When Dan left the bakery, the ghost followed.
She waited until she was sure no one else was around, then turned to face it.
“I’ve told you before, I can’t talk to you while I’m working. I’m not losing another job because of a ghost.”
The ghost stood there, feet not quite touching the ground, as if it remembered that was what they were supposed to do but couldn’t quite follow through due to lacking corporeality.
Its features and shape were starting to blur, which always happened after a while. They lost a feeling for what they used to look like first, then for who they used to be. Eventually, like all of them, this one would fade too.
What happened after that was anybody’s guess.
How fast the ghosts started to fade varied, but Dan could tell that this one wouldn’t be able to hold onto its fleeting former human identity for much longer. Maybe it was better that way. Maybe staying longer only hurt more, in the end.
“Help me,” the ghost said, its voice fuzzy and distorted as if they were having a phone call with a bad connection.
Dan sighed. “With what?”
Every ghost wanted something, even if it was just to feel less confused. Last week Dan had reported a strange smell coming from a ghost’s apartment so that someone would come check early and the ghost’s cat wouldn’t starve.
Before that, she’d done extensive research on why mosquitoes existed, since that ghost had always wondered and refused to move on before it knew. Not that Dan had really figured it out, but she’d come up with something plausible-sounding enough for the ghost to let go, since ‘To annoy us’ didn’t seem to cut it.
Sometimes they just wanted someone to listen. Those were the easiest to accomplish, but also the ones that stayed with Dan the longest, the ones that settled on her like a boulder and threatened to crush her underneath their weight.
She didn’t think humans were made to handle all this. But the alternative was death, and Dan wasn’t going to do her aunt the favour of living up to her expectations of failure. She would grit her teeth and continue on and not even think about stopping until her aunt was cold in the ground and she was laughing her ghost in the face.
Those thoughts always made Dan feel ashamed later, after the spite had burnt away. They also kept her going, though, so she clung onto them like she’d lose everything if she let go.
She was nothing if not stubborn.
“My wife died on this day five years ago,” the ghost said, the static carried over with its voice threatening to give Dan a headache. “I always put a bouquet of violets on her grave, every year on the anniversary of her death. I promised her I would get her an especially beautiful one this year.”
“All right. Where is she buried?”
She hadn’t budgeted for a bouquet, but at least they weren’t roses. Dan always put every cent she could aside for ghost purposes so she didn’t have to worry about travel expenses and the like. She never got anything back for her troubles, but not at least trying to help was not even an option. How she was ever supposed to afford anything for herself, though, was something she’d rather not think about.
Jobs were hard to keep when she had to try her hardest not to react to anything the ghosts said or did. When she eventually snapped and responded to them, employers tended to not be fans of her having full-fledged conversations with – presumably – thin air.
She’d been able to keep her job at the bakery for two months now, and Dan was determined to hold onto it as long as she could. Best to give this ghost what it wanted and hope for a couple of ghost-free days after it left.
The graveyard in question turned out to be close enough, and Dan stopped by a florist’s on the way. She smiled and said thank you but grimaced at the bouquet as soon as she’d left the shop.
How on earth could a bunch of dead flowers be so expensive? They’d wilt and decay in a few days like the corpses they were, but the money Dan had just spent was gone forever.
“They’re perfect,” the ghost said, and it actually sounded happy. “Alice will love them.”
All thoughts of the meals the flowers could have been evaporated, and Dan allowed herself a small smile. It felt good, damn it, helping them. It made her feel like her existence actually had a purpose.
When they reached the graveyard, Dan stopped in her tracks. There was a funeral going on, with the casket just then being lowered into a hole in the ground.
The expression of the person standing closest to it was stony, like grief had either petrified it or couldn’t crack it in the first place. But that wasn’t what had drawn Dan’s attention – next to that person, there was a ghost.
It had held onto its form better than most, almost enough to seem corporeal. And yet Dan knew, like she always did, a bone-deep feeling, that its body was dead and it was all but holding on to this world with its fingertips.
So much for a few ghost-free days.
“Over there,” the ghost next to her said, pointing.
Dan shook herself out of her stupor and followed the ghost to the grave, where she laid down the bouquet of violets.
“Here we are, Alice,” the ghost said, its indistinct voice even wobblier. Dan turned away to give it some privacy, watching the other ghost as it tried to talk to the stony-faced person, who of course couldn’t hear a word it said. “You always said you’d be the one who’d go first, and I always said I’d follow soon after. Can’t leave you alone on the other side for too long, eh?”
Dan swallowed and tried to steel her heart, but that had never worked and probably would never work. Her heart just seemed destined to be broken.
“So this is it,” the ghost continued. “That’s the last bouquet of violets you’re ever going to get from me, honey. I hope that’s okay. I hope you’re there, waiting for me. Oh, I hope you’re waiting for me, angel.”
When the ghost didn’t say anything else for a while, Dan turned around. It was just a wisp now, barely there, but Dan could still see the smile it sent her way.
“Thank you. And goodbye.” Its voice was so soft it might have just been the wind, but Dan heard it and understood.
And then it was gone.
Seeing – or rather feeling – the relief wash over the ghosts as they finally let go was something she’d never grow tired of.
There was a prickling at the back of her neck. She knew the other ghost was there before she even turned around.
“Please,” it said, so close to her Dan felt inclined to ask it if it had ever heard of personal space, “my sister, Thea, I need to talk to her but she won’t listen, she won’t hear.”
“She can’t,” Dan replied calmly.
“Yet you can.”
“Yup. Explain that to me when you figure it out.”
“My name is Sophia Muldani and I’m asking for your help.”
Dan sighed. “I was hoping for a bit of a break, but okay, let’s go. I can’t promise anything, though. A lot of the time people won’t talk to me. It can get… unpleasant.”
They got angry, thinking it was some kind of cruel joke, or sad, for much the same reason. Dan always dreaded the ghosts who wanted her to talk to the ones they’d left behind. It rarely went well.
She’d taken to writing letters or emails or texts instead, because then the information was there if they wanted it and it was out of her hands. Most probably just threw them away or deleted them, but there was only so much she could do.
Not having to see their faces during the talk was also a plus. It grew old, having everything she knew to be true doubted, seeing what they thought of her, knowing that they saw the truth she was telling them as nothing but lies.
Some ghosts demanded that she try face-to-face, and Dan only did it if they agreed she would only have to try once. She wanted to leave the desperation of just not being listened to in her early days.
But, as luck would have it, Sophia the ghost’s sister was standing right there, and she couldn’t think of a valid excuse not to at least try talking to her right now.
“I’m only going to try once,” she told Sophia quietly. “If she doesn’t believe me – which is likely, mind you – then all I’ll do is write to her. Now, which person is Thea?”
“That’s her,” Sophia said, also quietly even though no one but Dan would have been able to hear her even if she’d shouted.
“Ah,” Dan said.
She really should have expected Thea to be the stony-faced person she’d seen Sophia try to talk to before. Thea was currently shaking people’s hands and exchanging some quiet words with them, so Dan got in line, making sure she was the last one.
Dan watched Thea while waiting. Her skin was as dark as Dan’s own, her braided hair was tied back, and she was wearing a suit. Her expression was no longer the stony mask from before, but there was something guarded about it nonetheless.
Dan couldn’t help but feel like Thea and her emotions were not occupying the same space, like she had detached herself from them completely, something Dan had never managed. Or maybe she’d built up a wall around them so strong that not even the most intense feelings could knock it down.
