Maybe This Has Been Twilight All Along (Chapter 26)
The best thing about being alive again was taking a shower. I mean, I dreamed about cheeseburgers and sitting in chairs and being able to talk to everyone properly and all that sort of stuff—but in the end, that first shower was the best. Hot water pushing between my shoulder blades, breathing in fragrant steam, finally feeling clean. Damn.
Even now, a month later, I can’t get over it. I don’t think I’ll ever take showers for granted ever again.
I take so long in the shower tonight that by the time I get out and finish fixing my hair and makeup, Gabe is tapping his fingers along the wall outside my door, playing an invisible piano and trying not to look as impatient as he obviously feels.
“Ready?” he says when I shut the door with a too-loud slam. “Hey, what’d it do to you?”
“Nothin’—uh . . . yes. I’m ready. Yes.”
“Psh.” I shove Gabe’s shoulder. “What’s there to be nervous about?”
A lot. There’s a lot to be nervous about, and Gabe knows it. But thankfully he doesn’t heckle me. He just pushes those pale Victorian hands into his jeans pockets and follows me down the stairs of the mansion, whistling in his out-of-time way.
We pass closed doors and quiet halls. The mansion is so boring, now that it’s no longer haunted. After we got back, we spread out to fill up the space and the empty rooms. The mansion is plenty large to accommodate a lot of people, so we all claimed our own rooms for the rest of the summer (there was no sense in going home early and trying to explain things to parents). Besides, Jenny, Margaret, and Roman all needed time to—well—adjust to resurrection from the dead, of a sort.
Nobody really knows what happened to them when we all jumped into the volcano, leaving them on the ship on that island. But they were still on the ship, with the rest of the crew, and when they all reappeared back here with us, they sort of . . . came out of a daze. They don’t remember much of anything, other than having gone on some sort of ocean voyage, which is probably best. But every now and then we’ll catch one of them staring at a wall or talking to a lamppost.
So Doug thinks it’s best we ride out the rest of the summer here. “Work out the kinks,” he says.
Anyhow, I’m trying to distract myself, and I know it. Gabe and I must be the last two people to leave for the concert; the whole house is empty and silent. Even Doug’s car is gone from the front drive.
“So, uh, how are we getting there?” I ask Gabe, picking nervously at my sleeves.
“My car,” he says.
“Wait, you have a car here?”
“Well yeah.” He gives me a quizzical smile. “My parents wanted to make sure I could get around, before we embarked, I mean. It’s just a lease for the summer, though.” He walks me to the large, unattached garage as I shake my head and smile at his casual tone.
It’s a Bentley. Because of course it is. A Bentley his parents got him, just for the summer.
I slide into the passenger seat, smoothing the leather, acutely aware of my body and my surroundings the way only a really fancy car makes you aware of such things.
“What? What is it?” Gabe says, starting the engine.
“Nothing.” I buckle up, and then we’re off and down the road, heading for the Cape Cod Museum of Nautical Curiosities and Fascinations.
“So I guess you heard from your grandpa, then, huh?”
“Yep, yeah. Everything is set. Now I just need to . . . you know.” I clench and unclench my fists. Press my cool fingers to my burning cheeks.
“Sunny,” Gabe says, “it’s going to be fine. There’s no way he’s going to turn you down.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Not a chance in hell.”
“And you don’t think the age thing is weird?”
“What—that’s he’s eighteen? What’s weird about that?”
“Come on, Gabe. You know what I mean.”
Gabe exhales upward so his pouf of hair flops over his eyes. He gives his head a shake and the car swerves for a moment as he clears his vision. “Okay,” he says. “Twilight.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Think of it like Twilight. Vampires and werewolves and all that shit.”
“Technically there weren’t werewolves in Twilight. Jacob was a—”
Gabe gives me the most withering of withering looks, and I shut my mouth tight. “You know what I’m getting at, right?”
“Yeah,” I say. “You’re saying that ghost aging is like vampire aging. Like how Edward being frozen at whatever teenage age when he became a vampire made it not-creepy for him to fall in love with Bella, who was an actual teenager over a hundred years later. Or whatever.”
“Exactly,” he says.
“I mean, there were other things that made their relationship creepy—the breaking into her house to stare at her while she slept, the obsessive behavior, the fact that he wanted to eat her, the—”
“Given this some thought, have you?”
“I mean, I only read those books once, okay? And just because everybody else was. And I didn’t even like them!”
“Sure.” Gabe gives me a mean side-eye. He pulls into the parking lot of the museum and shuts off the engine.
“Hey, you’re the one who brought up the book. Don’t cast shade on me for knowing what they’re about, Mr. I Only Read The Classics.”
“Oh, okay, Ms. Jane Eyre.”
We glare unseriously at each other and then dissolve into laughter when we get out of the car.
We’re still giggling as we pass into the museum courtyard. I catch a glimpse of Doug and Jacinta—raise a hand in greeting. Are they on a date? Doug’s jacket says yes. Huh. Doug and Jacinta. Well, if he’s pursuing his own romantic interests, maybe what I’m about to propose will go over smoother. That is, if Ted agrees . . .
