Disclaimer: Still with nothing.
Author's Note: I don't know how good, per se, this chapter is. But it's a chapter and it moves things along, at least a bit. So there.
The memories seemed to fade with each passing day. The longer she remained in this limbo, the more she wondered if she was even here at all, or if she ever had been. What are you without your memories, anyway? If you can't remember ever being, can you really be?
There were days she'd stay hidden in a corner, even from John, because, though she knew that she should know him, knew that she should know all the voices and faces and footsteps throughout the house, should know even this very house, she simply didn't. John seemed to want to know why she was there, he was consumed with it, discovering what brought her back. Why was she not in Heaven, or in Hell? Why was she in this world where she clearly no longer belonged?
At first she would respond to his repetitive inquiries with a mere look, a cocky sort of smirk that said simply, you should know. Now, though, now even she didn't have a clue. Now when he asked her she simply shuddered and wondered if she ever did know.
Occasionally she would be reminded that she was actually dead, which was strange since the concept currently alluded her. And if she was dead, did that mean she had once been alive?
Yes, of course, the memories would sometimes flit back from the periphery and become clear once more. She had a mother with long dark hair and perpetually smiling eyes. She had a father with big, strong hands that held the gentlest touch. They would both be there, right in front of her, playing out their lives in the most familiar way on a sort of movie screen in her mind. And then they'd be gone. Their images would crumble and fade. Their touches would melt into her skin, dispersing to nothing. Their love that she had never even known she felt, fluttered away, leaving a phantom ache in its place. One minute she was someone's daughter, the next, she was nothing.
"Okay," he says, charging in to the room with a stack full of precariously balanced books. "Here's what I found."
He spreads the dusty old books across his bed, the smell floating off of them reminding her of a library. A library? Yes, the big one on the corner by their old school, where he'd tutored her, tried to get her to understand algebra and parallel structure and the 1st law of thermodynamics – and what was that again? It didn't matter. "John," she mutters softly, simply, a slow smile broadening her face. She knows him.
He flashes her an odd look, a mixture of Are you okay? coupled with, What, are you high? – and she laughs heartily.
"I know you," she says, laughter stilling, a tremor permeating her voice.
He looks away, pretending to be engrossed in the organization of the books and papers in front of him. He'd noticed, of course, that his cousin had not been herself lately. When the…haunting first began she had been so clearly, utterly Maya that he'd actually have to remind himself she wasn't really here, at least not in body, and that she'd soon be gone again. That's just how the world works. People die, they go away. It hurt him, naturally, to realize that while his greatest and perhaps most childishly naïve wish had come true – to see his best friend again, speak to her, hear her voice resound in his ears – it wouldn't last.
She was here for a reason, that much was obvious. And while he sometimes thought that the reason was simply that he wanted her so badly, or that she somehow knew that her family was struggling – and that was putting it lightly – without her, in his gut he knew it was something else. But he just couldn't bring himself to delve too deeply into what that something else might be. On the outside he seemed consumed with discovering her new raison d'etre, but on the inside he was shooting down every lead he stumbled across. If ever a certain idea began to head somewhere, he would quickly abandon it and pick up something else, lest, at solving the mystery of her presence, she might disappear once more.
He knew it was selfish, but he couldn't really bring himself to care.
Then she started to disappear regardless. Over the last several weeks there had been times he would rush home to after school, eager to spend time with his strange little secret, and she'd be gone. Hours later she might slink out of a corner, from behind a door, somewhere he'd surely checked earlier – but ghosts could be a tricky sort when it came to hiding – looking shell-shocked, nervous and scared. Her dark eyes would look up at him, empty and unrecognizing.
There were other times when she seemed fine, seemed herself. And they would talk about things – Clara Klein, still the biggest whore in school, The Grizzlies current losing streak and how it probably started because they could never find another forward as good as Maya – anything other than their respective families, that subject was a delicate one and yet to be properly broached. Sometimes she would stop short right in the middle of a conversation, go quiet and still, tremble for a brief moment, face being overtaken by that of a lost and frightened child, before retreating into thin air.
It was alarming, sure, unsettling to say the least. But then again, so was even seeing your dead cousin at all.
John had asked his father about ghosts once, long ago when he was too young to have known any better. And Dean, refusing to take the easy way out and lie like any other parent would, say there was no such thing, stop worrying about it, said only, "No ghost will ever hurt you."
But that wasn't what the contraband horror movie that Maya had made him watch had claimed. "They can hurt you," he said softly. "I saw it."