Dan was also certain about this: Thea had loved her sister, and she was angry at her. For dying? For how and why she died? Or something else? Dan looked at Sophia out of the corner of her eye and wondered how she’d died.
Usually, she considered that question off-limits. If the ghost wanted to talk about its death, it would, but Dan herself would never broach the subject. It wasn’t something she particularly enjoyed talking about, either.
In this case, though, it seemed so intricately tied to what Sophia wanted from her that she might have to ask, later. If this went wrong, which it almost certainly would, and if she could get herself to.
When it was her turn, Dan realised her palms were sweaty and quickly wiped them off on her pants before clearing her throat and stepping forward.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
What an empty phrase. Repetition had made it lose all meaning, especially since only maybe one out of ten people actually felt what it expressed. But what else was there to say?
“Thank you,” Thea said, obviously not really hearing her.
Dan didn’t blame her; all those different faces but with the same words and handshakes, how could they not blur together eventually. How could it mean anything when your own pain was screaming at you to be heard.
They shook hands. Thea’s hand was dry and strong, her squeeze just on the verge of painful, and Dan tried to figure out how to start. There wasn’t really a good way to begin this conversation. Dan knew, she’d tried over and over.
Thea seemed to sense something, because suddenly her previously empty eyes came back to life and focused on Dan’s face, actually seeing her.
“I’ve never seen you before.”
“Yes, um, likewise.”
“How did you know my sister?”
“We’re… recent acquaintances.”
Thea studied her, and Dan tried to resist fiddling with the hem of her jacket. Why did this always have to be so awkward? Maybe it was her. But then she couldn’t exactly ask anyone else to do this, since she’d never met another person who was able to see ghosts.
“About… thirty minutes?” Dan said, already knowing this wasn’t going to go over well. Thea’s expression shuttered further, if that was even possible.
“I do not find that particularly funny.”
“It isn’t meant to be.” Dan sighed, rubbing at her forehead. “Look, I know most of you don’t believe me, but I promised to give it a try, so. I can see ghosts. They come to me when they die and ask me for favours so that they can move on, the whole ‘unfinished business’ thing, if you will. Just now I was finishing up with this other ghost at its wife’s grave when your sister came up to me and asked me to talk to you for her.” Dan took a deep breath. “So here I am.”
Thea didn’t say anything for a long moment while Dan looked anywhere except directly at her.
Dan blinked and looked up at her. “What?”
“How much are you hoping to get out of this?”
Dan opened her mouth, closed it, opened it, and stared.
Thea crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I don’t know what made you think I was a likely target for your scheme, but you were wrong. Now leave.”
Dan shook her head to shake off her surprise and scoffed.
“That’s a new one. I wasn’t expecting you to believe me. I was even expecting to be insulted. But a con artist? I mean, I guess I should be surprised that no one’s thought of it before.” She threw up her hands and looked at Sophia, whose expression was troubled. “Sorry, I tried. I’m out of here.”
While she was turning away, she saw Thea stare at the spot Dan had just looked – where Sophia was standing – with a frown. If she already thought that Dan was a con artist, she didn’t see how she could ever convince her.
“Have a nice day. And I am sorry,” she said over her shoulder, then forced herself not to walk too fast. She wasn’t running away. She was just tired of never being believed except by the already dead who were given no other choice.
Her apartment was tiny and old and run-down and probably a health hazard. She’d never felt at home there and she suspected she never would. But it was hers. No one had a key but her, it was her choice who came and who went – except for the ghosts, she supposed – and that was really all that mattered.
Her aunt would only set foot in there over her dead body – or her aunt’s, if her ghost decided to come find Dan. The thing was, Dan was pretty sure her aunt didn’t even care, but that didn’t make the anger churning in Dan’s gut at the thought of her go away.
She let herself fall into the old armchair the previous tenant had left with a groan and fished her phone out of her pocket. There was a voice message and Dan smiled, knowing it could only come from one person.
She dialled and then put her mailbox on speakerphone.
“Hey Dan, it’s Beth, as you probably already know. Remember when we talked about PI Wilds? I still think it’d work. Anyway, the others and I were talking and we were wondering if you wanted to meet up again soon? Let us know when would be good for you. Talk to you soon, kisses.”
After the smooching noises, the message cut off and Dan hung up. She let her phone fall onto her chest, draping herself over the arms of the chair so she was sort of lying down.
Beth and her other stage sisters always managed to cheer her up. They were pretty far away now, but they still always made sure to check up on her and vice versa.
“What are we going to do now?” Sophia asked, suddenly standing right behind Dan and looking down at her.
Dan, who’d felt her presence appear, simply sighed. No peace and quiet for her, then.
“Well, I tried to talk to her and that obviously didn’t work, so now I’m going to write to her. Either a letter or an email or a text message or whatever the fuck you prefer.”
Sophia seemed to think about that for a moment, moving her closed mouth this way and that. Dan had to say she was impressed with how well Sophia was holding onto her form – even her voice wasn’t as distorted as most ghosts’. Dan wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, though.
After all, the tighter you held on, the harder it would be to let go. And if there was anything Dan had learnt over her ghost-ridden years, it was that letting go was something that didn’t pass anyone by. Ready or not, everyone faded eventually.
“I think a letter’s best. Thea would never throw one away without reading it.”
“All right,” Dan said, closing her eyes. “Can we do that tomorrow, though? I need some rest.”
Sophia hummed, then said, “I guess I’ll allow it.”
Dan snapped her eyes open and stared up at the teasing smile on Sophia’s face.
“Did you just…?”
Sophia winked and then disappeared, maybe going to check on Thea. Dan wasn’t quite sure how space and time worked for ghosts.
Groaning, she forced herself to get up and stumble to the bathroom, which was mostly just a shower and a sink located in the kitchen, which was also the living room, which again was also the bedroom.
Dan brushed her teeth and washed her face, cursing how that always made her feel slightly more awake but letting herself drop right onto her mattress after changing anyway. When she closed her eyes, it didn’t take long for sleep to claim her, and like always Dan saw that as a blessing.
Her shift at the bakery usually started extremely early. Yawning, she forced herself to get up from the mattress and shower.
She wasn’t the biggest fan of early mornings, but she could manage as long as she didn’t have to talk, and as long as she didn’t look at her mattress with the invitingly warm blankets and her soft pillow.
She walked all the way to work since the violets from the day before meant she needed to save on travel costs and couldn’t – or shouldn’t, but where was the difference, really – waste money on a bus ticket.
She would have walked anyway, since the cold morning air was what really woke her up and got her going, and it felt good to know she’d saved on something she didn’t need.
Her shifts tended to be uneventful and the start of that one was no different. She dealt with the rush of people stopping by before work, buying their breakfast or their lunch or simply a snack, and then let herself relax a bit when it quieted down.
At one point, she’d just sold an elderly person a pastry when the bell chimed, announcing the arrival of her next customer. When Dan caught sight of them after saying goodbye to the elderly person, she froze.
Thea was standing there, already staring at her.
Dan forced a smile onto her face. “Good morning. What can I get you?”
“I– You work here?”
Dan raised her eyebrows. “Do I seem like an imposter here too?”
Thea checked to see if she was still the only one in line, then shifted her stance slightly.
“Are you following me?”
“Sadly, my whole world does not revolve around you. I’m here because I need to pay the bills and maybe eat, too. Now, what do you want?”
Thea frowned. “A baker who runs schemes on the side?”
Dan sighed, laying the pincers she was holding down. “I never said I was I did. A con artist is what you very charmingly dubbed me yesterday. I talk to ghosts and help them out, that’s all.”
