"We don't know where he came from…he can't hear and he can't talk…he can read anything"- Lenni Frazier
"What is he?"- Tina Nguyen
"He takes letters and he writes with them"- Alex Fernández
"We're the only ones who can see him…that means he wants you on the team"- Gaby Fernández
"He's a ghost and he writes to us…Ghostwriter."- Jamal Jenkins
"Hey, cool"- Tina Nguyen
"I was working on the computer, then all of a sudden these letters, then I asked these questions and he said he wants to be my friend."- Rob Baker
"Wow, it was like raining letters."- Hector Carrero
"YOU can see Ghostwriter?"- Casey Austin
"Ghostwriter, what a trip!"- Alex Fernández
CHAPTER 1: WAKE UP
"But now that I'm older,
my heart's colder,
and I can see that it's a lie.
Children wake up,
hold your mistake up,
before they turn the summer into dust.
If the children don't grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We're just a million little gods causin' rain storms turnin' every good thing to
I guess we'll just have to adjust."
Not many can believe that eight children with different racial backgrounds, personality traits, and goals in life could become life-long friends well into adulthood. However, that is exactly what these children did. Something defied logic and probability, something supernatural…a ghost. Many people in these children's lives wondered what exactly kept them together. It just did not make sense to many, and it probably does not make sense to you, the reader either. However, the answer is really quite simple. We tend to over complicate things. What kept Jamal, Alex, Lenni, Gaby, Tina, Rob, Casey, and Hector together was simply just human nature.
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
George Bernard Shaw
Late in the Fall Semester, 2004
Hey, GW. Do you remember the first time I wrote to you? It was more like the first time you wrote to me. You asked me if the "Children were safe." Do you remember? I haven't forgotten. Have you forgotten us? Why haven't you written to us? It's been almost six years since you last contacted us.
It's been so long since we've heard anything. Just write to us again…write anything. It's so simple…just write...
What did you mean by "are the children safe?" I've always wanted to ask you, but I knew you didn't know either. I was afraid of conjuring up bad memories for you. Is that why you're gone? Did you remember? Was it that bad? You don't have to stay away from us…you can always count on the team…on us. We're your family, GW. If you've found some other people who could help you find out who you are then I'm happy for you, but don't forget about us.
GW, I don't know. I just feel lost right now and I know you'd have the answers…you always knew what to say as if you had some sort of sixth sense or divine eye. You didn't let the fact that you couldn't see or hear or touch deter you from whatever we faced…well, you could…you saw letters and numbers. Man, I'm rambling. I should sleep…I have a long day tomorrow. Passing out exams and I have to do a presentation for my Advisor over which direction I'm taking my dissertation in. I'm almost there, GW. You can start calling me Dr. Jenkins pretty soon. Scary, huh? And you won't be there.
I don't know. I'm too worried…about everything. Ok, Jamal…go to sleep. GW, wherever you are…just know that we're still here for you.
Oh, GW, one more thing. If you have found people to help solve your mystery, than I'm happy. Not being able to figure out who or what you were is my biggest failure.
Jamal Jenkins exited his unsaved Word document and waited patiently for his PC to shut down before heading to bed. He was exhausted from the day and his body was aching to go to sleep. However, once he laid in bed, he couldn't help but keep his thoughts to one thing. Ghostwriter. Just what happened to him? Where was he? Ghostwriter had disappeared almost six years ago. It was sudden.
Although Jamal knew that it made everybody on the Ghostwriter team feel tense and uneasy, Jamal wasn't sure if any of them stayed awake nights just thinking about and worrying about GW the way he did.
"Screw it," Jamal said to himself hoping to kick all the worry out of his head. He had a long day tomorrow.
Early Spring Semester 2005.
