. Figured I could spend some time here to rest it. ‘S’all.”
“Oh, chill. What’cha got?”
Will was settling into the chair with his legs propped up and had opened a laptop on his lap. “Been working for my uncle two years as an agent. Need to take the course so I can take the exam to be an associate broker.”
“Oh. I’ll be quiet then.” He lowered himself over the couch and watched Will work.
After a few minutes, Will looked over again. “You don’t have to just sit here, you know. You can do whatever.”
“Don’t really have anything to do.”
Will stared in his direction. “What do you do all day?”
“Nothing really. Sit on the roof and watch the scenery sometimes.” He didn’t think mentioning laying face down in the cellar would make him sound cool and suave. “I told you. I get lonely.”
Will sighed and closed his eyes. “Oh. You get bored.”
“Ch’yeah. That too.”
“What do you like? I can bring you something tomorrow. Then you won’t be bored.”
“You’re gonna come back tomorrow? Chill.”
“Ayuh. Was planning to.”
The next day, Will returned, just like he’d promised. He also brought a bunch of books like he’d promised.
“I hope you like Discworld. Personally, I’d recommend starting with Night Watch or Wee Free Men, but everyone has a different starting point that they like.” He pulled out a piece of paper. “I printed off this guide to the reading order options so you can keep track.”
Will stepped away from the table where he’d placed the books and the paper and licked his lips.
Derek did not watch the movement. That was a bald faced lie. But he only watched briefly. Then he looked at the books. He wasn’t sure if this was going to work, but it was worth a try. Will seemed to be waiting to see if it worked.
So, Derek opened one of the books and read the first page.
It was actually a bit anticlimactic that it worked so easily. He ruffled the pages of the book.
“Ayuh. Looks like you’ve got it. So, you’re set up here and I’ll just, I’ll just sit in there with the ottoman.” Will nodded and turned to go back into the den.
Derek followed and settled on the couch again.
“Thought you were going to read?”
“Chill. I’ll read when you’re gone.”
Will looked from him back towards the table of books and back. “You don’t want to read now? Aren’t you bored?”
“Like spending time with you.”
“Oh.” Will’s ears were definitely turning pink. “But we don’t really talk.”
“That’s chill. You’ve got an important test to study for. After you pass that, then we’ll be able to talk. I mean, if you still come out here.”
“Ayuh. Sure. Yeah. Ok. That makes sense.” Will was nodding but his eyes were wide and Derek wasn’t really sure that it did make sense to him.
Oh well. He wasn’t lonely and that was the important part.
Will started coming to visit every day. He still claimed it was because the ottoman helped his knee, but he always looked even more stiff when he stood up, so Derek wasn’t sure that was true.
It had only taken about a week of them spending a few hours in the same room before Will finally asked him, “So, what should I call you? Don’t think your name is Casper.”
Derek had laughed. “No. You can call me….” He hadn’t seemed to be able to say his name. Which was weird. “Nurse. You can call me Nurse.”
“Nurse is a profession, not a name.”
“Ok, Nurse it is.”
After Will finished his course and passed his test they had a celebration that involved Will drinking a single beer and them watching a movie on his laptop together. After that, Will continued to visit in the evenings and they talked about the books that Derek was reading.
Derek quickly made his way through the books that Will brought, and Will started bringing books from the library. Which made it more difficult, because Will hadn’t read all of those. Derek decided that meant he needed to provide a review of each book and let Will know if it was worth reading. Will seemed like he appreciated that. They usually watched a movie or a few episodes of a TV show after Derek updated Will on the reading list. Sometimes, Will would do light maintenance around the house, which continued to be a treat to watch.
He was really enjoying the rhythm that they had. He would have preferred more time with Will, but Will had a job and he had to sleep. It was already pretty significant that he spent so much time with Derek.
Then suddenly, it ended. Will didn’t show up. And he didn’t show up again. And again. And again. For over two weeks.
That wouldn’t have been unusual before. Before he’d told Will that he liked him. Before Will had stopped showing the house and started visiting. But now, now it was very unusual. Derek was worried. There wasn’t a ghost directory. He had no way to know if something had happened.