“You can’t honestly expect me to believe that.”
“And why not? If ghosts were really so unimaginable, there wouldn’t be countless stories about them. Anyway, it should please you to find out that most people don’t believe me, so you’re in good company, as I’ve told Sophia.”
Thea’s expression closed off so quickly Dan wasn’t sure if she hadn’t imagined it ever being slightly more open.
“Don’t talk about her,” she growled.
“You see this?” Dan said, gesturing vaguely at Thea. “That’s why she wants to talk. There are obviously unresolved issues between you two and it’s preventing her from moving on. But she will fade eventually, with or without talking to you, and then you’ll have missed your chance.”
The emotion that passed over Thea’s face could only be described as conflicted, and when she opened her mouth, Dan waited with involuntarily bated breath, as if she’d miss her next words if she breathed too loudly. Then the ringing of the bell announced a new customer and Thea jumped, looking from Dan to the other customer before storming out of the bakery without buying anything.
Dan sighed, then jumped herself when Sophia said, right next to her ear, “Thea…”
“Fuck,” she cursed, wondering how she could have missed Sophia’s appearance. She could usually sense a ghost’s presence pretty well.
The customer gave her a weird look and Dan plastered on another fake smile. She gave Sophia what she hoped was a reprimanding look, then focused on the customer’s order.
“Can’t you follow her?” Sophia asked, and Dan ignored her, gritting her teeth.
In the end, no ghost cared about what helping them cost her. They just wanted her to take care of their business, no questions asked. She wasn’t going to let them screw up another job for her, though, not when they’d taken so much from her already.
When the customer had left, biting into their sandwich straight away, Dan checked to make sure no one was around and turned towards Sophia.
“This is my job. Something I need to survive. What I do for you guys? A favour. I do you all favours, all the time, and I offer up my free time for that willingly, but this, here and now? This is non-negotiable. Because when I’ve helped you let go more easily and you’ve gone wherever the fuck it is you go, I’m still going to be stuck here, and I don’t intend to freeze to death because I couldn’t pay my heating bill. We’ll get back to your problems when I get off work. Do you understand?”
Sophia didn’t say anything, she just disappeared, and Dan figured that was confirmation enough.
“So what do you want me to write?”
Dan was sitting on the armchair, pen poised over paper on her thigh.
Sophia hesitated. “Can we maybe wait one more day? If I know Thea at all, your conversation today isn’t going to leave her alone, and she’s always been someone who needs answers.”
“So you think she’ll come back tomorrow?”
“All right,” Dan said, stretching her arms over her head with a groan. “It’s all the same to me.”
It was silent for a while and Dan closed her eyes. She could feel that Sophia hadn’t left yet and so she waited.
“Why haven’t you asked me?”
“Hm?” Dan cracked her eyes open.
“How I died.”
“It’s none of my business.”
Sophia huffed. “You’re helping me even though you don’t have to. You have a right to know.”
“Bullshit. I’m choosing to do this, knowing that I’m not going to get anything in return. That doesn’t mean anyone owes me something. And to be honest? I usually prefer not to know.”
“Oh,” Sophia said. Then, after a pause, “It was an accident. That’s all I’ll say, then. I think Thea blames herself, but– I just really need to talk to her, Dan.”
“Believe me, I wish they’d just listen to me when I interpret for you guys, but they just don’t. Most aren’t even willing to consider it. I will if she’ll let me, I can only promise you that.”
Sophia smiled. “That’s enough, Dan. That’s more than enough.”
At first, Dan couldn’t keep her gaze from snapping to the door every time the bell chimed during work the next day. By the time her shift was almost over, however, she’d stopped expecting Thea to show. Which, naturally, was exactly when she did end up appearing.
She looked around the bakery and when her eyes landed on Dan, something complicated happened on her face that Dan had no idea how to even try to begin to decode.
Thea took a step forward, hesitated for a moment, and then walked the rest of the way up to the counter incredibly fast, as if it was something she just wanted to get over with.
When she didn’t say anything, Dan raised her eyebrows. “Yes?”
Thea gritted her teeth, closed her eyes and then let her shoulders slump along with the sigh that escaped her.
Dan bit back on the first retort that came to her mind because she didn’t want to screw things up for Sophia.
“All right,” she said instead. “I get off in half an hour, do you have time to wait?”
Thea seemed to be studying her hands, but eventually she gave a curt nod, then walked back outside and stood in front of the store, waiting still as a statue.
“Isn’t she cold?” Dan wondered out loud.
“Thea never gets cold,” Sophia’s voice answered her. “It’s always been that way.”
Dan threw her a glance out of the corner of her eye. “You were right.”
“I wasn’t sure I would be,” Sophia admitted. “But I figured she couldn’t have changed that much. Sometimes it feels like Thea was born with a firm grasp of her personality.”
“Wow. Didn’t know that was even possible.”
A playful smile curved Sophia’s lips upwards. “Better get used to that feeling now that you know her.”
Dan huffed. It wasn’t like she was ever going to see Thea again after their talk.
The last half hour of her shift was utterly uneventful, and when Dan stepped outside to join Thea, she stuffed her hands deep into her pockets to shield them from the cold.
“Do you have any place we can go? Back at mine, you could either sit on my lap or my floor, there isn’t exactly a lot of space.”
Thea hesitated, looking Dan up and down. Dan frowned, harbouring the sneaking suspicion that Thea was gauging if she could take Dan down in a fight. Eventually, she nodded.
“All right, we can go to my place. Lead the way. You should know where it is since you can supposedly talk to my sister.”
Dan rolled her eyes. Tests were to be expected, but most of the time it didn’t matter what Dan said or did, it still wasn’t enough for them to believe her.
“Do you know where she lives?” Dan asked Sophia, who nodded and started walking– moving– floating.
Staring at the spot Dan was looking at, Thea narrowed her eyes and tilted her head this way and that.
“That’s not going to work,” Dan told her.
Thea stiffened, then cleared her throat, following Dan silently. Refusing to let the silence feel awkward, Dan instead focused on enjoying the company of someone living for once, someone she could hear breathe, someone whose footsteps made a sound.
Someone who kept sneaking glances at Dan out of the corner of her eye.
Fighting to suppress a grin, Dan had to admit it could be amusing when people didn’t know what to make of her. For Sophia’s sake – and okay, maybe a little bit her own – she hoped Thea would lay her doubts aside and just listen. If not, fine, Dan would write the damn letter.
When Sophia finally stopped and pointed, Dan couldn’t keep her mouth from falling open. She whirled on Thea.
“Are you rich?”
Thea was looking at the lavish building she apparently lived in with a frown. “Are you sure you haven’t been following me?”
Dan pointed. “This building has security. A fucking… I don’t know, concierge or whatever! I can’t believe this.”
“She has a point, you know,” Sophia said, but Thea, of course, couldn’t hear her.
“What’s your point?” Thea asked.
“Can we go inside?” Dan tried to suppress her excitement, though judging by Thea’s raised eyebrows she wasn’t doing a very good job.
“That’s why we came here.”
Thea started walking towards the entrance and Dan followed, whispering to Sophia, “She lives here. What is happening. Does she have a butler?”
Sophia snorted, shaking her head.
When they entered, Thea greeted the concierge and stopped by her mailbox. Dan caught a glimpse of a few letters before Thea stuffed them in her bag, and saw that it said Theodora Muldani on them. Dan liked the ring of that.
She followed Thea into the elevator, which was incredibly clean and pretty, not a word Dan would have ever thought to associate with an elevator previously.
One day, she thought.