Jamal Jenkins stood behind his podium in the large auditorium, glancing at his class. Dr. Jenkins had experience teaching Astrophysics and other advanced courses in the Physics Department. Enough experience that allowed him to give a bit of gusto in his lectures. Ironically, it was always Physics 101, a freshman class, that made him the most insecure. There was something about having an unknown sample of students that made him nervous. He knew what he got himself into with advanced Astrophysics, but Into to Physics? That was a different story. It was not just the large volume that bothered him (though that did not help), but the fact that the students in these classes consisted of varying degrees of interest in the subject coupled with differing education backgorounds for Jamal to work from. This always led to at least a few students wanting to test Jamal on not only his knowledge of Physics, but on heavy-handed subjects outside the scope of the course such as Climate Change and the existence of God.
They were sitting down, crunched up in their seats. How claustrophobic they must have felt Jamal thought to himself. They've already gone through a few weeks of material, and that put many of the less-confident students at ease, though it only made the more opinionated students more obnoxious as they became more conscious of their role as class disrupter. Jamal hadn't learned how to deal with them effectively as of yet, though he noted that he was getting better at it.
The class was in danger of going over time, so Jamal had to hurry up to make his point.
"And that is what separates a scientific statement from any other. It is the general idea that with science, you have to be able to falsify it…in other words, one has to be able to test it…even if it's false. A statement or question isn't a scientific one unless you can test it to be false, even if it's true. Understand?" Jamal was about ready to put his guard down before a student piped up.
"Well, what about the Superstring theory?"
Jamal turned to see a young woman sitting in the middle row of the "T-zone." He gave a look that hinted at satisfaction, which the young student took as a moment of triumph. However, the class was too large and she had been too quiet for most of the semester for Jamal to know her name off-hand.
"What do you mean?" asked Jamal, liking where this is going.
"Well," continued the girl nervously, "it's not exactly falsifiable, is it?"
"You're right," said Jamal.
"But, then doesn't that contradict what you just said?" interrupted Billy Thompson, a student Jamal knew all too well for his hardened stance that global warming or climate change was a conspiracy theory led by the liberal establishment.
"In a way, yes, but look at it this way." Jamal had to be careful in how he formulated his answer. He knew that no matter what his answer was, it would not please everyone. Although this only took a small moment, Jamal's mind raced a million kilometers a minute.
"Notice how I said it is a `general' idea." Before Mr. Thompson could interrupt with a few of his buddies egging him on to continue, Dr. Jenkins took control of the class. "Science is never quite absolute. That is the problem with falsifiability. Science does not intend to make a world of absolutes, that's the job of scientists." This welcomed a few laughs to which Jamal was grateful for. "Chemists think that when you put a blue liquid into a red liquid and that results in a purple liquid, then they created an absolute proven formula. Well, not so in Physics and many other sciences. We want to analyze the process and see WHY it happens and if different results can occur."
"You still haven't answered the question, Dr. Jenkins," interrupted Billy Thompson.
"Quite right, I just lost track of myself," Jamal said with a sly smile. Jamal thought he might have seen two girls whispering to each other and giggling as a result. "Anyway, what I have told you about falsifiability is sort of the beginner's definition of science. When you go into more advanced studies, you're going to see that falsifiability may seem naive as a criterion for good science. Some assert that, in contrast, a good scientific theory is one that best explains the data we have. However, I feel that there's a paradox there, can anyone spot it?"
"Well, it seems to me that this is falsifiability," said Rob Solomon, a student Jamal could not help but be partial to as Mr. Solomon had presently shown the ability to not only raise his hand rather than blurt out, but has contributed to the class discussion in a way that drives the lecture along.
"Go on," said Jamal.
"Well, for a theory that best explains the data we have, could it not then be shown to not explain the data we have?"
"My point exactly. In order to have an evidence for an explanation, I think then it is logical to assume that the evidence in a different light or with a different…'ingredient' can then show an absolutely different result."
"That doesn't make sense," replied Stacy Yokels, "at least I don't think it does. I mean we know the evidence supporting that the Earth fully rotates in twenty-four hours best explains why we have day and night. Should that not be enough?"
"Right, but just because it best explains it, does not mean we cannot test it and maybe we can find out something new that proves that we were wrong all along about the Earth's rotating in twenty-four hours. All it takes is a new discovery, and that's what I mean about falsifiability. We could find out later on that we have night and day not because the Earth rotates in twenty four hours, but because it is actually the universe that rotates around us and that all our satellite images have gotten it wrong?"