Dean pulled his little boy up into his lap. "That was just a movie," he said lightly. "In real life," he struggled for a moment, again not wanting to lie, but also… "well, in real life, ghosts are just people. They're the souls of people who died."
"Bad people?" he asked meekly.
"Sometimes. Sometimes they're regular people." He knotted his brows and looked away, taking a good pause to figure out how exactly to phrase what he himself had learned not too terribly long before. "When someone dies," he starts, looking down at his young son, "they're supposed to…move on. But sometimes they don't." He turned John towards him so that their faces were only inches apart. "Imagine if you didn't get to move on, if you were left behind…in kindergarten, forever."
John's face wrinkled with consternation. "But I'm smart."
"You are smart, I know. But let's just say that for some reason, even though you should move up to first grade, you can't."
"But why not?"
"I don't know. Maybe your teacher doesn't want to let you go, or your mom and I don't want you to grow up," he said, jostling his legs so that John let out a small giggle. "Or maybe you just really like it there and you're comfortable and you just don't want to leave."
"But I don't like it there, the kids are mean."
"I know, buddy. Just pretend. You really like it so you decide to stay. But then you get…stuck. And even though you want to go, after months or years, you can't." Dean let his eyes drift away briefly. "And then everybody you love leaves you behind. They move on and forget about you. And all those things that used to seem so fun and comfortable about where you were, well, they just aren't anymore. They get old and boring."
"You'd leave me behind?" John asked in a near sob.
Dean laughed, pulling his son close. "No, kiddo, we'd never leave you." He paused just long enough to let that sink and quell the boy's tears before softly muttering into his blond, baby-soft hair, "But imagine if we did. Imagine how sad and scared and angry you'd be. That's what happens to ghosts, to souls that don't belong here. They change and eventually they lose that person they used to be, can't even remember who they were. They just become…something else."
"I started smoking," she says one day, walking into his room as he's bent over his computer. He hadn't been able to concentrate on the paper before him, not when he hasn't seen her in two days.
John swivels in his seat to look at her, a bitter glare permeating his features. "What?" he asks glibly.
She saunters over to the bed, silk swishing at her knees. "Before," she starts simply, flopping onto his mattress without even making a dent. "Just before, I started smoking." She cocks her head in his direction, a curious look in her eyes. "Did you know that?"
He drops his guard a bit, so eager to stay angry with her for disappearing again, yet also more than ready to talk with her after days of silence. "Yeah," he says with raised brows. "You didn't know I knew, but I knew." She smiles bright and he has to look away to keep himself from mimicking her expression. "It was really stupid, My. I never got to tell you how stupid it was."
The room is silent for a moment before, "I'm sorry," slips softly from her lips.
"Well, at least you weren't doing crack or anything," he intones, trying suddenly to lighten the mood. When she doesn't raise her eyes to meet his he asks, brow furrowed, "Were you?"
She looks up. "What?"
"Crack cocaine?" she asks, pulling her head back in disbelief.
"Is there another kind I don't know about?"
She shrugs. "Probably. You're not too in-the-know." He narrows his eyes at her and she laughs. "No, John, I didn't do any crack, or any other drugs. I didn't even…wait," she stops, suddenly confused. He's seen her do this before, of late, take in a deep breath and look back, sift through memories in search of something she knew was supposed to be there. "Did I drink?" she asks, once realizing that if there were any memories of it, they weren't with her now.
"Did you drink?" he snarks, laughing to himself. "Once, you did."
"I don't remember."
She has that look again, that sad, lost, confused look that he just can't stand to see. "You went to a party with your boyfriend, Martin." The name rolls off his tongue with such disdain that she can't help but perk up and listen closer. "He dumped you there. I guess he thought you wouldn't make a scene because of the crowd and all. You would have thought that after four months together he'd have known you better than that."
"I made a scene," she says, though it comes out more as a question.
"You got pretty wasted, starting making out with some guy, I don't know who. Anyway, Charlotte called me – you remember Charlotte, we all had English Lit together." She doesn't seem to register the name, shaking her head slightly, timidly to say no. "Well, anyway, she called me and told me you needed a ride home. So I came and got you."
John sits at his desk, gaze falling to nothing as he replays the events of that night in his mind. And she watches, intrigued by the subtle, crooked smile spreading on his face, the laughter she knows is about to rise. "What?" she asks quickly. "What happened?"