They got out on the top floor, and Thea unlocked her door. She stood in front of it for a moment, then stepped inside, looking at Dan over her shoulder.
“You can come in.”
“I’m not a vampire, last I checked, but thanks.”
Scowling, Thea took off her shoes and jacket, and Dan followed her example. She let her lead the way into what was obviously a living room, then just stood there, taking it in. This room alone was bigger than Dan’s entire apartment.
“It’s not much,” Thea said.
Dan scoffed. “You’d eat those words if you’d ever been at my place.”
She could see what Thea meant, though. For all that there was tons of space, the room was sparsely decorated, and there was so much empty space that Dan, who was used to everything being crammed together, felt uncomfortable.
Her gaze snagged on a case that was obviously housing some sort of classical instrument, maybe a violin. Dan had never really gotten into classical music so she’d never bothered memorising the different shapes and sizes, but she could tell that much.
“You’re a musician?”
“I play the violin professionally, yes.”
Dan turned and looked Thea’s toned body up and down. “I would have pegged you for someone with a more physical line of work. Maybe an athlete.”
“Likewise,” Thea retorted, and Dan was surprised to see the challenge in her eyes.
She shrugged. “Bit hard with ghosts distracting you all the time. What’s your excuse?”
“Music,” Thea said simply.
“But why this music?”
It was Thea’s turn to shrug. “I have a knack for it.”
Dan looked around, her gaze roaming over CDs, posters, awards…
“What the fuck,” Dan said and let herself drop onto the couch. The cushion sprang back up, and Dan took that as incentive to bounce up and down a couple of times, laughing all the while.
When she heard someone clear their throat, she looked up to see Thea standing there with her arms crossed in front of her chest.
Dan grinned at her. “Yup.”
Thea faltered, then regrouped, letting herself sink down into an armchair.
“Let’s just get to the point,” Thea said, rubbing a hand over her face. “You’re saying that you can talk to ghosts and that Sophia’s one of them and wants to talk to me, right?”
“So… how do you usually do this?”
“Not at all. People usually don’t want to give me a chance.” Dan shrugged. “I mostly just write to them and hope they read it.”
“All right… Well, I think you should start by proving your claim.”
“Yeah, that’s a pretty common demand when they do agree to listen. They mostly still don’t believe me, though.”
Thea leaned back in her seat. “Can you blame them?”
Dan hummed, considering. Probably not. She wasn’t sure if she’d believe someone about this if she hadn’t seen it for herself.
“I’m willing to try this,” Thea said, “even if it goes against everything I believe in.”
“You don’t believe in ghosts? In souls?”
“I believe in fact, in what can be proven.”
“And aliens,” Sophia added.
Dan’s eyebrows shot up. “And aliens, apparently.”
Thea opened her mouth, closed it again, and then sputtered, “The existence of aliens is scientific fact! There are so many universes out there, them not existing would be a great deal more implausible.”
“Then what do you think makes us us, makes us come to life? Is it all just brains and hearts and organs? Why is it said that you can see the life leave someone, then?”
Thea was silent for a while, a frown on her face. “I don’t know.”
Dan leaned forward. “I know. I see.”
Lifting her chin, Thea said, “Prove it.”
“Is there anything only you would know about Thea?” Dan asked Sophia.
“The small of your back is incredibly ticklish,” Sophia said, looking at Thea.
Thea, in turn, was looking at Dan, who said, “I don’t think that’s specific enough.”
“What did she say?”
Dan sighed. “She said that the small of your back is really ticklish.”
“She’s not the only one who knows that,” Thea said, her expression taking on a more troubled character.
“Who, Kevin? As if Dan would have ever had occasion to talk to him.”
“She’s saying that some Kevin is probably the only other person who knows, and I’ve never met him.”
“Fine,” Sophia huffed, when Thea still didn’t look convinced, and Dan repeated her words right away. “When you were eight, you broke your leg falling off a tree, and since then you’ve been terrified of falling. Not heights, just the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you fall. Of the drop, no matter how inconsequential. Because you know that with some bad luck, even the smallest of falls can kill you.”
“I–” Thea stuttered, then shook her head. “How do you know that?”
Dan rested her chin in the palm of her hand. “Could you please decide if you’re giving believing me a chance or not? All this wishy-washy business is confusing the hell out of me.”
“I… don’t know.” Thea looked so conflicted that Dan felt a pang of sympathy. She was indirectly the cause of that, and it was moments like that when Dan really wished she could get rid of her ability. Or maybe never have had it in the first place.
“When you got scared at night when you were little,” Sophia said, her voice unbelievably soft, which Dan found herself unable to emulate, “you’d climb into my bed, and every time I would pinch your cheeks,” Sophia mimed the motion, “and then kiss them and tell you that anything that wanted to get to you would have to go through me first, and I’d never lost a fight in my life.”
The words were having an obvious effect on Thea, as she started blinking rapidly and averted her gaze, previously trained on Dan.
“I lied,” Sophia continued. “I’d never won a single fight I’d been in. I was just as scared as you. But I knew that if something, anything, wanted to hurt you, I would fight with everything I had till I couldn’t anymore.”
“I knew,” Thea said, her voice a broken thing. “I always knew. But I also always felt safe with you anyway.”
She buried her face in her hands, obviously fighting hard not to cry. Dan was overwhelmed by the absurd notion of wrapping her up in a hug, which probably wouldn’t lead to anything but her being shoved away. They didn’t exactly know each other well, and she didn’t know how Thea felt about being touched without initiating it.
In contrast, Sophia was actually trying to hug Thea, growing frustrated when her hands just kept travelling through her body, which made Thea shiver.
After some time, Thea looked up at Dan, her eyes red but dry. “I believe you.”
Dan didn’t know what to say to that, and she had the feeling that her voice wouldn’t come out right at the moment anyway.
To Dan, being believed meant more than she could ever express.
“Where is she?” Thea asked, looking around. “Sophia?”
Dan cleared her throat and pointed. “Um, next to you, right now.”
Turning to look at that spot, Thea asked, “Is there any way I can see her?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Tell her to just say it, I know she wants to,” Sophia told Dan, who relayed her words. Being a ghost’s mouthpiece never ceased to feel a bit weird.
Thea took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Sophia.”
Dan frowned, almost forgetting to repeat Sophia’s words as she spoke. So it hadn’t been anger at Sophia, but anger at herself that Dan had seen on Thea’s face the first time they’d met.
“It’s not your fault, Thea, you know that. Just because I died on the way to your concert doesn’t mean that’s in any way on you.”
When Thea opened her mouth to say something, Sophia – and thus Dan – cut her off.
“No. I know it’s easier to blame yourself than to accept that it just happened, but I won’t allow it. Horrible things happen, Thea, they just do. They’re not some type of punishment, they don’t mean you in any way deserve it, and I won’t let you go on believing that.”
“I know that,” Thea growled. “I know they sometimes just happen, I’ve always known. I’m not some naïve child in denial about the ways of the world, Sophia. I just…” Thea broke off, taking a shaky breath. “I just don’t know how to cope with them happening to you.”
Sophia stilled, and Dan breathed as quietly as possible while waiting for her to respond, but it was Thea who continued speaking instead.
“Some part of me always thought you were invincible. That you’d always… be there. When we lost everyone else, you were there, and we still had each other. I guess it’s naïve after all, but I thought… I thought it would be that way, us in each other’s lives, until we were old and grey and drew our last breaths. It’s the only thing I’ve always counted on. Always. And now that– I never even considered this as a possibility. I don’t know how to deal with it, I just wasn’t prepared.”