"But, doesn't that require some sort of belief system?" asked Stacy Yokels.
"No, because we're still trying to observe and gather data from what is tangible, from what we can gather in the physical universe. I made no mention of a spaghetti monster switching the sun and moon with the Earth standing still. Now, that would require a huge leap of faith."
Most of the class erupted in laughter, but most importantly, Stacy Yokels seemed satisfied with the answer.
"Now, about the Superstring Theory…We have to accept that there are at least two senses of "testable" in use. There's the more conventional 'experimental' sense that we all understand. We have a controlled setting and a command of the resources to set up an experiment that can give us a definitive yes or no answer. However, testing can also refer to a mathematical sense, evaluating the properties of the hypotheses under the experimental results available resources make accessible. Meaning that, sometimes if we can't test something in the former way, we can make up for it by using mathematical formulas and hypothesis with the resources we do have that have shown to give us results that will implicitly give us results. It's not the failure of the theory, no, it's that we just do not have the known resources to conduct the former definition of testable."
Some students seemed satisfied with the answer while others lost interest. Of course, there were the other students that wanted to argue Jamal's statement which he was sure would be related to the idea that maybe creationism was one of those ideas that humans have no figured out how to test yet, to which Jamal would have to then explain the differences between theories that were based in the physical world, and beliefs that went beyond that, which could never be truly tested.
"Many of you may wonder why we bother to study the Superstring Theory when much of it is unknown. The answer is that scientists, like the rest of us are human too." Jamal was grateful for the generous amount of laughter from his students. "What I mean by that is that many in the scientific community so want to bridge quantum physics and the theory of relativity into one overarching theory...of stuff. People, in general, like to have an explanation of why things happen. For instance, we do people come together who otherwise would not have met? Serendipity? Chance? Or some sort of ball of energy that forced them together?"
Before Jamal was able to delve further, time had run out.
In his office, Jamal could not help but ponder the one thought that had bothered him ever since he came into contact with Ghostwriter. How was he ever going to figure out how to make Ghostwriter and the presence of a supernatural consistent to Jamal's hardened ideas regarding the subject of science? This simple contradiction in his life: his idea of the physical world and what a reasonable man would think was possible, and his own real experience with a supernatural being that could write to him and, conversely, he could write back to has been the unanswerable question in his mind. To combine the reasonable man and the unreasonable man was a puzzle Jamal had not been able to solve, and he feared he'd never wake up from this intellectual limbo.
"Jamal…wake up, Jamal…"
Jamal woke up to the sounds of Grandma CeCe Jenkins calling his name. She was still downstairs calling for him. Jamal rolled in his bed. No, it wasn't really his bed anymore, but "guest" bedroom or no, it was still his home. Though most of the posters and décor might have gone away through the years, the spirit of the room still felt all his. At least that is what Jamal liked to think. He turned over towards the window and saw his old stuffed teddy bear sitting there, smiling at him. Bernard the Bear…Bernie Jamal thought. Jamal rested some more in the warmth of his comforter and snuggled himself back to sleep on this summer day. He drifted in and out of sleep.
Exactly what time was it? Jamal wondered, as he was about to reenter his slumber.
A jolt of electricity traveled up and down Jamal's spine. Jamal knew his cue to get up. Good-natured or no, when Grandma CeCe had that tone, you know you better do as she says. Jamal wouldn't take her on with an army of ninjas.
Jamal haphazardly put on a shirt and some shorts he had lying on the floor and hurried down the stairs. He was only here a week, and already all of his stuff just cluttered up the small room. As Jamal reached the foot of the stairs, he smelled the sweet aroma of sausage, eggs, toast, and bacon. Jamal had decided long ago that the best smell to wake up to had to be bacon. Though Jamal did not utilize the scientific method to come to that conclusion, he often experienced that hypothesis to be true. This morning continued to illustrate that point.
Jamal looked around the semi-cluttered living room. It had been a while since the Jenkins family tidied the place up and Jamal knew that Grandma CeCe would take advantage of Jamal's stay. He hoped he could remember how to "clean properly" as his cleaning standards waned once he got a place of his own.
