It creeps across her vision insidiously, like an oil spill. Starts off as just a faint flashing in her eyes but it’s not long before she can no longer read the words on the page on front of her, or see her hands on the keyboard. Luke’s face, when she looks over, simply ceases to exist. The entire area directly in her field of vision has gone startlingly blank, like a piece has been cut out, leaving her with only peripheral vision to see and function with.
It’s the same way it always starts, and all Julie can think is not now, please not now, and try to ignore it. She begins playing more by sound and memory than by reading the music, and if she finds herself making a few more mistakes than normal, the guys either don’t notice (impossible) or don’t call her on it (far more likely).
But twenty minutes later there’s a tingle in the tip of the pinky finger of her right hand, which quickly travels the full length of the finger, then jumps to the next, and the next…it moves through her whole hand like it’s searching for something, then disappears for a few moments, and then, suddenly—
“Guys, I’m sorry, I have to stop,” Julie says, clutching her hand to her as the pain flares. On the surface, it has gone completely numb, feeling like so much dead flesh attached to the end of her arm, but beneath, it feels like every muscle and vein has seized, leaving her breathless with pain and so frustrated she can feel tears pricking at the corners of her eyes.
“Julie?” Luke asks, putting his guitar down immediately. “You okay?”
“Can someone get my bag for me?” she asks in lieu of an actual answer. Her voice comes out small and shaky.
It’s Alex who does so, handing it to her with a worried expression as she frantically starts pawing through the pockets with her unaffected hand. But no matter how hard she searches, she’s not finding what she needs, and her vision is starting to go from that horrible blankness to television snow. She’s running out of time. “My Imitrex isn’t here,” she mutters, trying to remember where she might have left it, but it’s already getting so hard, panic and brain fog combining to send every thought scattering.
“Imitrex, like for migraines?” Reggie pipes up.
Julie nods. Still searching her bag even though it’s clearly pointless. All the boys are gathered around her now and she’s starting to feel so stupid, so—
Luke kneels beside her bench, and his hands fall on hers, stilling her frantic movements. “When was the last time you had a migraine?” he asks her.
“At s-school,” she remembers. “Two months ago.” Flynn had taken her out of class and to the nurse, even though they both knew there wasn’t much she could do besides go home and sleep it off. She’d taken her meds standing by her locker and hoping they worked fast.
“My pills are there,” she tells them. “In my locker. They don’t completely make it go away, but they do help. I’m usually really careful about keeping them on me, I feel like such an idiot.”
“Nah, come on,” Luke says, brushing her hair out of her face. “I bet migraines make it really hard for you to think. You stay here with the guys and lie down, I’ll hit the school and grab your meds. We'll get this thing kicked in no time.”
She has no idea if ghost teleportation works with an object they’re holding that doesn’t belong to one of them, but at this point she’s desperate. “Okay,” she whispers. He squeezes the hand she doesn’t have clutched to her chest and vanishes.
Reggie appears almost immediately to take his place, taking her hand and guiding her up. “Come on, couch’ll be way more comfy,” he says, and Alex is already turning off the lights.
“I don’t get light sensitivity,” she tells him. “But thanks.”
“Old habit,” Reggie says, helping her lie down on the couch. He takes a seat next to her although it’s barely wide enough for him to do so, and presses a hand to her forehead. It’s cool, soothing. The headache hasn’t hit yet, not really, but she can feel it lurking at the edges, taunting her. She closes her eyes, trying to steady her breathing, as Reggie continues, “From when they used to have to deal with me. I did get light sensitivity. And sound.”
“Tough on a guy in a rock band,” Julie says, but it’s nice to know that one of them knows what it’s like, how debilitating migraines can actually be. Every time someone rolls their eyes at her and says, it’s just a headache, get over it, she wants to either scream or cry.
“The really bad ones made me throw up and nobody was happy on those days,” Reggie confides. “But at least the guys were always willing to help. Better than my folks, they just threw pills at me and told me to take care of myself. The migraines started right around the same time the fighting did.”
“I’m sorry,” Julie says, and it’s not enough, not nearly, but it’s all she has it in her to say right now. With her eyes closed, she can almost forget that her vision is all messed up – the colors and swirls and static behind her eyelids don’t mean much when there’s no picture to try and put together. The pain in her hand is lessening, too, the numbness moving to her cheek and jaw, which is uncomfortable but never feels quite as bad.
“Aw, it’s all good.” Reggie leans down to press a cool kiss to her forehead and she smiles, holds his hand a little tighter. “I’ve got all the family I need right here now. And hey, no migraines since I died. Ghost perk!”
That brings out another tiny smile, and she shakes her head at him, eyes still closed so she can’t see his answering expression, but she’s sure it’s fond. Reggie always looks so earnestly fond of all of them.
“Is there anything else you need, Julie?” Alex asks. He sits on the arm of the couch so he can put a hand on her shoulder, and she tilts her head just enough to touch her cheek to it.
“Water? If you can manage it.” Dehydration is probably what toppled her over the edge into migraine territory to begin with. “And tell my dad so he doesn’t worry?”
“On it,” Alex says, and she hears him poof away.
“Hate this,” Julie mumbles. She can feel her thoughts starting to slip-slide again, words getting harder to think or say. “Can’t…”
“Shh.” Reggie pets her hair. “Just rest, Jules. We’ll get you better in no time.”
For several long moments, there is silence outside of her own heartbeat and the rustle of Reggie’s leather jacket as he runs his hand up and down her arm. Then she hears the sound of a ghost appearing, and Luke’s voice in her ear. “I got your meds. Can you sit up?”