“I don’t think you can ever be prepared,” Dan said quietly. Sophia was staring at Thea with her hand pressed to her mouth, obviously speechless. “I think it’s something that always knocks you off your feet, or at least makes you stumble. It’s not something that you know how to deal with before you deal with it, as unhelpful as that sounds.”
Thea looked at her, and holding her gaze and all the turmoil and pain conveyed through it was a challenge Dan refused to back down from, even if it tore her own heart to shreds too in the process.
“Thea…” Sophia said, making Dan jump and tear her eyes away, which in turn made Thea look over to where she thought Sophia was, missing the mark by quite a bit.
“Did she say something?”
“Not yet,” Dan replied, looking at Sophia in what she hoped was an encouraging way.
Sophia rubbed a hand over her arm, then sighed. “I know I’m going to sound like the biggest hypocrite now, but I’m sorry. I’m sorry for dying on you, Thea. I never thought this was the way it was going to be either. But now this is the way it is, and I can feel myself lose my grasp on who I used to be, who Sophia was, and…”
“And what?” Thea asked, looking from the spot she thought Sophia was standing to Dan and back again.
“Give her time,” Dan scolded with a frown, at the same time as Sophia said, “I just want you to know that I love you. Always have, always will, no matter what happens next. None of this is your fault, and it’s not something you deserve, you hear me?”
When Dan finished repeating Sophia’s words, Thea jolted up out of her seat.
Sophia sent Dan a questioning look, but she only shrugged. It varied from ghost to ghost. Sophia had held on to her form incredibly well, and her voice came through clearer than most, but sometimes even the most visible of ghosts faded immediately after resolving what had kept them from letting go.
“I don’t know,” Sophia – and then Dan – said. “But these are the things I wanted– needed you to know.”
After seeming to struggle with herself for a bit, Thea said through gritted teeth, “Sophia, you know.”
“Know what?” Sophia asked innocently, which Dan did her best to copy.
Thea rubbed at her forehead for a moment before finally sighing in defeat. “I love you too. Always have, always will, and all that.”
“She’s smiling,” Dan said, feeling her own mouth curve upwards at the warmth in Sophia’s smile. She watched Sophia hold out her hands, checking for signs of her ghostly body disappearing, and added, “And not fading yet, apparently.”
Sophia looked up at Dan. “Why?”
“Beats me. Is there anything else you feel is keeping you here?”
Sophia shook her head, frowning.
“The concert,” Thea said, drawing both of their attention to her. “Maybe you need to go to my next concert, like you promised?”
With a hum, Sophia placed her hand on her chest. “Yes, that feels right. When’s your next one?”
Thea hesitated for a moment, then said, “I’m performing tomorrow evening.”
Dan couldn’t keep her eyebrows from shooting up. “Shouldn’t there be some sort of rehearsal today then? What, you’re too famous for that?”
Rolling her eyes, Thea clicked her tongue. “Already done. I was there today, which is why I came to your bakery later than yesterday.”
“All right then, see you tomorrow, Thea. I’ll be there, for real this time.” Sophia waved a hand. “I’ll leave you two to it. I know you’re going to talk about me, but stick the good things, yeah?”
And with a wink, she disappeared. Where did she keep going? Dan shook her head.
“Is she gone?”
“Yeah,” Dan said, and then, when Thea froze, added quickly, “For now. She hasn’t faded yet. I think your theory with the concert sounds plausible, so it’ll probably be after that.”
They were silent for a while, and with every passing second Dan felt more uncomfortable. It felt wrong to be in Thea’s apartment without Sophia, the cause for all of their interactions.
Dan was just about to stand up and say goodbye when Thea’s quiet, deep voice interrupted her.
“What if I don’t want her to go?”
Dan blinked, not quite following. “Sorry?”
Running a hand over her face, Thea let out a humourless laugh. “What if I just cancel my performance? My next one isn’t for a few days. I could have more time with her…” Thea trailed off, tilting her head back and looking at the ceiling. “Huh. How desperate.”
“She might fade anyway,” Dan said, as gently as she knew how. “Some ghosts fade before they ever accomplish what kept them here in the first place. Your sister is one of the most… here ghosts I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean she can’t run out of time.”
Thea hummed. “I wasn’t being serious anyway. I’ve never in my life cancelled a performance, and the only way I’d not show up is if I myself had died. Though I might be able to get my ghost to pick up a violin, who knows.”
“You know what,” Dan said, “if anyone can do it, then you can.”
Thea let her eyes drift down till she was looking at Dan, and then she smiled, an honest, true and open smile, unlike any expression Dan had previously seen on Thea’s face. She had no idea what to do with it, or herself.
“I should– I should probably go,” Dan said, getting up and brushing her hands over her legs even though this apartment was probably one of the cleanest places she’d ever been. “Should I– Tomorrow, do you want–”
“If you can, come,” Thea said, standing up herself. “Without you, I can’t exactly communicate with Sophia, nor know if she’s there or not.”
Dan huffed. “Well, as long as I’m useful.”
“That’s not–” Thea broke off. “If you want, it would be… nice. For you to be there.”
Why had it suddenly become so awkward? Dan waved that thought off, deciding to deal with it later.
“All right. Yeah. I can do that. I mean, wait, when is it? And where?”
After grabbing her bag, Thea rummaged through it quickly, then emerged with two tickets and a brochure in hand.
“Here. One for you, one for Sophia. Not that she needs one, come to think of it… but I want her to have her own allotted spot, the way it would be if– Anyway.” Thea pressed them into Dan’s hands.
A tingly feeling spread through Dan when their fingers touched, and Dan decidedly ignored it, not willing to deal with that just then. Or ever.
She was not going to develop a crush on the sister of a ghost she’d helped, a sister who’d turned out to be a world-renowned violinist and probably wasn’t even in the country, let alone the state, most of the time. Not that, if she were–
When Dan looked up after vehemently shaking her head, Thea was watching her with a rather confused expression on her face. Ignoring the warmth in her cheeks, Dan held out her hand.
“Let’s… shake hands,” she said uncertainly when Thea was still just looking at her hand after a while, seemingly bewildered.
“All right,” Thea said and grabbed her hand.
Dan gave their hands a hearty shake, then quickly let go, wondering why she had to go and make it so weird, like some kind of business transaction.
“Yes, well.” Dan cleared her throat. “I’d best get going now. Early shift tomorrow and all that.”
She grimaced and hurried to the door, grabbing her coat and slipping into her shoes.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then, if you make it.” Thea had followed her and was now leaning against the doorframe. “Come find me after the show with Sophia, I’ll tell security about you so they let you through.”
Dan couldn’t keep a smirk from forming on her face. “They’d let me through anyway. I can be very convincing.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Thea said, her eyebrows raised.
“Good,” Dan replied, and with one last nod, she was out the door.
When she was safely alone in the elevator, Dan finally allowed herself to groan.
“What was that?”
“Adorable,” a voice said, and Dan jumped when she noticed Sophia suddenly standing next to her, her heart threatening to pound out of her chest.
“Fuck. Sophia, why?”
Sophia shrugged. “It’s fun and I’ll be gone soon.”
Dan paused. “There’s nothing I can say to that, I guess,” she grumbled while Sophia smiled at her sweetly. “So we’re going to that concert tomorrow?”
Dan pulled the tickets out of her pocket to check when it started, which turned out to be in the evening, well after the end of Dan’s shift.
“I’m looking forward to seeing you in something more formal, it’ll suit you too,” Sophia said, and Dan felt like her heart stopped for a second.