"It's about time, sugar." Grandma CeCe gave Jamal a look mocking disapproval. "We were ready to start without you."
"What's the occasion?" asked Jamal. He saw his father, mother, sister, and cousin, Casey already at the table eager to start.
"What do you mean occasion? Don't I always cook breakfast for my family or have you been away for so long with your head in the stars that you forgot?"
"Your grandmother is right, Jamal," said his father. "There's no reason to call this an occasion, it's only breakfast."
"Only breakfast?" chimed in Grandma CeCe. Uh oh Jamal thought. "Reginald, I have you know that this isn't only breakfast!"
"But Ma, you just said…"
"Hush, Reginald," Jamal's mother interrupted. She and CeCe gave each other a look and shared a small giggle.
"Doris…" Reginald responded shaking his head. That caused the whole table to erupt in laughter.
"Look what you caused Jammy-Jam," Danitra said after the hilarity subsided. "You gonna sit-down or what?"
Jamal rolled his eyes at his sister, while Casey just looked on, amused at the whole situation. It didn't matter how old Jamal and Danitra got because she would always be older sister-bossy.
Jamal noticed their dad gazing at Danitra. After what Jamal ascertained as hesitation, Reginald blurted out, "Why isn't Kenneth here?"
"He had to catch up on some papers he was grading, otherwise he wouldn't miss Grandma's breakfast for the world."
"Uh huh…" Jamal said skeptically as he sat down. Danitra then lightly kicked Jamal in the shin. He knew that Kenneth and Danitra's relationship was a sore subject for their parents. Doris and Reginald just did not understand why Danitra and Kenneth were not married yet. Reginald and Doris just couldn't comprehend it. It was only a few months ago where Danitra and her parents came to blows over this subject. She accused them of being old-fashioned and narrow-minded conformist who were not as progressive as they thought they were. Her parents responded by saying Danitra's level of maturity was not as high as she thought it was and accused Danitra of not respecting herself for refusing to be "respectable." Doris also wanted Danitra to give her a grandchild already, to which Danitra scoffed at thinking that a woman's life had to be complete with a child was an outmoded idea given to us by a patriarchal society in which we had conformed to. Jamal did not quite buy that argument because he knew Danitra loved children and wondered how much of that social science theory came from her and how much of it really came from Kenneth's discomfort of being tied down with a child. Of course Jamal would never vocalize that to his sister because even he recognized the sexism that could be construed by that very thought.
Jamal liked Danitra's long-time boyfriend, Kenneth. Jamal and the rest of the family had known him for about ten years. Jamal also knew that Kenneth was uncomfortable around his family due to him growing up in a one-child home and wasn't used to the hustle and bustle of the Jenkins household. Jamal deducted that Kenneth's discomfort with a close-knit family dynamic spilled over to Kenneth's view of the finality of marriage.
"Well, on a Sunday morning like this," Reginald said, "I think it'd be nice if he could have just…"
"Finally!" Casey screamed excitedly, eager to disrupt the heavy mood that was about to overcast this breakfast. "I was eyeing that plate of sausages since last week. Grandma wouldn't let any of us eat until your majesty woke up." Casey sarcastically bowed to her older cousin.
"Good morning to you too," said Jamal, grateful that Casey found a way out. Casey, like Jamal, was visiting the family for a short time. Casey moved back to Detroit a few years ago and was on the verge of obtaining her Bachelors in Business in Chicago. Leave it to Casey to defy expectation and study something that seemed unlike her. However, she did love being the center of attention and he guessed her studying marketing would finally give Casey a more aggressive way to force people to hear what she had to say.
"Casey is right. Boy, what are you doing sleeping in like that?" Danitra asked.
"Danitra.." Doris said, "Jamal just got in, he needs to get used to the time change."
"What time change?" asked Casey. "It's only a one hour difference between Houston and New York. I had to adjust to the same time change and I'm fine."
