We stepped outside and I led Johanna to some benches a little ways away from the crowds — it was lunch and some kids had gone outside to go to their cars, or speak with friends. It was cloudy today, nothing like the sunshine of the previous day and stepping outside without a jacket was chilly, to say the least.
“Uhm, so,” I begun, “there is a ghost with us and his name is Mr Crinkle.” Seeing the peculiar way Johanna was looking at me (i.e. the “are you effing nuts?” look) I added to Mr Crinkle: “Can you, uh, give my friend a sign or something?”
Thankfully Mr Crinkle decided to humor me by causing a wind that blew Johanna’s hair away from her face rather forcefully. As nothing else was stirred by this wind, Johanna first looked startled and confused, but then quickly caught onto the fact that it was Mr Crinkle causing it.
“I see, Mr Crinkle, that you can cause a wind…or are a wind…or just a ghost blowing about,” she said with a smile.
Thank God for best friends who aren’t put off by ghosts!
“So,” I said, feeling relieved my best friend didn’t think me a freak, “Mr Crinkle would you like to inform us of why you are here? I think I’ll be the only one able to hear your words, but I can explain to Johanna.”
“Indeed, indeed,” Mr Crinkle said. “I just wanted to make my presence known to you, should you ever require assistance, or should I ever require your help. As Josephine probably told you, ghosts normally appear as that small voice of intuition in someone’s mind. Unfortunately, people aren’t all that open to that little voice. Which means as the guardian angel of this place, I have a hard time being heard sometimes. With your help, I could get through to people more easily.”
“I would be happy to help you,” I replied, “but it’s kind of weird sometimes to try to help people. I mean once I knew something bad would happen to Samantha if she went to the park at lunch break, but she didn’t listen to me and went there anyway and broke her leg because she got into an argument with someone and stepped into the street and got run over.”
I was speaking into thin air. Ever so often I imagined myself seeing a bit of a glimmer in the air in front of me, but that was about it. Have you ever tried speaking into thin air? It’s quite unsettling. You feel mad as a hatter. Especially when your best friend is sitting next to you listening intently to try to figure out what’s going on.
“Yes, yes, I remember that episode,” Mr Crinkle said. “It was I who gave you the hunch. Not that I knew that she’d break her leg, but I knew there’d be trouble with that other girl, Katie. We only know so much. We know a murderer is heading somewhere, or a storm is coming in. The rest is guesswork. Anyway, that day I was trying to give Samantha a hunch, but that proved impossible. She was too busy thinking about her argument with Katie and obsessing about a boy. What’s his name? Jason. Ah yes, she had quite a crush on him! He is popular in this place. I think it is…well, none of my business. Not allowed to interfere and all that.”
Mr Crinkle chuckled and I could feel my cheeks turning red. I was certain the man…ghost…could read my thoughts. Then again it wouldn’t require much mind-reading to figure out I like Jason if you watched me every day. Even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be hard to guess I like him. About 60% of the girls our age are crushing on Elbert, 20% on Jason, 10% on other guys and 10% on other girls (at least statistically — even in the open-minded state of California teenage girls don’t find it that easy to come out, which I know, because Jenna has had to coach quite a few).
“OK,” I squeezed out. “Let me know if you need help giving someone a hunch again, but just so you know it’s really weird telling people you have “a feeling” they’ll have a skiing accident if they go skiing that day.”
“Quite, quite,” Mr Crinkle said, still chuckling. “I know it can put you in an…interesting…position, but it is a vital role to play nonetheless. Maybe the best role you’ll ever be cast in. You could end up saving lives, marriages, finances and so forth. It’s a noble part to play, even if a bit embarrassing at times. I won’t call upon you unless absolutely necessary. Besides, we aren’t allowed to interfere in most matters from this side.”