“What?” Dan asked. Sophia just blinked at her. “Fuck, are you telling me people wear suits and stuff to these things?”
“It depends,” Sophia answered. “But to Thea’s concert tomorrow? I’d say elegant attire is required.”
Dan searched the tickets for instructions, then got out the brochure when she couldn’t find any.
“What do these people see as ‘elegant’? I don’t know if I own anything that’s going to cut it.” Her head jerked up so she could stare at Sophia, wide-eyed. “What do they do if they decide what you’re wearing isn’t up to snuff? Do they refuse to let you in?”
“Relax,” Sophia said, laughing, which earned her a glare from Dan. “There’s no dress code per se, and you have a ticket that’s been paid for, so they have to let you in. The worst they can do is turn up their noses at your outfit. Just maybe try not to wear jeans.”
“Well, I know that,” Dan said, honestly slightly affronted, but Sophia just laughed.
“We’ll find something suitable among your pile of clothes, don’t worry.”
‘Pile’ was right, since everything she wore regularly was just folded and piled up on the floor and the other stuff was in a cardboard box. She hadn’t looked into the box for so long, she wasn’t even sure what was in there anymore, so there was cause for hope.
Her shift the next day passed ridiculously slowly. She yawned numerous times and was grateful she didn’t have a direct supervisor who could witness it.
Thankfully, she had the next day off, so even if Thea’s concert lasted pretty long, she’d actually be able to sleep in after.
When she got home after work, all she wanted to do was lie face-down on the mattress. She didn’t let herself even sit down, though, because she knew getting up again would be way harder than just to keep going now.
“Ready?” Sophia asked. She’d actually left Dan alone at work all day, and she spared a second to wish that more ghosts would be that considerate.
“Just a second.” Dan yawned for the probably thousandth time that day. “Need to get changed first.”
They’d gone through her clothes the night before. They’d considered a bright red dress left over from her time starting out as a stripper, but then decided it would probably be deemed too short.
Finally, they’d settled on a knee-length black skirt Dan didn’t remember ever acquiring and a purple long-sleeved blouse she was also surprised to find she possessed.
When she’d finished changing, Sophia giggled.
“You look so prim,” she said.
Dan raised an eyebrow. “Not a word I ever thought I’d hear to describe me. Still fits and shouldn’t earn me any disapproving looks, so it’s good enough.”
It had been a while since she’d worn heels, but when she slipped into them she was pleased to find she walked in them well as ever. She slipped into her coat as well, which was a bit worn. It would have to do.
“All right, let’s go,” she finally said, then paused. “I mean, I guess you could just show up there, whatever you prefer.”
“And miss out on accompanying you? No way.”
Dan smiled at her and stuffed the change she’d need for the bus into her pocket along with her phone and keys.
“They’re going to ask you to hand in your coat there,” Sophia told her. “And you’re probably going to have to pay for it.”
Dan groaned. “Honestly? Okay, fine, I’ll see if I can’t find some remotely fancy bag.”
While she rummaged around, Sophia said, “You should get Thea to pay for the bus and the coat check, she has enough money.”
“Yeah, right,” Dan said with a scoff, throwing a small, glittery purse aside. “Remember the first time I met her? She thought I wanted money from her. I’m not going to prove her right, she’ll just start mistrusting me again.”
“It’s too late for that. Once you’re in with Thea, you stay in. Unless you really fuck up, then it’s over for good, no second chances. And why should you pay for something that you’re doing for her, for me?”
Dan scoffed, finally finding an unassuming black purse that was just going to have to be enough. She turned back around to face Sophia.
“I’m used to you ghosts costing me, it’s fine.”
“Just because you’re used to it doesn’t mean it’s okay,” Sophia persisted. “You deserve thanks for what you do, not an even harder life.”
Dan rubbed a hand over her short hair. “Look, it’s not that simple. Ghosts can’t really give me anything and the living usually don’t believe me, so.” She sighed. “Let’s just go. We’re going to be late, and those people probably have a timer set so they don’t let anyone in who’s even a second too late.”
Sophia snorted and let the subject drop, which Dan was grateful for.
They set off, and on the way, Sophia told Dan about Thea’s beginnings as a violinist and her past concerts that Sophia had been too. As they’d grown older, it became somewhat of a tradition that Sophia would come to a couple of Thea’s concerts a year, since she couldn’t go to all of them anymore.
She didn’t talk about any other family members and Dan didn’t ask, not only because everyone else on the bus would think she was talking to thin air. Some things were just not hers to ask about, that was something she’d decided long ago. They were information to be volunteered of someone’s own accord or not.
When they finally got there and entered the building, Dan chewed on her lower lip, not sure if her having two tickets but only being one person would be seen as weird. But she wanted both of them to be torn so no one could take Sophia’s seat if they presumed it empty.
As it turned out, Dan had worried for nothing. They’d ripped the ends off the tickets before she could blurt out something like, “The other one’s for Thea’s dead sister.”
Dan begrudgingly handed over her coat and some money, put the piece of paper with her number on it in her purse and then finally followed Sophia into the concert hall.
It was impressive, Dan would give them that. There were decorations and swirls and chandeliers, and she was relieved that the seats looked comfortable.
Checking her ticket every now and again, she finally made it to her designated seat, in the first row and slightly to the left of the stage, raised and facing it by virtue of this row of seats being at a slight angle.
Sophia was already sitting – or pretending to sit – on one of their seats and Dan dropped into the other, leaning over and whispering, “I think we have some of the best seats.”
“Thea is the star of the show,” Sophia whispered back, even though no one but Dan would be able to hear her anyway, and Dan was again amazed at how well Sophia had held on to her form and her voice. From Dan’s personal experience, she should have faded to almost nothing by now, or at the very least a little bit.
Dan took great delight in telling people that the seat next to her was taken, even though to them it seemed empty. When they frowned and asked her why, she’d just show them the ticket, and eventually they’d go back to their own seat.
“You’re enjoying this,” Sophia stated, a smile on her face.
“I’ve missed antagonising people,” Dan admitted. She got some weird looks for that, but she honestly didn’t give a shit. She probably wasn’t going to see any of these people again after tonight, and who knew how long Sophia was still going to be there.
Dan watched the stage, wondering when something was going to happen. It was filled with empty seats and some instruments, waiting for the orchestra, and there was also a grand piano, which Dan assumed would accompany Thea at some point.
“This is the last concert we’d agreed I’d go to this year,” Sophia said quietly.
Dan looked over at her out of the corner of her eye, fighting a cringe when the person next to Sophia’s seat thought she was looking at them and stared.
“It’s fitting that this is the end,” Sophia continued.
“Who knows, maybe you’ll stay longer,” she whispered as lowly as she could, but said person obviously thought she was talking to them and… they actually blushed. She glared at them to see if that would make them look away, but no, the direct eye contact only made their blush deepen.
“No, I know this is what I need to finally let go. Holding on is getting harder by the hour, but even if I didn’t anymore, I know I wouldn’t fade until I’ve seen this.”
“You’re definitely the ghost who has the best handle on this ghost thing out of all the ghosts I’ve met, so I’ll just take your word for it.”
The person next to Sophia blinked, and Dan sighed.
“I’m not talking to you,” she told them. They just looked confused.
A rustling announced the orchestra entering and saved Dan from any further conversation. She turned back towards the stage.
No one sat down at the piano so apparently that was going to come into play later. The orchestra sat down and then, finally, Thea entered, followed by who Dan assumed was the conductor.