"Your welcome," Casey said, beaming at Jamal. Jamal gave Casey an encouraging smile. He rather Casey continue on ragging him than to have Danitra and her parents duke it out again. "But, Jamal has had a lot on his mind," Casey quickly added.
"Like what?" asked Grandma CeCe paying equal attention to Casey and the buttered biscuits.
"You know the dissertation he's working on," Casey said. She knew he was troubled by something else, but that something else was something only she and Jamal would understand, at least at this table.
"Oh, you mean that Superstring theory stuff," Grandma CeCe said. "Boy, I had you try to explain that to me once, you remember?" Granda CeCe asked. She continued without waiting for a reply, "and I felt like I orbited around the Alpha Centauri and back…too bad I don't understand any of it."
"Don't worry, Grandma, I don't either. That's why I'm in the social sciences," said Danitra. She smiled at Jamal. Jamal knew she was proud of her little "Jammy-Jam" for getting his PhD. Knowing this always gave Jamal an almost uncomfortable feeling of security and acceptance. Somewhere deep down, Jamal wanted Danitra to think he was smart, maybe even as smart as her. There was an age gap between the two and Jamal grew up thinking Danitra was the smartest person he knew. One thing Jamal didn't know was how much Danitra would brag about him to her friends and colleagues.
"So, Casey, you'll let us know when the graduation ceremony is, right?" asked Doris.
"Oh yes, we'd love to go," added Reginald. The whole Jenkins were beyond excited over little Casey Austin graduating college. She'd be the second person in her family to do so after her sister Sheryl got a degree in finance.
"Oh yeah, I'll definitely email you guys. I don't really know myself…who knows I might drop out and dance for pennies instead. I heard you make more money doing that than for having a B.A."
"Casey…" Danitra responded, "you know having an education is more than just making money."
"That's easy for you to say," said Casey, "you actually studied something interesting. Marketing is just…blah."
"Then why do it?" asked Danitra.
Jamal coughed. He didn't like the direction this was going. He knows that she means well, but Danitra can get a little too comfortable on her high horse. Imagine, a sociologist being snobby about a "practical" field of study Jamal would tease to Danitra.
"Well, after four years, it'd be a little late for me to change course," said Casey. "Plus, I guess I do like it. It beats being a failed comic."
This caused an uncomfortable silence. The Jenkins family knew where Casey's passions truly lied, and it wasn't in something that was "practical."
"Casey, I know you'll find something great after you graduate," Doris said encouragingly. "It's going to open doors for you."
"Yeah," added Jamal, "plus you can use your shiny marketing job to think of new material for your comedy. I'm sure there are a lot of jokers in that field."
Casey laughed which put everyone at ease. She should laugh, she's the one who gave Jamal that line.
"Well, this is a fine breakfast. What's everybody's plans for the day?"
"Casey and I are going to meet the gang later at Prospect Park. All of us haven't hung out together for some time."
"Really?" responded Reginald. "It seems that every time you come visit, you're always running off with your friends."
"How often am I here?" said Jamal defensively. His father seemed touchy this morning. Jamal made a mental note to research hormonal change in middle-aged men.
"I just think it's great that you guys kept in touch after all these years. I mean, I don't remember anybody I knew from high school much less middle school." Jamal knew his father meant that. It seemed that all of the parents from the Ghostwriter team were in awe over how the team could still be considered close-knit. Jamal knew that it was something that just didn't happen.
Hours later at Prospect Park
After much excitement of the get-together and a nice picnic lunch provided by Gaby, Tina, and Alex, the gang finally felt relaxed. A reunion was always a little awkward and odd at first. First the gang had to find out what everybody was up to at their moment in life, which always took much longer than any of them expected, then a self-consciousness grew inside of them as if they should shower more attention to whoever it was that was missing for a while. Today, the wayward member was Jamal. He tried his best to break the ice after the pleasantries of "it's been so long," "don't go away again," and "how have you been?" by talking about the dissertation he had been working on. After much effort in making it sound as interesting to a layperson as possible, he finally gave up despite their eagerness to comprehend and understand what he was saying.