I nodded. He was right — it would be pretty cool to save lives. Less cool, of course, to go through things like the Samantha episode. I’d never been close with her, but after that it was clear I’d never belong to the “in-crowd.” I wasn’t one to draw attention to myself, everyone had always just seen me as the one with the useful aunts (because trust me, people always need either counseling, cakes, dates, or potions and lotions), but not even useful aunts make you popular in high school.
“That’s it, I think,” Mr Crinkle said. “I simply wanted to make my presence known. Chances are you will feel it anyway from time to time. I shall bid you goodbye now. Say hi to Josephine from me, have her play my favorite tunes.” And he chuckled again and then I could feel him disappear. No more glimmer in the air and it somehow felt different as he left. I guess that’s why they say you feel someone’s presence.
“He left,” I said to Johanna. “Told me I have to act as an in-between if he has a message he needs to deliver to someone. You can see me running into strangers’ houses shouting they need to evacuate before the snowstorm kills them, can’t you? I’ll be the resident lunatic of Rocky Creek. I feel like my social life is over forever.”
Johanna laughed. “Don’t be so dramatic. I mean it is kind of dramatic, but that’s a good thing. You’ll be the eccentric actress who doesn’t only act, but also predicts the future. Or at least prevents the disasters. Maybe you should start reading tarot cards?”
Johanna looked all fired up about this. Did I mention she loves anything and everything unusual?
“You forget the Samantha episode in the park. I’ll be the woman who everyone hates, because if they don’t follow my advice bad luck will be upon them.” I involuntarily shivered. Not a pleasant thought. Or maybe I was just cold from being outdoors without a jacket, but still. Ugh.
“Oh come on, don’t be so sour about it! Surely you’ll be thanked by a gazillion people for helping them.” Suddenly Johanna looked concerned. “You aren’t going to do this all the time though, are you? I mean you can’t just run off stage to prevent disasters every two minutes! Your career would be ruined!”
“Uhm, why does everyone suddenly think I’m becoming an actress?” After all, till that point, the roles I’d been cast in had had fewer than ten lines.
“Because you were cast as Juliet, doh. And,” Johanna added, looking thoughtful, “it suits you somehow. Like this is what you were meant to do. I haven’t even thought about it, it’s just after you got cast as Juliet it felt right. Like the pieces of the puzzle came together, or something. You know, you love stories, always did. You love anything theatrical and dramatical, even if you aren’t very dramatical. But you have something dramatic in you. I don’t know what exactly, but you tell great stories. You love those little moments that makes life funny, or poignant. It’s like you’re very theatrical, but you’re hiding it, or something. I mean don’t take this the wrong way, but you are very plain. Not your insides, but your outsides.” Johanna crinkled her nose as she looked at my checkered shirt and jeans.
She was right. I live in a very theatrical (or eccentric, if you so like) family, but I rarely draw attention to myself. Mainly because I don’t really know who I am. And Johanna loves my aunts’ ways of expressing themselves through dress — Agatha always wears light breezy clothes, Hetty is a total femme fatale wearing clothes that bring out her hourglass figure, Jenna wears whatever suits her mood and looks the most dramatic (think: sequin) and Wilda wears earthy kind of clothes as if to match the herbs in her potions and lotions.
“I guess you’re right. I like quirky things. But I also like hiding in comfy sweaters. People stare plenty at my aunts. They are very theatrical, or eccentric in a theatrical way. It’s not like they don’t draw attention to themselves. I’ve always been next to the center of attention, so I’ve never thought of becoming it myself. Since I was a kid people have always hung around my family like we were a circus attraction. It’s not like I had to do anything to draw attention to us.”
“Yeah,” Johanna nodded, “but you don’t mind the attention, do you?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “No, I like that we can help people. It’s just…I always knew people weren’t coming to our house, or shops, or whatever, because of me. I wasn’t the one drawing people in. If people stare at me it’s for all the wrong reasons. Like I got jam all over my sweater.”
