The lights suddenly flickered. The record stopped playing; Bing’s voice slow motioned to a stop. Silence filled the room. The air went still. It was eerie; a lack a noise one could feel. All the energy had evaporated. The air was heavy, unmoving. The lights somehow seemed brighter now than before the flicker. Jack watched as Genevieve’s body became tense. She was trance-like, staring off into space. Her focus was intense as if she was hearing something that the rest of them could not hear.
"It's time, Jack," she spoke in a sad voice, shaded with anticipation.
"Time for what, Miss Genevieve?" asked Jack, puzzled by her words and tone.
"For the real story, the last story, the honest truth."
Jack sat there looking at her. He didn't look at Henry or Kevin. He only stared at her. He had always thought she was honest. He was compelled to ask her what she could possibly mean.
“The truth? The last story? Wh-what does that mean?” he stammered over the words.
"I had been making that light go on and off for weeks. It took all the energy I could amass. No one ever paid attention until you saw it. You were so curious. That's what I was hoping for - someone's curiosity to get the better of them and win out over their fear and make them come inside. I needed someone to find me."
"I'm sorry you were so lonely, Miss Genevieve. I wish, more than you know, that I had known you were here." Jack replied.
Henry and Kevin were on the periphery of the situation. They weren't part of it. This was a conversation between Genevieve and Jack. They were just there. Not intruders, but not participants.
"You don't understand, Jack." She rose from the chair. It was the first time she had been out of the chair for one of their story sessions since the first time Jack had seen her at the window. She walked toward a door through an opening that led into a hallway. Her slow, controlled steps made her appear to be gliding. The door had always been visible, but closed. She opened the door and motioned for him to come to her.
At the doorway, Jack peered inside. He saw what appeared to be a withered body slumped over to the right in a chair, wearing the same peach-colored robe Genevieve always wore. He looked at Genevieve, standing next to him, his face twisted in confusion. The light struck something on the floor and it shimmered. The shimmer pulled Jack’s focus. It was Genevieve's ring. It was lying on the floor just below the right hand of the body. It had fallen off as the body slowly decomposed. Jack looked at Genevieve. He looked at her face then he looked down at her right hand. He saw the ring on her finger. He didn't understand. He started to speak, but she cut him off.
"I'm sorry if this frightens you and I'm sorry that you're confused, but I needed you, Jack.” She looked tormented. “You were the one who saw the light; the one who could see me." Her words were colored with anguish.
"See you? What do you mean?"
"Look closely, Jack," she suggested.
He looked at the body in the room. His breathing became faster and shallower.
"What are you saying?" his voice twisted with fear and anger. "Is that you in there? Are you saying you're-"
"Dead, Jack.” She paused. “I'm dead." The moment’s hesitation before she said the words "I'm dead" made their impact that much more devastating.
Jack backed out of the doorway without taking his eyes off of her. He felt as frightened as he had the night she was behind him at the window. He bumped into her chair as he backed further into the living room. Hitting the chair made him turn to see where he was. He caught sight of Henry and Kevin. Henry's face was blank with shock and Kevin's contorted in terror.
"I couldn't move on until someone found me. I was trapped here and restless. You were the person who saw the light. You were the person who came inside. You were the person who listened. You made it irresistible for me to leave.” She reached out to him. He leaned away from her. “No one had paid me that much attention in years.” She dropped her arm to her side. “I indulged myself for a few days. Forgive my selfishness.
"I left Hollywood 30 years ago, Jack. I have no children. My family is dead. Billy and Lana are dead. Tippi has had nothing to do with me for decades. I didn't make many friends, Jack. I worked. When parts were no longer being offered to me in Hollywood, I moved here to Astoralyn. I left everything I knew and locked myself in this house. I've been reclusive ever since. No one knows I'm here. No one knows I've died.
The clutter down stairs and the over stuffed apartment suddenly all made sense to Jack. It was everything she owned in her life. The pictures were all of her in various stages of her career. There were no pictures of family and no pictures were recent.
Jack felt sick to his stomach. Henry got up from the sofa followed by Kevin. The two of them started slowly toward the door. Henry never took his eyes from Genevieve even as he spoke to Jack.
"Come on, Jack. Let's get out of here." Henry was now standing at the door. Kevin had already exited the room in front of Henry. Jack could hear the sound of him running down the stairs, although he heard it as if he were under water. The same with Henry’s voice; it was distorted.
"Come on, Jack." Henry repeated at the door, anxious to get out of the room and down the stairs himself.
Jack barely heard himself say, "No."
"Jack," Henry yelled his name this time.
"I'm not going." Jack found his voice.
"Jack, come on bro. I don't want to leave you here," pleaded Henry.
"Just go." He didn't mean to but he yelled at Henry.