Luckily for all, like always, the initial awkwardness would fade way. Little by little, everyone's guard would lower and a little bit of their childhood selves would shine through. Within an hour or so, each member of the Ghostwriter gang would revert back into their old selves…no more pretensions. Somehow, it was only within this group where the Ghostwriter team could be with others who understood this need of escapism from the frustrations and mundaneness of adult life. This comforting high they felt together always came back, despite their days of solving mysteries were long over for most of them.
Three hours into the reunion, it felt safe to have some alone time before the eventual reunion before dinner. Somehow, spending more than three hours with eight people became much more work when one got older, and a little separation is needed even if it's momentary.
"I should be working," Rob Baker said walking with Lenni Frazer and Gaby Fernandez, "as fun as this is, I'm feeling really guilty right now."
"So should the rest of us! Come on, we're never together," exclaimed Gaby. She attempted a cartwheel that resulted in a brilliant splat. She didn't appreciate the long laughter that ensued for a few minutes after she got up from her butt.
"Ok, that's worth missing a day of work for," Rob chuckled.
Gaby stuck her tongue out at Rob while she found a seat on top of a hill.
Lenni and Rob continued walking aimlessly. It was nice not to have a point in one's actions today.
Meanwhile, Tina Nguyen and Alex Fernandez were closer to the Kate Wollman Prospect Park Rink.
"Tina, Em, put the camera down." Alex Fernandez said, after noticing his girlfriend was filming him. She had been filming everyone all day. At first Alex was happy that Jamal was the subject of her filming, but as always, the spotlight eventually shone on Alex.
"Oh come on, Anh, you know you love being on camera. Look at you in your sunglasses. You're ready to be in all the papers..."
"Oh, is that right?" Alex asked, giving a smirk to the camera.
"Yeah, that's right," Tina said sweetly.
Alex then ran towards the camera and grabbed hold of Tina and started tickling her. She gave a small scream, though she was more worried about dropping her new, expensive camera.
"Here," Alex said. He gently put her camera down, and then continued chasing his girlfriend. Alex couldn't keep his hands off of Tina. She was being particularly ticklish right now and the powerful breeze was blowing her long black hair. It was simply irresistible.
Tina was quite enjoying this game that Alex and her started playing, even though she knew that the two of them weren't quite sure what this game was exactly.
Hector Carrero plopped down next to Gaby as they spotted Casey getting another pretzel.
"Another one?" screamed Gaby. This caused a few strangers to look her way, wondering if she was talking to them.
Nonplussed, Casey answered back with equal timbre, "I haven't had a proper New York pretzel in ages. I don't have the luxury of taking it for granted."
"Yeah yeah…" Gaby replied.
Lenni walked slowly towards Prospect Park Lake and soaked in the sun while Rob followed behind lost in his own thoughts. The reflection off the water was blinding and she put on her sunglasses. She stood silently. Rob finally noticed how far she was and rushed towards her.
"Hey, Lenni." Rob said as he situated himself next to Lenni.
"Hi, Rob." Lenni looked up at Rob and gave him a warm smile. She was looking better, Rob had thought.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Rob.
"Nothing, really…" Lenni answered. She saw that Rob was suspicious of her answer, but he eased up and looked in the direction of the water. "I was just enjoying this view. Look at the sun, it's in a perfect position."
Rob wondered how good of a look Lenni really had behind those shades. "Yeah, it's quite a view. I wish every day was this beautiful."
"But then we wouldn't appreciate it," said Lenni.
"Yeah, but I feel like we don't get moments like this to just relax and enjoy life. You know, to be able to fully absorb everything and contemplate it. I forget how relaxing Prospect Park can be."
"If life were only moments, then we'd never know we had one."
"Yeah, you're right," Rob said. He then looked at Lenni. "That's a quote, isn't it?"
"Yeah, Stephen Sondheim from Into the Woods," Lenni answered.
Rob and Lenni stood side-by-side in comfortable silence. They knew how to appreciate a good quote.
Gaby had noticed Hector didn't say much.
"Hey Hector, what's going on? Why are you so quiet?" asked Gaby in a way that demanded an answer. It wasn't like Hector to be so quiet.