People were clapping, so Dan did too, letting out a whoop meant for Thea. She could feel other audience members staring at her and couldn’t hold back a grin. If they wanted to or not, they’d know what proper applause was like by the end of this night.
Thea’s eyes found hers immediately, causing her expression to shift slightly. Dan couldn’t get a read on it, but she figured maybe she wanted to know if Sophia was there or not, so she moved her hands, pointing at the empty seat next to her from various angles – while ignoring the person next to Sophia, who obviously still thought she meant them – and gave Thea a thumbs up.
Dan swore she actually saw the corners of Thea’s mouth twitch before she ducked her head and quickly looked away, bowing to the audience and then shaking hands with the conductor.
She’d deny it later, but Dan waited with bated breath for Thea to start playing. The orchestra started first, though, until finally, Thea lifted her violin and set her bow to the strings.
It was unexpected.
Thea completely let her guard down the moment the first note sounded, her expression open and softer, every emotion playing over her face the same way her bow played over the strings.
Dan got so caught up in listening and watching Thea’s fingers wander nimbly over the strings that she only noticed her mouth hanging slightly open when Thea lowered her violin and the orchestra came to the forefront again.
Shaking herself out of her trance, she looked over at Sophia, who had her hands clasped in front of her chest and was blinking fast. Dan was sure that if it were possible, there would be tears in her eyes.
Dan looked back at the stage and didn’t look away again until the break. She watched Thea even when she wasn’t playing, her fascination with the way everything about Thea seemed to change when she put her bow to the strings only growing.
When the playing had stopped, Dan still sat there, staring at the now empty stage.
“Wow,” she breathed, took a deep breath and looked around. The concert hall was almost empty now as people mingled outside and probably ate and drank. Dan didn’t intend to spend another cent, though, so she figured she might as well stay.
“She’s amazing, isn’t she?”
Dan turned her head to look at Sophia from where she had slid down in her seat a little. Sophia was beaming, and there was so much love radiating from her that it warmed Dan’s heart.
“I’m so proud of her,” Sophia said, then met Dan’s eyes. “You’ll tell her, won’t you?”
Surprised, Dan said, “Yes, of course. We’ll go talk to her after, like we said.”
“No, I mean after I’m gone.”
Dan sat up in a flash, frowning. She studied Sophia and now noticed what she hadn’t before: Sophia was more faded than she’d ever been. Dan only hadn’t registered it because this was what she’d consider good visibility with any other ghost.
Sophia shook her head to stop her. “I know, Dan. I can feel it, and it’s all right. I thought after death I’d just be… gone. That I got this chance to say goodbye to Thea at all… it means so much. And it was only possible because of you. Thank you, Dan. Thank you so much.”
Dan struggled to find her voice, but her throat had closed up.
It had been a while since she’d last grown attached to someone, so Dan had missed it. Now that Sophia was starting to fade, though, she realised she actually saw her as somewhat of a friend. She cared about her.
And now she was leaving.
Dan wrapped her arms around herself, feeling vulnerable in a way she hadn’t in a long time.
“You’re welcome,” Dan managed to say. “It’s no problem, really. It’s what I do.”
The way Sophia looked at her… Dan felt like an open book, and as she watched Sophia turn the pages she couldn’t look away from her to see what they revealed.
“You care so much, Dan. Still, after all this time, and you never let it destroy you.” Sophia smiled. “I really admire your strength. And I’m glad I had the chance to get to know you.”
Dan opened her mouth to reply, not quite sure what would come out, when a bell rang and people began streaming back into the concert hall. Sophia turned back towards the stage, and Dan studied her.
What she’d said just now had clearly been a goodbye. It had sounded final. Dan tried to prepare herself for Sophia fading, but she found she couldn’t build up any walls. The bricks crumbled in her hands before she could even set them down.
She’d opened the door too much and the resulting feelings that crowded it now made it impossible to shut again.
Sighing, she leaned back and braced herself for the pain. Maybe if she knew it was coming, it wouldn’t be able to knock her over, though that would kind of contradict what she’d told Thea the day before.
It would be nothing compared to what Thea must be feeling, anyway. She’d only known Sophia for three days after all, even if it felt like longer.
The bell rang again and when Dan looked around she saw that everyone was back in their seats. Sure enough, the orchestra filtered back onto the stage, then Thea, another person and the conductor.
The person accompanying Thea went over to the piano, and Dan hummed. She’d been wondering if it was just always there even when it wasn’t needed, but it seemed not.
When she looked over at Sophia again, she had to stop herself from flinching. It seemed that now that the fading had started, it was going incredibly fast, since Sophia was now barely visible.
Swallowing thickly, Dan turned back towards the stage. Getting attached to a ghost. She should really know better.
She focused on Thea, whose unmoved expression made her calm down but also feel sick with guilt.
Sophia was fading and Thea was playing under the impression that she’d get another chance to talk to her later, and Dan was right there in the audience, the only one who could do something about it, and she could climb up on stage and tell Thea so that she’d at least get a last few moments, and–
Dan clenched her jaw, then forced herself to breathe steadily.
Even though she hadn’t been sure if she’d be able to lose herself in Thea’s music like before because of the conversation she’d just had with Sophia, as soon as Thea started playing it took her away from everything, until the only thing left was sound and the emotions flowing over Thea’s face. She really had a gift.
At one point Dan played with the thought of closing her eyes and just listening, but her eyes were glued to Thea, not wanting to miss a single movement of her hand or her face.
She wasn’t ever going to be a fan of classical music – it sounded nice enough, but it just wasn’t her favourite. Thea, though? She could definitely see herself becoming a fan.
Time passed without her noticing, and before she knew it, everyone had stopped applauding, and the concert was over. Thea met her eyes once before disappearing backstage with the others, and with a jolt, Dan turned towards Sophia, afraid of what she might – or, more accurately, might not – see.
Sophia was still there, but barely. She was already looking at Dan and their eyes met.
“It’s time,” Sophia said.
“But, Thea, she’ll want to say goodbye,” Dan tried. Sophia only smiled.
“Thea’s always sucked at goodbyes. And hellos, for that matter. It’s the in-between that tends to last the longest, anyway.”
Dan opened her mouth to protest, but Sophia cut her off with, “She knows I love her and I know she loves me. That’s enough.” She was barely anything but a voice now. “You deserve so much more, Dan, and I really hope you get it. Take care.”
But she was gone.
Dan could feel dozens of eyes on her and whirled, glaring at every single one of them while fighting off the tears threatening to rise to her eyes.
“Are you… okay?” a careful voice asked her and she recognised it as coming from the person who had sat next to Sophia. “Do you need help?”
“I’m fine,” Dan said through gritted teeth, then stormed away, going to grab her coat.
On her way to Thea, she forced herself to breathe deeply, in, out, in, out. By the time she reached the security guard she’d mostly gotten herself back under control and managed a smile.
“Hey, I’m Dan. Thea said she’d tell you about me? I’m supposed to come see her after the show.”
The security guard nodded and let her through, pointing her in the right direction. Dan was surprised at how easy that had been, but then again, world-famous or not Thea was a violinist and not a rock star or a president.
When Dan rounded a corner, she ran right into Thea and stumbled back a few steps, rubbing her nose. Thea reached out to steady her, and Dan looked up at her, blinking.
Okay, yes, she was definitely attracted to her. Annoying, but she could deal with it. Thea had enough on her plate right now without adding flirting onto it, and Dan had never been able to figure out how she herself felt about romantic relationships.