Henry stared at Jack for a moment before making the decision to leave his friend in the room with Genevieve. Jack held his eyes on Genevieve even as he heard the front door to 327 slam.
"Please don't be frightened anymore, Jack. I'm not going to hurt you. I know you don't understand any of this."
She began to cry. Jack watched her wondering how any of this was possible? How she could be alive, but not. How was she in the room? How was she able to cry?
"You see me, Jack. You – and your friends because of you – see me the way I looked the night I died. I was wearing this robe, sitting in my bedroom, listening to Bing Crosby on the record player. That's the reason the music is always playing when you come into the apartment. That's the reason for the robe. Things are as they were that night. I had a stroke, Jack, just like my mother." She looked at him with the saddest eyes. They were pleading with him for understanding. Her eyes were doing all the work. Even in death she was an actress.
"I wish I could wrap my mind around the fact that I've been listening to and talking to a dead woman for almost a week. How am I supposed to come to terms with that? Why couldn't you have just let me see the body the first night I was up here? Seeing a dead body would have been less traumatic than this. You have seeped into my life. I now have to figure out how to let you go."
"I've seeped into your life?” she was astonished at the statement, but understood it completely. “Yes, I suppose I have. Is that really such a bad thing, Jack?"
He didn't answer her.
"I hope you will always remember me and the stories I told you of my life. They were important stories chosen specifically. They were about family and dreams and friendship and love and about being true to yourself."
Jack's breathing returned to near normal, but he said nothing to her.
"Follow your dreams, Jack. Chase them if you have too until you catch them and make them real. Love yourself, Jack and don't be afraid to be who you are. Keep your friendship with Henry and Kevin alive and strong; friendships are a precious thing.”
Jack couldn’t help but think she was referring to her own of friendship with Tippi.
“When you leave here today read the verse in the Bible on the table downstairs. Read it again if you’ve already read it. We are no longer strangers and you showed me nothing but kindness. For that, I thank you, Jack.”
Her tears had stopped, but her breath quickened with a sharp intake.
"You have to go now, Jack." She stared at him intently as if to sear his image into her brain. "I think I'm frightened." She said the words with a breathy whisper.
Jack started to go to her, but she shook her head and motioned toward the door.
He did what he always did when he reached the door; he turned around to say goodbye. But she was gone. The room dissolved from the bright wash of pink to a lifeless gray before his eyes. It was cinematic – Technicolor gone awry. He looked around the room. Everything was old and dusty. Nothing looked as it had mere seconds ago. Her spirit was gone – from the house and the earth. It was that moment that the smell of death – the stench – hit his nostrils.
He willed himself to start running down the stairs. He just wanted to get away – away from her, the house, the junk, all of it. He ran past the table at the bottom of the stairs that held the Bible. He stopped and heard her words in his head, ‘When you leave here today read the verse in the Bible on the table downstairs.’ No matter how crazy this situation was, he enjoyed Genevieve and he had nothing to lose by reading the verse. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. She had quickly become more of a familiar than a stranger. She was a friend he looked forward to seeing. He wondered if she was indeed an angel. He started to cry wondering if he’d been kind enough.
It was as he walked beyond the front gate of 327 that he realized he was crying. He walked over to the curb and vomited. His knees went weak. He had to place his right hand on the bumper of the car parked in front of Genevieve’s house to keep from falling down as his knees buckled under him. His emotions had knotted his insides with pain. When he felt he could stand again, he did so without looking at the house; he looked toward home and began to walk, tears streaming down his face.
Henry and Kevin had not waited for him. He was alone. It was fitting, for he had been alone the first time he’d entered the house and now he was alone the last time he would exit the house. This was his journey. His friends had simply been witnesses to the dance.
His walk home was through the blurred haze of his tears. He was on autopilot. He didn’t even realize that he was at Henry’s house until Henry opened the door to see who had knocked. Jack stood there looking at Henry. Henry didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t even find the words to ask Jack into his house. His heart broke as he saw Jack’s face streaming with tears, eyes revealing pain.
Jack stepped forward and kissed Henry gently on the lips. Henry pushed him away. The push was a jolt of reality. Jack looked at Henry. What he had just done was ricocheting through his brain. He realized that by kissing Henry, he might have lost his best friend. He hadn’t meant to do it. He wasn’t thinking. The tears were rushing down his face. He backed away before turning to run to his own house.
He ran straight to his room. There was no one home so he didn’t bother to shut his door. He sat on the edge of his bed trying to process what had just happened. Genevieve turned out to be a spirit desperate for someone to set her free. How could that be? He had just kissed Henry and dreaded the consequences. What was I thinking? He got up from the bed and took the picture of him, Henry and Kevin from the entertainment center as well as a copy of Before Tomorrow Ends. He took them both with him as he sat back on the bed. Tears fell on the images as he cried for the loss he was feeling.