Where is Ted?
Something hits me on the back of the head with a light fwump. I spin around, leaving Gabe alone (who gives me two thumbs up—very subtle, Gabe) and spot a hacky sack on the ground.
“Really?” I say, scooping it up.
“How else was I going to get your attention?” Ted ambles forward through the crowd, hands in his pockets.
“You could have just said hello like a normal person.”
“What fun would that have been?”
I haven’t seen him hardly at all the last month. At first he was at the mansion with us, and then Doug took him back to South Dakota to do some family stuff. They only just got back, and while Doug returned to the mansion, Ted has been staying in a hotel in town.
I pitch the hacky sack back at him, and he catches it deftly and hides it away in his pocket. A pocket of very . . . stylish jeans. He still has his nineties vibe, but now he looks like he could fit in at my high school. He’s cut his hair and finally given it the wash it needed, and now his clothes fit him rather than hanging off his body. He could be any senior boy in my class, and that’s the idea, really.
“Went shopping, did you?” I ask, a little too breathlessly.
“Yeah, uh. Doug took me. Turns out all this stuff is retro now.” He plucks at his t-shirt. “Kind of strange to be dead for long enough for all my clothes to come back in style. You know, sort of.”
“Yeah,” I breathe.
“You okay? You look sick, or something.”
“No, um. Ted.”
“Cut it out. I’m being serious.”
He crosses his arms and gives me a mock-serious face. Behind us, people are shuffling into seats, getting ready for what promises to be the most ridiculous show ever performed, well, ever.
“Ted, really. Can we maybe step outside and talk for a minute?”
“Sure,” he says, finally sobering. “Come on.”
Doug gives us a questioning stare as we pass him, but when he makes to get up and follow, Ted waves him back.
We make it out to the parking lot before I round on Ted and say, “Are you avoiding me? Is that why you haven’t come back to the mansion?” It wasn’t where I meant to start this conversation, but here we are.
“Because I really wanted you to come back. I was looking forward to you coming back, and I have stuff to talk to you about, you know?”
“Uh . . . do I? I don’t know. But I’m not avoiding you. What are we talking about?”
“Us, right? Okay, so there is no us, but there could be an us, and I think there should be an us. Because look what we’ve been through together. Not that that has to be a reason to be together, obviously, but what I’m trying to say is that in this case I think the circumstances were such that I just couldn’t help myself.”
Ted stands hugging his chest, staring at me with half his mouth turned up in a perplexed smile. “Couldn’t help yourself what?”
“Falling for you, obviously. Oh my word, you’re the literal worst.”
Ted buckles over laughing. “This is the worst declaration of love ever.”
“Who said anything about love? I didn’t say anything about love. Don’t be stupid.” I punch his shoulder. “I just, like, have feelings for you.”
“Alright, alright,” he says. “But what about, you know, your perfect Angel Boy or whatever?”
“Gabe.” I sigh. “All wrong for me, but he will always be a good friend.”
I twist my fingers and watch Ted—he’s still laughing, tears of mirth running down his cheeks. “And, listen, I have it all worked out, if—if you want. I know you have a home in South Dakota, but you probably need to finish high school, yeah? And going back to South Dakota for school could be super weird; how would Doug explain where you came from? My grandpa has a room in his place that he says you can stay in, rent-free, as long as you help out with chores around his house. You could—you could come back to Kansas City with me. Come to my school. We could spend the year together getting to know each other. What do you say?”
Now that I’ve set out the proposal, my insides feel like I swallowed live snakes.
Oh God, I think I’m going to be sick. With a deep groan, I bend over my knees and put my head in my hands.
“Now what’s wrong with you?” Ted says. He slaps a hand to my back.
“I just—I can’t believe I just said all that to you!”
“Did you mean it?”
I glare up at him. “What do you mean, did I mean it?”
“Just that: Did you mean it?”
“Of course I meant it! But you’re just standing there . . . laughing!”
Ted draws me upright by both shoulders. “I’m laughing because you’re the silliest girl I’ve ever met, and I love that you make me laugh. You make me laugh every day that I’m with you—dead or alive. If I hadn’t met you, I’d still be a ghost, haunting that ridiculous ship, and Doug would still be living a miserable existence trying to scratch out fleeting moments with me. You brought joy into my life and a life back to both my brother and me. I’d love to come to Kansas City with you, Sunflower Smith-Jones.”
He pulls me in and kisses me, hard, and then I decide that maybe kissing is actually my favorite part of not being dead anymore.
Around us, the strains of ska music saw through the air, and we both wince as we pull apart.
“That is . . . really—” I say.
“Spectacularly—” Ted says.
Project CoNarrative was an ongoing multimedia experiment in collaborative storytelling from two award-winning authors. From October 2019-October 2020, we took turns writing chapters and building on each other's work, improv-style until we had a finished product. You can read the entire first draft for free, here on the internet. Click here to go back to chapter 1 and start your read-through from the beginning.
What's next for Project CoNarrative? We will be revising and editing this draft to publish a hard copy via Amazon KDP. Stay tuned for updates!