"I was just thinking," said Hector. Gaby thought that as much work Hector had put into minimizing his Puerto Rican accent, it always seemed to come out when he was at his most vulnerable.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Gaby.
"I've decided where I'm going to law school."
"Really?" Gaby said with excitement. The whole gang had been waiting to hear about his acceptance letters. He'd been waiting to hear from a number of schools. Gaby let the excitement take over and asked him about his first choice. "Is it NYU? Because Tina is very excited that you're choosing NYU, of course she's biased. Alex and I have no problem with you going to NYU either, of course. Weren't you looking at Fordham, Brooklyn, Cardozo, and Columbia, as well? Well, they're great schools too…but I'm glad you're staying in the city. We were worried you go somewhere foreign like Rutgers or God-forbid, Cornell."
"Gaby," Hector interrupted after she paused to inhale. "I decided to go to CUNY in Queens."
Gaby realized her mistake in assuming NYU, a top five law school in the school. She had thought it was a sure thing after Hector's LSAT scores came in. "I've heard of it," said Gaby, feeling a little let down but making sure she didn't show it.
"It's a 4-Tier school."
"Wait, but you got a really good LSAT score. I mean I know the other places won't really offer you much in financial aid, but taking out loans from those places seem like a better bet for a job afterwards. CUNY just does not seem like a good bet comparatively."
"Yeah, but CUNY is giving me a free ride. And…I didn't get into NYU."
Hector confirmed what Gaby had already suspected.
"I got my rejection letter two weeks ago," said Hector dejectedly.
"Why didn't you tell any of us? We could have been there for you."
"Nobody could help me with this, Gaby. This is the biggest disappointment of my life so far and you think you guys being there would have helped?"
"Yes!" Gaby. Before she knew it, Hector leaned on her shoulder. He didn't cry because he was already cried out.
"All that work in undergrad and all studying for the LSAT while working a full-time job…I was a superstar at Stony Brook, and none of that matters!"
"I know Hector…I know…"
After a good while, Hector calmed down with Gaby not letting go of his hand.
"I just feel like a failure. I spoke so big, you know? I told everyone I was going to NYU and I was going to be a hot shot. My whole family is waiting to throw me a NYU party, and I can just see their faces…your faces…when I tell them the truth."
"No! Hector no! I'm so proud of you. You know how hard it is to get into a law school? Seriously, you've accomplished something not many people are able to. You should be proud and we are all so proud of you coming this far. When we first met you, when Alex was your "big brother", your English was only ok. Now, you've gotten into law school, law! You know how far you've come?"
Hector hugged Gaby. She always knew how to make him feel better.
"It's really not all bad. I got into Fordham and Cardozo. However, I've decided on CUNY because they offer one of the best public interest programs in the country and I guess that testimonial from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was convincing." Hector smiled. "Plus, I don't want to be bogged down with student loan debt and have to work in a big firm in order to pay it off. Not only will I be tired out, but I may fall prey to the Golden Handcuffs."
"Oh, the Golden Handcuffs, you mean when you get used to the big money you make and start living a lifestyle in which you're trapped in your job in order to pay for it?"
"Yep, that's the one. You know, I always wanted to work for Legal Aid after they helped my mom get that back pay the cleaning company owed her."
"Well, I'm happy for you, and the rest of the gang should know. They're going to be extremely happy for you."
"Yeah, I know..." Hector said thought he was still imagining the disappointment in their faces – the same one he saw on his friend Gaby's face. He and Gaby sat and watched Alex and Tina chase each other around. Alex and Tina tripped and started rolling on the grass. Although they laughed, Gaby and Hector couldn't help but feel a deep sadness at the intimacy of those two.
"Let's wait for those two to finish whatever it is they're doing," said Gaby.
"Good idea," replied Hector. He looked down at his feet not wanting Gaby to see his expression. It was too late, however.
"I'm sorry, Hector." Gaby said.
"Don't worry about it, Gaby. It happens all the time, right? You fall in love, but he always goes wants to go back to the girl he's sort of seeing, doesn't he?"
"Yeah…" Gaby said. Hector could tell a wave of sadness fell over Gaby, but she quickly offered him a supporting smile.