Genevieve had told him to be true to himself. Shock was the only reason he would have gone to Henry’s and kissed him. His brain was firing on all pistons now and he was miserable. If he had been thinking even remotely about what he was doing he never would have done it. He would have continued to be true to himself and his feelings behind the door of his room.
He felt the eyes of another person looking at him. He looked up and was startled to see Henry standing in his doorway. He was not going to shy away from Henry; he was going to face him like a man. He searched Henry’s eyes, his face, for any sign of anger as he walked into the room and toward him.
Henry stood in front of Jack and stared down into his eyes. Jack could tell that he was treading lightly. They were in a situation that was new for both of them. Henry put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack started to cry again. In the comforting presence of his best friend he felt safe enough to let go. Henry stepped forward and Jack hugged him around the waist. Henry didn’t back away. He hugged back. Then he did something that surprised them both; he pulled Jack’s head out of the hug, lifted his chin so they were looking at each other, bent down and returned the kiss.
It was Jack who moved away this time.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Isn’t this what you want?” Henry responded.
“I don’t know.” Jack was confused. He did want to kiss Henry; he had for a while. “You like girls.”
“You’re confused. I can see it on your face,” said Henry. “I’ve been afraid to tell you how I felt, Jack. I’m guessing you’ve been afraid too.”
Jack nodded his head, affirming Henry’s statement.
“The girls are what I’m supposed to do, not what I want to do. I’m attracted to girls, I’m just more attracted to…you.”
Henry leaned down to kiss Jack again. This time Jack didn’t push him away he embraced him. The kiss was at first awkward, but then gentle and passionate, their embrace strong. They hadn’t even begun to process the emotions they were feeling when Jack heard his mom come inside the house and yell to him that she was home.
The two of them ended their embrace. Jack wiped his tears and went out to greet his mom. Henry waited for him to return.
“I have to call 911," said Jack as he walked back into his bedroom. "I have to let someone know that Miss Genevieve is in 327.”
“What are you gonna say?” asked Henry.
Jack shrugged his shoulders “That there’s a bad smell coming from 327 Chesterfield Road. They’ll have to send someone to check it out won’t they?”
“I guess. I don’t know,” replied Henry.
“That’s all I can do. I can’t really say that I was inside the house and found a body otherwise I’m telling them that I broke in.” Jack’s voice was hoarse from crying. The evening had taken an emotional toll on him.
Jack reached for his backpack to get his BlackBerry®. Before dialing 911 he looked at Henry. Henry smiled his suave, crooked smile. Jack kissed Henry again then called the number.
When they heard the unmistakable siren of an ambulance drive past their street, Jack and Henry snuck out of the bedroom window in order to watch the scene. They crossed the street and slowly walked toward 327. As they approached they saw the black body bag being taken out of the house. Jack’s breath caught in his throat. Henry knew Jack’s heart was breaking. He took Jack’s hand in his own. They watched as the bag was loaded into the ambulance. Jack jumped when the doors were slammed shut. He couldn’t bear to move from the spot until the ambulance drove away and turned out of view onto another street.
Henry held Jack’s hand until they reached the bedroom window.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Henry letting go of Jack’s hand.
“Good night,” said Jack.
Thursday – the morning after. Jack felt as if he had had an incredible dream. Then he remembered the truth; it hadn’t been a dream.
As he walked to school by himself that day he stopped in front of 327 and looked up at the house. He knew its secrets. The past week was a memory he would cherish and never take for granted. The gnarled tree had shed its leaves; they covered the sidewalk in a blanket of golden brown. The EMT’s had left the front gate slightly ajar after taking Genevieve away the night before. He latched it, pausing briefly to look at the middle window on the second floor.
There was nothing out of the ordinary between Jack and Henry that day at school. It was business as usual. There was, however, a gleam in Henry’s eye every time he looked at Jack. The kiss had not been a dream either. The two of them had not talked about it yet, nor had they told Kevin. They would tell Kevin though, and they would talk about Genevieve again. Right now, however, it was just after 3pm on Thursday afternoon and the three of them were walking home.
“Hey,” said Kevin. “I saw that blond chick in the hall again today.”
“Really,” replied Jack. “So she does exist.”
Henry chuckled at Jack’s sarcasm.
“Yep. And this time she actually smiled at me.”
Henry and Jack stole a glance at each other behind Kevin’s back then Henry lit a cigarette and inhaled.
“She smiled huh?” he said, exhaling the smoke. “Maybe next time you’ll get her name.”
“Maybe,” replied Kevin with a shrug and a smile as the three of them turned onto Westshire Street.
©2010 Michael Rohrer