He shakes his head, still lost in his own memory. "I can't believe you don't remember." He leans back in his chair. "I brought you home and you could barely walk, and I thought for sure we'd both get chewed out, which pissed me off. I mean I didn't even get invited to the party."
"You never got invited to parties," she interrupts.
"Yeah," he says simply, "thanks. Anyway, your dad was in his office and when he heard us coming in he started calling for you, probably because it was still pretty early and getting in early was –"
"Not like me," she finishes.
He nods. "So I help you in there and he's all freaked out and I'm trying to tell him what happened, but every time I do, you interrupt. I'd say party and you'd be like, 'It rocked!' Or I'd mention Martin's name and you'd scream, 'Asshole!'" She giggles from the bed. "Sure, it's funny now. Then, I thought your dad's head was gonna explode."
"So he was mad?" she asks, a childlike lilt to her voice.
"He was…I don't know, worried I guess. Especially since he couldn't get a straight answer about anything. And then, when you started crying, we both kinda flipped."
"I don't cry," she said, more confused than affronted.
"Well, apparently you do when you're drunk." He stops short, the realization that, in fact, she doesn't cry and for that matter doesn't get drunk, not anymore, taking a moment for him to overcome.
"So I cried," she prompts, when he goes silent and still.
"Yeah. And then you puked all over your dad and his desk. It was really gross."
"So I was a weepy, pukey drunk," she says sardonically. "Figures."
John snorts out a laugh. "My dad said Uncle Sam could never handle his drink either. Nuts falling from trees, you know."
"Martin," she repeats, rolling the unfamiliar name on her tongue.
"You don't remember him?" he asks, already knowing the answer. She shakes her head no. He shrugs, "He was a jerk anyway."
"I don't remember," she says, voice small.
He smiles again. "Uncle Sam waited outside of his church, Martin's church, the next morning." Chuckling to himself, "I don't know what he said to him, but everybody at school said he pissed himself, Martin, that is, obviously."
She smiles across from him, but it never quite reaches her eyes.
"So," he says finally, changing the subject, "You're back."
She looks up at him, surprised. "Did I go somewhere?"
He turns away for a moment, back to the computer screen, then glances at the pile of books next to it. Most of them he got from the library, a few he'd found in the attic. They were all about demons. Hell. Fallen angels. They were all about that things that weren't real, or at least shouldn't be real. Like Maya.
"What do you remember," he starts slowly, unsure of exactly where he's going, unsure of whether or not he really wants to go there. "What do you remember about when you died?"
She looks at him curiously for a moment, not as though she doesn't understand, just like she doesn't want to respond aloud. "I remember driving into a wall."
"You did it on purpose," he says, a statement that she affirms with a slow and sure nod of her head. "Why?"
"Why are you asking me?"
He sighs. "Because I want to know."
"I didn't have a choice. I know that sounds like a copout, but it's true. You have to believe me, John," she pleads, avoiding his gaze. "I didn't have a choice."
"Why?" he asks simply.
"I don't…I don't really remember." She rises from the bed and begins to pace. "There's so much I just can't remember."
"Maya," he tries to soothe her, but her pacing becomes more frantic, blue silk flying around her legs.
"I was crying, I know I was crying. And I know that I knew I had to do it. He told me I had to."
She goes on as if he hadn't spoken. "I didn't want to. Things just kept…flashing in front of me. My mom and dad, and Rachel," she stops suddenly, stilling as her hand flies up to her mouth in shock. "Rachel."
John gets up and walks over to her, reaches out to touch her before he remembers that he can't, leaving his hand dangling in mid air just by her shoulder. "What about Rachel?" he asks cautiously.
She's staring off at nothing, but seems to see things none the less. "She died," comes out in a whisper. "There was so much blood, and…"
"This was a dream?" he asks, encouraging her to go on.
She turns to him. "I can't…I don't know. It must have been, but…it was real." She looks up at him, locks eyes. "I killed my sister," she says, eerily calm. "I killed her, and he said it was the only way out, the only way to not do it. And he wouldn't lie to me."
John takes a step back, notices how controlled his cousin suddenly appears, and asks, "Who wouldn't lie?"
She smiles softly, as though remembering a pleasant dream or seeing a long lost friend. "My dad."
She had told him, when her spirit first arrived, that it wasn't her place to figure out why she was there, why she had returned, why he was the only one who could see her. She told him this even though he already knew. He always knew what was really going on, whether he was willing to admit it or not.