Then a “Sold” sign was placed over the “For Sale” sign and Derek realized he’d never see Will again.
Will parked his truck and leaned back with his eyes closed for a moment to take several deep breaths. The conversation had to happen. He’d avoided it, because he wasn’t sure how to have it, but there was no way to put it off any longer. The movers would arrive soon to pick up the rented furniture.
One more deep breath and he got out of the truck and went up to the house.
Nurse didn’t appear like he had been. He didn’t do his old haunting routine either.
“Nurse?” Will started walking through the house. Maybe he’d find him.
He started to get worried after checking the cellar, the main floor, and the second floor and still hadn’t seen Nurse. “Nurse?”
The stairs to the attic were dropping down when Nurse finally appeared. “Yeah? Chill.”
“You’re still here.” Will couldn’t stop the sigh of relief.
“Yep. Where I always am. Every day. Alone. Stuck in this house. No where else to be.” Nurse was really faint and he kept drifting back away from Will.
“Oh. Yeah. That makes sense, I guess.” Will tried to stop his brain from spinning ideas about ghost busters or the Lazarus machine from Casper or moving on after completing unfinished business.
“What do you want, Will?
There was something off about Nurse’s tone, but Will could hear the moving truck outside and he only had a few more seconds, a minute tops. “Listen, Nurse. I’ve got a wicked important favor to ask. There’s going to be some movers here today, moving out the staging furniture. I need you to, just, not let them know you’re here.”
“Right. Because you sold the house. Movers for the staging furniture. Then I guess people moving in. I’ll just be in the cellar, invisible, and pretending that I don’t exist. Chill.”
Nurse disappeared before Will could respond.
Then the front door opened from the level below and Will had to put the attic stairs back up and direct the moving crew.
The move out of the staging furniture, with professional movers, and the move in of his stuff, with his uncles and cousins, went off without a problem. Finally, the last box was deposited and Will paid his family members in beer, which he sent home with them, and he was alone
Nurse had kept his promise and gone the entire time other people were in the house unseen and unheard.
Will sat down on his threadbare couch with a sigh and rubbed his knee.
“So, when are they going to arrive?”
Will looked up at Nurse’s soft voice and smiled to see him floating a few feet away. “Everyone’s gone actually. That was the last of it.”
The glow grew brighter and then dimmer in a manner that Will interpreted to be the equivalent of some manner of hand gesture. “Chill. I mean the new owners. When are they going to arrive?”
Will stared at the ghost for a moment before laughter bubbled up in his throat and he couldn’t suppress it. The laughter just kept coming and he had to hold his stomach because it was starting to hurt from laughing so much.
“Chill. You don’t have to make fun of me.”
“No. Nurse. You idiot.”
“I’m the new owner!” He finally managed to stop laughing and gasped for air while wiping his eyes. “I bought the house.”
“I bought the house. I had to jump through a lot of hoops because buying a house that you’ve been contracted to sell and then not been able to sell for a long time…. It definitely doesn’t look ethical.” He grimaced at the memory.
“So, that’s why you haven’t been visiting?” Nurse was slowly getting closer and something eased in Will’s chest.
“Ayuh. I would have warned you first, but my uncle actually pulled it from my list and took the keys and then that’s when I told him I thought I wanted to buy it. Which made him wicked mad because it makes his agency look bad. But he did help me get through the hoops to buy it.”
“Why’d I have to pretend not to exist, then?” It shouldn’t be weird for a ghost to sound pouty. This particular one had definitely done it before. But it had been awhile.
“Well. I mean. I had to say that I wasn’t worried about the haunting reports because I didn’t believe in ghosts. Which was a hard sell since I’d been in the house a lot of the times you scared off potential buyers. But it’s not like I could say ‘Oh yeah, I want to move into the haunted house because I’m in love with the ghost who haunts it.’ That’s a quick route to a psych eval.”
“Fuck. I mean, I didn’t. Shit.” Will stumbled over his words. It was stupid to say that. He couldn’t be in love with a ghost. Even the ghost was bound to realize that. And now he’d made it awkward and he’d just spent a lot of money on the house. He couldn’t really afford to move back out. “We’re roommates or whatever, it’s chill.”