Johanna laughed. “That’s normal. I mean, what I’m trying it say, is you have been growing up — it’s not like you could heal people’s warts, or sort their love life out. So why would people be drawn to you the way they are to your aunts? But I guess that’s also taken attention away from you. Kids usually are the attention of a family. You deserve attention too. And I somehow think one day, when you stop, I don’t know, trying to find yourself, or hiding, or whatever, you will be.”
I thought about that. Right now I still couldn’t see a way of being center of attention without feeling scrutinized in all the wrong ways. Maybe when acting. But then I wasn’t me.
Johanna continued. “To be fair your aunts aren’t theatrical like the crazy A- (and B-) list celebrities that come here. It’s not like they’ve tried stealing the limelight from you like some of those nutcases. I mean some of them can’t handle their kid getting one second’s worth of attention. Your aunts don’t need attention all the time, they are just very much themselves. So much so that it’s theatrical. They really go for it. I mean Hetty has gotten the whole town to celebrate some cake day she invented, Jenna is the town’s symbol for wild love even at her age, Wilda is like an herbal explosion and Agatha floats by in a cloud of white smoke, more or less. Everyone notices them, but not you. Because you don’t really allow people to see you.”
I knew Johanna was right and it kind of hurt to be the invisible one, but I also didn’t know who I wanted to be discovered for being, or if I wanted to be seen at all.
“You’re right, but I’m not sure I want to be noticed. And being noticed for speaking to ghosts…well…”
“It’s perfect, we’re in California. People will love you. San Francisco is filled with mediums, I’m sure. And if you move to L.A. you can be all the famous people’s medium. While getting famous as an actress yourself. See, perfect!”
“I’m not a medium,” I muttered. “I just deliver messages when needed, not when people ask for it. Besides, ghosts are usually not allowed to interfere in the life of the living. Which suits me perfectly. Now, let’s go eat. I’m freezing my butt off!” And on that note, I stood up and resolutely walked towards the dining hall before Johanna had some brilliant idea of starting my own psychic shop, complete with crystal balls and such nonsense.
Once we got to the cafeteria we filled our trays with salads, a hearty soup and fresh bread from aunt Hetty’s bakery. Perfect for the fall weather. Besides, I needed some comfort food — between ghosts, acting Juliet and working with Jason on the new project, I felt like my world had come apart. Or maybe come together. But it was still complete chaos.
As we were scanning the crowds to find an empty table I spotted Jason and Elbert deeply engrossed in a conversation at the edge of one table. They were sitting by themselves, which was fairly unusual as people always descended upon them like hawks.
Just as my gaze landed on them, Jason looked up and a smile graced his lips when he saw me. It was a quick smile, but it was a smile. His dark brown eyes twinkled and I felt like they looked straight into me somehow. I can’t describe it. It was as if his eyes touched something inside of me.
How can you even feel that way? Like eyes touch you? As if they have some freaking connection to your soul, or something. How’s that possible? How is that even allowed to be possible with a guy you don’t know and don’t even care about because you don’t know him, but you can’t stop thinking about him because doh: his eyes burn their way into your soul. Though most of the time it’s just his half smile and that infuriating desire to find out who he truly is that drives you crazy.
My interiors turned as I tried to figure out how to return the smile. It wasn’t like my body was responding as it should. I was frozen. I felt like I had to force my mouth to turn upward to return the smile, before I turned away from him.
You know the butterfly effect? A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and it starts raining somewhere else in the world. That’s not my kind of butterfly effect. Mine is more like, Jason smiles and suddenly a thousand butterflies I didn’t even know existed start flapping their wings in my belly, while the rest of my body goes into lockdown. If I’m lucky I might have adequate brain powers to kill off enough butterflies to unfreeze myself so as to move.
As I followed Johanna on shaky legs I saw in my mind’s eye the beautiful scenario of me being on stage on a balcony saying: “Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” in front of the whole school, as I spotted Jason and froze and then Mr Crinkle appeared to tell me I had to deliver a message to Samantha to leave the theatre before she broke another leg.
Chaos. My life was definitively turning into chaos.