#AtoZChallenge — P is for Presence

P

Time for a ghost story!

1499 words. Suggestions of threesomes and drug use. Please leave a comment if you like what you read. 😊

Presence

The ghost entered the apartment with the same quick, confident stride she’d always entered it with in life. She was only half aware that she was a ghost, but didn’t bother herself to be troubled by the thought. What she noticed, if anything, was having more strength than she’d had in quite some time. Where her body had been wasting away she was now thin but no longer emaciated. Death had undone all signs of her decline, except for the track marks sprinkled like freckles down the insides of her arms and backs of her knees. Now what propelled her more than anything was unfinished business.

As she walked into the living room her stride faltered. She felt a tug in her chest upon seeing one of the few places where she’d been happy. This was where, in the warmth of Hazel’s embrace, she’d said I love you for the first time and meant it. At least… she’d thought she had meant it. In the end she had run away — first back to pills, then to needles, then from her job even though Hazel had struggled for months to cover for her, and then from Hazel herself as though there were nothing left to hold her down.

With a jolt she saw that all of the pictures of them together had been taken down. That hurt more than she would have expected, but at least she hadn’t been replaced. The walls and the mantle were bare.

In contrast, the rest of the apartment was cluttered. Hazel had always been neat and tidy before. Now, dirty clothes and used plates lay scattered haphazardly across the living room floor, couch, and coffee table. The ghost drifted to the kitchen where there were dirty dishes and cups stacked up in the sink. In the spare room, where Hazel kept her art supplies, everything was covered in a layer of dust as though it hadn’t been disturbed in weeks.

That bothered the ghost, because art had been an important daily part of the other woman’s life and the idea that it no longer was seemed alien and strange. Art was the reason they had met, after all. One day at work the marketing department had assigned Hazel to work with a sales team to come up with a new ad campaign design. At first Hazel had seem too tall, too big, too out of place, not the ghost’s type at all. Once she had her computer open and a stylus in her hand, however, it was clear that she wielded a kind of magic over form and color. There was an undeniable current that ran through both of them whenever their gazes met.

Romantic entanglements were discouraged by company policy. Much to the irritation of her friend in HR, who she occasionally had to bribe to keep covering for her, the ghost got a thrill out of dipping her pen in the company ink. One day over lunch and midday cocktails, when Hazel asked shyly if she might draw her sometime, the ghost had countered with an offer to pose nude. The tactic had spread a pretty blush across Hazel’s cheeks, but not distracted from how much food had still been on her plate at the end of the meal. Even then, at the very beginning, Hazel noticed, and her first instinct was to take care of her.

It bothered her to think that leaving the way she had might have wiped all that away.

Uncertain of what she would find, the ghost continued down the hallway to the bedroom. The door was barely open and no light seeped out through the sliver-sized gap, but she caught a trickle of escaping sound.

There were two figures in the darkened room, one in the bed curled beneath a mass of blankets still in her pajamas even though it was well past noon and another sitting on the edge of the mattress still in her dress suit from work. The ghost circled, eying the second person, who was saying, “Come on, that’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard. There’s no way you’re responsible!” But her voice got high and frustrated towards the end and fell short of sounding convincing.

The ghost knew her. Jo had never been much of a people person; ending up in Human Resources had either been a cosmic joke or darkly fitting. She was more of a tough love gal when she bothered to be kind so she seemed out of place here, trying to offer comfort when she was clearly bad at doing so. Still, the ghost appreciated that she was trying. Someone ought to. The ghost walked over and sat next to Jo, kissed her cheek, and the woman shivered without looking away from the cocoon of blankets.

It was fitting that the two of them were both here, the ghost thought. That cheered her up a little. Her two longest-held conquests… Although Jo had only been an on again off again affair when she was bored. Those flings had eventually trailed off into nearly nothing once she’d met Hazel, though. Now there they both were, still treading water and being tossed around in her wake. A strange sort of pride swept through her and she basked in it, feeling important and almost warm.

Hazel peered out of the blankets, her curly brown hair disheveled and falling in her red and puffy eyes. Though she was looking at Jo, the ghost pretended that she was looking at her instead.

“But she’s dead. Ariel is dead,” she rasped, sending a crack running through the ghost’s pretending. “I can’t believe she’s really gone…”

Ariel. The ghost shifted uncomfortably at the mention of her name, the one she’d almost forgotten just as she’d ignored being dead. Whatever warmth she’d briefly felt drained away with the reminder. A part of her knee passed through Jo’s leg and the woman shivered again.

Then, to make matters worse, Jo reached out and touched Hazel’s cheek. Just like that, the ghost remembered in a flash of jealousy why they’d only had the one threesome. Of course Hazel was kind and sweet to everyone and it was painful to see her so wounded, but that was no excuse for Jo to get ideas and touch things that weren’t hers. After all, it had only been a year since the ghost had last been in this apartment, and a year was nothing to the already dead.

“She’s been gone a long time, Hazel.” Jo licked her lips nervously and her harsh tone became softer. “Look, I’ve known— I knew her longer than you did, and she was already fucked up when I met her. You’re a saint for wanting to help, but she was too far gone already.” Her hand slid tentatively from Hazel’s cheek to tuck some of the other woman’s unruly hair behind one ear. “She ran off and overdosed, for christ sake, she made her choice. Sorry, but that choice just wasn’t you.”

The ghost bared her teeth invisibly. She remembered meeting Jo, cutting her in on an illicit break room poker game as incentive not to report it. The bitch had cleaned up at that game and not been invited back again, but she had been fun for other illicit things. The three of them had even been together once, with the normally tightly wound Jo in the middle and gasping with pleasure under their hands and mouths. Hazel had been gentle; the ghost had been relentless. The ghost had held court over them like a queen commanding her subjects, and that was fine. But not this. Never this.

A moment passed while they both dropped their eyes. Jo dropped her hand, and the ghost was just about to untense when Hazel sat up and kissed Jo. There were tears in the kiss, but they already seemed to be drying. Rigid with surprise, it was a second or two before Jo began to kiss her back.

Furious, the ghost lept up and grabbed thoughtlessly for the nearest thing she could reach — a half empty glass of water on the bedside table. Her anger was a tangible force, flowing into her hand and giving it just enough solidity to grip, to throw. She threw it at the wall with all her strength and felt a deep satisfaction at the way it shattered.

Ariel was home and she was determine to defend what it had been, what it should always be.


(Presence, pt ii and pt iii.)

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