“Oh my god. We were roommates.”
Will felt his face heating. “Shut up. It’s nothing.”
“It’s chill. Because you love me.” Nurse’s voice was taunting as the glowing form moved closer. “I’m going to figure out a way to kiss you.”
“Oh. Um, okay.”
Then Nurse was directly in front of him and he felt a warm sensation as his eyes fluttered closed. A second later, the warmth was replaced by the cold air that he’d expected.
Derek Nurse woke up in a small cottage somewhere in the German countryside with the sure knowledge that he needed to get to Maine as quickly as humanly possible.
Getting to Maine wasn’t a problem. Money made things move faster. He finalized things with the woman he’d rented the cottage from, wiring payment for the remainder of the year to break the lease early and closing out the contract so that she could rent it to someone else. He paid the extra charge for a last minute transatlantic flight. He rented whatever car was closest to the gate. He was standing in front of Will’s front door 48 hours after waking up.
He was very tired.
But when Will opened the door, it felt like coming home and he smiled.
“So, can I try that kiss now?”
Will’s face shuttered and he stepped back, pulling the door closer. “Look. I don’t know who put you up to this, one of my cousins probably, but I’m really not in the mood for pranks. Go home or whatever. Just leave me alone.”
Then the door was closed again.
Will sighed when he opened the door. “Look, you’re wicked cute. I get that you’re probably used to people throwing themselves at you when you ask random strangers for a kiss. But I just lost someone and I’m not in the mood for whatever it is Caleb or Johnny talked you into trying to pull.”
He went to close the door again and Derek put his hand on the door. He didn’t push or trying to force his hand between the door and the jam. Just to try to get Will to pause for a moment.
“Chill. Okay. If you really don’t want me here I’ll go. It’s just, I kind of live here, or I was before, and I’m not sure where to go.”
Will sighed and seemed to soften. “You must be turned around or something. No one lived in this house for a long time before I bought it. Locals all think it’s-”
“Haunted. Yeah. I know. I got a bit carried away. Made your job harder. I’d be sorry, but, I got to meet you. So. ‘S Chill.” Derek gave a half smile and turned to go. He was just upsetting Will. There was probably some sort of hotel in town he could stay at. He could try to figure out how to explain the situation there.
“Ayuh. Look, man. I’m sorry. I can call down to the motel and tell Sheila not to give you a hard time about a room or overcharge you. What’s your name?
“Nurse. Derek Nurse.”
“Nurse isn’t a name.” Will’s voice sounded odd, so Derek stopped moving.
“It’s a profession.” He smiled again. “But it’s also a name.”
Will’s footsteps sounded on the porch and Derek turned to face him.
“Chyeah. I was surprised too. Except when I woke up, I actually remembered what had happened, so. Chyeah.”
Will pressed his lips together and tilted his head. “Well, I still can’t read your mind, so you’ll actually have to tell me.”
“Oh, chill right. So, I woke up in Germany. Little cottage in the middle of nowhere. Great for writing.”
“I’m somewhat less concerned about that than how you were a ghost in the first place.” Will rolled his eyes but turned and gestured for Derek to follow him into the house.
Once they were settled in the den and Derek had a beer set on a coaster for him, he figured he should just tell the whole truth.
“Ok, so like, I’m rich?”
“Are you asking me? How should I know? You look fancy.”
“Not a question. I’m rich. My family is. And my dad’s powerful because of it or whatever. And I’m good looking.”
Will snorted and Derek raised a brow at him. “Continue. Please. I’m curious to how this ties into you being a ghost.”
“Chill. I’m getting there.”
Will raised his brows but then mimed zipping his lips.
“Anyway, I’ve had some bad luck with boyfriends. Seems like every time I think it’s real, it turns out they were only wanting to use my connections or wanted me to sit down and shut up and look pretty.”
Will made a noise, but dutifully kept his mouth shut so Derek just smirked and continued.
“Chyeah. I told you, bad luck. So a little over a year ago, it happened again. Broke up. Spent some time alone. Decided to tour Europe. Found a really cute little village in Germany, with a cottage perfect for holing up in and writing. I spent some time walking around the area and I found this old wishing well in the forest and I figured, what the hey, right?”