She nods, tentatively opening her eyes. The vision distortion seems to be ebbing but it’s still uncomfortable to look at anything for long. She tips a foil-wrapped pill into her hand and opens it with clumsy fingers, dry swallows it as Luke’s hand finds her back, cool and calming between her shoulder blades. He takes a seat and they reposition so that she can lie back down with her head in his lap, Reggie not leaving the space he’s carved out beside her.
Another whoosh of displaced air signals Alex’s return, and Julie blinks her eyes open to take the water he hands her. Sits up with Luke’s help just enough to down the glass before curling back up and squeezing her eyes closed. She can’t thank either of them…words are too far away now, the aphasia that only comes with the worst of her migraines having taken hold sometime while she wasn’t paying attention.
She’s only vaguely aware of Alex sitting on the floor in front of the couch, a quiet, steady presence, there if she needs him, just like Reggie and Luke.
God, she loves her dumb, wonderful ghost boys.
She knows she left taking her meds too late – if she doesn’t take them right when the symptoms start, the pills are all but useless – but the first jolt of pain some time later still rocks her, lancing into her head with the force of a jackhammer. She doesn’t realize she’s whimpered until she feels a hand petting her hair, smoothing her curls back away from her face. Each of her hands are being held, and someone brushes a kiss against her knuckles. They’re all here with her, and that helps so much. It doesn’t take the pain away, but just knowing she isn’t alone…that helps more than she can say.
She wants to bury her face in a pillow or, using what she has available, Luke’s thigh, but turning her neck too much just makes the pain sharper. It’s a relief when a cool washcloth is draped gently over her eyes – it must have been Alex, because Luke and Reggie haven’t moved, and she tries to thank him, but all that comes out is a pathetic mewling sound. She thinks he understands, because his fingers brush her cheek as he resumes his place by the couch and takes her left hand again.
She doesn’t know how long it goes on, wave after wave of agony stabbing into her skull. She loses all sense of time and just tries to remember to breathe through it. Usually, this is when she starts to compound the issue with an anxiety attack, but being surrounded and comforted by the guys seems to have staved off the worst of that, at least. Her heart remains steady, her thoughts focused on each breath, in and out, and the comforting touches of the ghosts at her side.
At some point, they start singing to her, soft and slow and gentle, voices lifting her along a familiar current of music and harmony and melody, and it’s only then that she finds herself able to drift. Not able to sleep through the pain, but at least able to let go of her thoughts and fears for a time. She is passively aware that the light beyond her closed eyes is dimming, day giving way to dusk giving way to dark. Still, her boys sing to her.
Eventually, she hears the garage doors open, and their voices finally fade to give way to the sound of her father’s footfalls approaching.
“How’s our girl?” Ray asks, quiet. He still can’t touch them, her ghosts, but he’s been able to see them since the night of the Orpheum. The night of the magic.
“Better, I think,” Alex responds. “She’s not as restless now.” Warm hands smooth along her cheeks, thumb brushing at the spot between her brows where she knows a line always appears when she’s in pain.
Most of the pain has diminished now, finally.
“Good. They usually don’t last more than a few hours. She may not be hungry when she wakes up but she’ll need food.” There’s a rustle of paper, a bag being placed on the table. “As long as she’s comfortable, there’s no need to disturb her. The headache she has after the worst of it lasts a day or two, and moving too much makes it worse. She can stay out here if she wants to. Just let me know if she doesn’t think she’ll be up for classes in the morning. The bad ones take a lot out of her.
“We will,” Luke promises. “Thanks, Ray.”
“Thank you, for looking after her.” Her father presses a kiss to that crinkled spot between her brows. “Love you, mija,” he whispers, and then he’s gone.
Julie drifts some more, in and out, Luke’s fingers in her hair an easy feeling to get lost in. But eventually, she allows herself to stir, squeezing Reggie’s hand, which continues to hold hers. She reaches for words, and is grateful to find them. “Time is it?” she asks, her voice scratchy as she blinks up at Luke.
“Just after nine,” Alex answers, glancing at her phone lying on the table. She gives him a grateful smile.
“You guys didn’t have to stay with me this whole time,” she says.
Reggie’s mouth tilts in a lopsided grin. “Well of course we didn’t have to, that would be weird. But you don’t let family suffer alone, right? We wanted to stay.”
“Exactly,” Luke says, and it’s easy to give in, because Reggie’s right about them being family. They’re sure not a family in any traditional sense, but that doesn’t make it any less real.
“Aww, there’s that smile,” Reggie says, eyes crinkling around the force of his own. “Missed that.”
Alex shifts to grab the food her father brought, and it turns out to be a muffin from her favorite bakery. Just enough to get some sustenance without making her feel queasy. Alex unwraps it for her and she sits up, wincing at the pain – dulled now, and present only if she jostles her head too much, but still making itself known. She leans against Luke as she eats, and Reggie curls in on her other side, leaving Alex to finally be able to squish in at the other end of the couch after hours of sitting cross-legged on the floor. He could have taken the chair but then, she realizes, he wouldn’t have been within reach.
She wonders what she ever did to deserve them in her life. She will always be grateful for it, whatever it was. She will always be grateful for them.
“What else do you need?” Luke asks as she finished her meager dinner and puts the wrapper down. “Anything we can do to help, Julie, you know that.”
She smiles wearily at him, at all of them. “This. Right here. This is good. And…maybe we can try that magical hug thing again?”
The words are barely out of her mouth before she’s tenderly attacked on either side by Reggie and Luke, and then Alex is climbing over Reggie to join in, and they’re all so careful not to jostle her too suddenly, not to set off another headache, not to do anything that might hurt her.
There is no magical glow from this hug, no sparkle of curses being lifted, but she feels warm, and happy, and loved. And all of those things are a sort of magic, too.