Dan wasn’t even sure how much of her ‘feelings’ were because of latching onto someone who finally believed her, who finally knew that she was telling the truth. At least that’s what she tried to tell herself. It’s not like she would have ever met Thea without Sophia, anyway.
Speaking of Sophia, Thea looked around for a moment and then let her gaze settle on Dan. “There you are. Did you like the concert? Did Sophia?”
“Sophia’s gone,” Dan blurted out, then cringed slightly. That… could have been handled more delicately.
Thea let her hands drop from Dan’s arms and just stood there, looking at her with a dreadfully unreadable expression.
“What do you mean?” she finally asked, her voice quiet.
Dan looked around the hallway, checking for other people. Not that she cared, but it might not be great for Thea’s career if they were overheard.
“Can we go somewhere a little more private?”
Thea was silent for so long that Dan seriously started considering waving her hand in front of her face. Then she said, “Yes, of course. Follow me.”
Dan did, and after a few steps Thea motioned for her to enter a room, following Dan in and closing the door behind them.
Thea looked at her expectantly and Dan sighed, kneading the back of her neck with one hand. She walked over to the couch that was standing in one corner of the room, which seemed to be Thea’s dressing room where she could change and gather herself before performing.
“Don’t you want to sit down?” Dan asked weakly. Thea just shook her head. “I guess I’ll get right to it then. The thing is… Well, Sophia’s gone, as I’ve said. She started fading pretty much around when the concert started, only I didn’t notice it at first.”
Thea didn’t say anything, so Dan continued, “It seems that going to one last concert of yours since she missed that other one because… well, because of her death, it seems that that was what was keeping her here.” She cleared her throat. “She asked me to tell you she’s proud of you.”
Letting out a long breath, Thea leaned back against the wall and ran a hand over her face. “Did she say anything else?”
“She said… she said you know she loves you and she knows you love her and that’s enough, for her. She seemed at peace.”
Thea let her head fall back against the wall and let out a short, humourless laugh.
“I don’t think I’ll forget her,” Dan admitted.
It scared her, sometimes, how easily some ghosts would blur together over time until she couldn’t remember any specifics about them anymore. It often made her feel like a bad person, especially because a part of her was relieved. Remembering them all, all their stories and their pain and their joy… it was too much. She didn’t know how well she’d deal with all this if she didn’t also forget from time to time.
But Sophia… She’d left an impression Dan didn’t think she’d be able to erase, nor did she want to.
To Dan, she was special, and she didn’t know if she should feel bad about the fact that most other ghosts simply weren’t, in the long run.
“We Muldanis tend to be pretty memorable,” Thea said, and when Dan looked up at her there was a sad smile on her face. “I never thought…” Thea sighed. “I never thought I’d get even this chance. I know I should be grateful, but I just feel bitter. It wasn’t enough. Then again, I don’t think it could have ever been enough.”
“I’m sorry you lost her,” Dan said softly, feeling it so intensely in that moment that she had to say it, even if they came across as empty words.
“Me too,” Thea said, her voice just as quiet. Dan heard what Thea didn’t voice: She was everything to me.
Dan didn’t think she’d ever felt that way about someone, her family always something to get away from and not to stay with or come back to.
She loved her stage sisters with all her heart, and she knew she would until her dying day, but she didn’t think it was quite the same. Was it even something to desire feeling? Maybe not, and yet Dan felt a pang of longing anyway.
Easing herself away from the wall, Thea walked over to a chair and let herself drop onto it, staring at the floor. “I believe in ghosts.”
“Well,” Dan said with a shrug, glad for the change in topic, “makes sense. They’re real, after all.”
Thea lifted her head and looked at her. “You are something.”
Lifting an eyebrow, Dan asked, “Something good?”
“Special,” Thea said after a short pause.
“Aren’t we all. You are, like, the queen of violin. No, the goddess.”
Thea actually laughed at that. Dan couldn’t look away. “I’m telling my PR team to use that.”
“If it catches on, tell them to send some cash my way,” Dan said. “Could use it more than them, I’m sure.”
“That reminds me.” Thea sat up and reached for her bag, out of which she produced her wallet. “What do I owe you for going to all this trouble today?”
She knew she should accept the money, knew that that was the best choice, practically speaking, but she couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable about it nonetheless.
This hadn’t just been a ghost’s errand, a job for her. She actually liked Thea and Sophia, and she couldn’t shake the memory of Thea asking ‘How much are you hoping to get out of this?’
Thea seemed to pick up on her unease, because she quickly amended, “Only if you want. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable in any way, I just want to thank you and show my appreciation.”
Smiling lopsidedly, Dan said, “You could pay me back for the bus fare. Twice, I guess, since I need to get back home.”
“I’ll pay the bus fare and I’m arranging for a taxi to take you home, one that I’m also paying of course. Is that all right with you?”
Dan wasn’t sure when she’d last taken a taxi, or if she’d even ever taken one, come to think of it. She nodded, hoping this wouldn’t make things awkward between them.
“What you did, with Sophia… Thank you.”
Dan blinked at Thea. “You’re, um, welcome.”
Thea typed away on her phone, then put it away. “All right, the taxi will be here in about ten minutes.”
Dan huffed. “You want to get rid of me that badly?”
Seemingly bewildered, Thea simply stared at her for a moment. “What? No! I–” She shook her head. “I thought you’d be tired.”
Now that Thea had mentioned it, a yawn crept up on Dan as she realised that she was.
“Hm,” she said. “Seems you were right about that.”
Thea seemed to struggle to find words, eventually just shaking her head and giving up with a frustrated expression. Dan felt her eyebrows wander up and couldn’t help feeling slightly endeared.
Clapping her hands together and thereby startling both herself and Thea alike, she got up and stretched.
“Better go meet that taxi outside, I guess. Thanks again.”
She took the money for the bus ticket Thea had laid out for her and smiled. Thea stood up as well, and Dan felt herself make a split-second decision.
She put a finger to Thea’s cheek. “I’m going to kiss you here,” she announced, then paused, giving Thea time to shoot her down or take a step back.
When she didn’t, Dan smiled, leaned up and pressed her lips to Thea’s cheek ever so lightly.
“Take care, Thea. I really, truly wish you all the best.”
She turned to go, but then Thea’s voice made her pause.
“Wait! I…” She floundered. “I mean, this doesn’t have to be…” Groaning, she rubbed a hand over her face. “This doesn’t have to be the last time we see each other. I… You’re… We…” She broke off, clearly frustrated with her communication skills – or lack thereof. Dan could relate.
“I could give you my number?” Dan offered. “We could message, if you want. And you could call me when you end up back in town, or whenever you want to talk, about Sophia or anything, really.”
“Yes,” Thea said, so quickly that it made Dan smile. “Yes, I’d like that.”
Dan’s smile grew into a grin. “All right. Good.”
She held her hand out for Thea’s phone. When Thea had unlocked it and handed it to her, Dan quickly entered her number and called herself Dan – the hot one with the ghosts.
Thea looked decidedly flustered when Dan gave her phone back to her, and Dan couldn’t help feeling a bit smug.
“See you around,” she said, walking to the door and feeling Thea’s eyes on her all the while, till she’d left the room and was out of sight.
When she got a text from an unknown number saying only It’s Thea not a minute later, Dan didn’t even try to fight the smile that broke out on her face and basked in the warm feeling that spread through her.
Maybe things wouldn’t change, maybe she’d be stuck doing jobs that meant nothing to her and helping ghosts on the side, barely scraping by, maybe she’d always feel like this couldn’t be life, that this couldn’t be all.
Or maybe, things would get better.
She knew which one she was rooting for.