He waited for Will to nod. “So I toss a coin in and I guess I’m still feeling kind of down about my love life but trying to be optimistic, so I wished that I would find someone who loved me for me. Not my family or my name or my money or my influence or my looks. Didn’t really think anything of it. Just a little hopeful romantic gesture. Went back to the cottage, went to bed, woke up a ghost in Maine. You were there for most of the rest of it.”
He leaned back and took a sip of the beer.
Will watched him for a few seconds. “That’s a lot to take in. A wicked lot. It’s not that I don’t want to believe you. It’s just. A wishing well? That actually granted your wish? By making you a ghost for a year? And you’re rich and in a connected family but no one wondered where you were for a year?” Will shook his head. “Sorry. Like I said. I can’t deal with pranks right now. I don’t know how you found out about Nurse, but finish your beer and I’ll call down to the motel for you.”
Derek stared at him in shock. He thought they’d moved past that. “Wait. Just a second.” He patted down his pockets until he remembered which one he’d put his passport in and then pulled it out and tossed it over to Will.
Will glanced through it and then tossed it back. “Ok. Your name really is Derek Nurse and you were in Germany recently. Doesn’t change a thing.”
Derek took another sip of his beer and tried to think of something that would make Will believe the impossible was possible. Apparently, getting him to believe in ghosts was a lot easier than getting him to believe in magic.
“What if I told you something only Nurse would know?”
Will raised his brows but made a gesture for Derek to continue.
“You brought me books. Because I was bored when I was alone and you were working. So you brought me books. Eventually it was anything you could check out at the library. But at first, you brought me your own books. Discworld. You suggested I start with Wee Free Men or Night Watch. After I read Wee Free Men and started into the Tiffany Aching series, you told me that you wouldn’t mind being a hag. You said hagging is useful business.”
Will’s cheeks flushed slightly and he looked away while taking a drink from his own beer. “Lots of people know I like Discworld.”
Derek groaned. “Come on. What do you want me to say? We were going to be roommates and I said ‘Oh my god, we were roommates.’ and you told me to shut up and I told you I was going to find a way to kiss you and you said ok and I tried and instead of getting to kiss you I woke up in Germany and damn it, I still want to kiss you, Will!”
Will stared at him unblinking while he took a few deep breaths to recenter his chill.
“Ayuh. That’s something nobody else knows.” Will set his bottle down and then braced his hands on his knees. He seemed to be trembling slightly and Derek wasn’t sure what to do.
“Chill. I shouldn’t have gotten wound up.”
“No. You’re fine. I wasn’t listening. I was being wicked thick. I just. I shouldn’t have made you prove yourself. You got nothing to prove to me.”
“I mean. You didn’t know what I looked like when I was a ghost. And if I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t believe it either. So. I understand your skepticism.”
Will took a deep breath and shook his head. “It’s not that. It’s. You were in front of me, then you were gone. Just, completely gone. I didn’t know what to think. You finished your unfinished business and moved on? You got reassigned to a new haunted house because this one was purchased? I just knew you were gone and I couldn’t find a way to get you back. And then you-” He paused and gestured at Derek. “You show up and say you’re Nurse and you’re alive, not a ghost. I didn’t want to hope, okay?”
“Oh, chill. And now?”
“It’s just a lot. Emotional 180. I’m processing it.”
“Kay.” Derek sat back and tried to be chill.
“You said you still want to kiss me?”
“Chyeah. Got here as quick as I could.”
“Good. Because I still want to kiss you too.”
Then Will was in his arms and their lips were pressed together, tentatively at first. Then more hungrily. Will’s hands never seemed to stop moving, touching all over his chest and arms and back and face. Like he was reassuring himself that Derek was real. Derek held on tight until Will broke the kiss.
“Do I still need to get a room at the motel and go back to my place in New York tomorrow? Or can I stay here?”
He felt Will’s smile against his lips before Will responded. “Oh my god, Nurse. We were roommates.”
“Were roommates. But now?”
“Dating? If you want."