They sat there silently taking solace in each other's company.
Jamal looked on at the four of them and then noticed Lenni and Rob standing by the lake. Casey came back with his pretzel.
"No problem. You want to hear a joke?"
"What? How long can one Casey Austin go without telling a joke? Because if that's it then it's a really funny one."
"Well, you won't get to hear it then," Casey said in a mock huff.
"Oh come on, I was just kidding around. Tell me," Jamal said.
"No, you lost your chance. It was pure gold too." Casey put her chin up snootily. She then watched the nearby soccer game. "Those guys and girls are fit. I need to turn up my workouts. Can't get my Mrs. Degree looking like this!"
Jamal groaned. He looked at his cousin and wondered what had happened. Yes, Casey still liked to crack a joke or two here and there. However, she simply changed from the fun-loving prankster he knew. It was a subtle change, but he felt something missing inside of Casey. A lack of whimsy she once had. It was more than just a child growing up. There was a real void. He didn't want Casey to catch him looking at her, so he then focused on the brilliant blue sky.
At this moment, Jamal knew how much he missed New York. As hard as he tried, Houston never settled in his mind as home. He went to museums, restaurants, and events the big city had to offer, but he wound up comparing everything to New York. Jamal coughed it up to a born-and-bred New York City superiority complex. He breathed in the air and looked around. He saw Alex and Tina in an embrace. A warmth rushed over him though something just felt off. It was not the type of embrace that signaled security and it worried him.
He then looked at Lenni and Rob, both trying to work on whatever project they came thought up. Jamal wondered what it was like to constantly struggle in one's craft. He struggled with his dissertation but he found that at least his experiments and hypothesis gave him real, tangible results. Being a writer and musician just seemed like a lot of pain with very little to gain to Jamal. Not just monetarily, but the perpetual insecurity of people criticizing , acceptance, or indifference to one's hard work just seemed like a field that only offered suffering. This seemed to be true for the ones who actually make it as well. The volatility of it all just seemed like too much.
Then he turned to Hector and Gaby. Both were in deep conversation. Hector looked troubled and the infectious energy of Gaby was simply missing at this moment. Jamal knew it'd be back once Gaby got up and decided to rejoin the group, but it'd be a little more contrived. This was Jamal's third visit in 6 months and it seemed like Gaby was trying harder with each visit to convince him she was still the same vivacious New York Latina he had grown to know and love like the rest of the gang. It's funny because despite her being the most extroverted and talkative, Jamal began to suspect that he knew the least about Gaby than anyone else. As for Hector, Jamal was never particularly close to Hector as he was to everyone else due to the age-difference. Hector was Alex's "little brother" from the social welfare organization Big Brother/Little Brother and therefore was closer to Alex which meant he was also closer to Gaby and Tina. Casey formed a close relationship with Hector due to their age similarities, but that had dissipated somewhat once she went back to Detroit years ago. That said, Jamal felt for Hector the way an older cousin would feel for a younger one who lived across the country. It was distant and polite, but still existing a real familial love that is inherent in close-knit families.
Jamal had a sudden surge of melancholy come over him. Except for Casey and Hector, the gang were roughly 25-26 years of age now, and as close as they are, he could not help but wonder if they would have still been friends if it had not been for Ghostwriter. Though they have maintained their close friendship, Jamal's observations of the group caused him to feel that maybe…just maybe, their friendship was an artificial one. What did they have in common really? Even though he had Houston as an excuse, Jamal felt like he knows that if it were not for the Ghostwriter connection, he would not see Lenni, Rob, Alex, Tina, Gaby, and Hector nearly as much as he had in the past, and that if he ran into any of them in the street it would be full of pleasantries and casual conversation, but how many would want to truly delve deep into their lives as they do now. Although one would think that this should not matter because the fact is that they are close now, for whatever reason. However, Jamal just could not stop thinking that if the group started to unhinge and separate, would the Ghostwriter connection be enough to bring them back together? Jamal also pondered the idea that though none would actually admit this, deep down inside, maybe in the subconscious, they were all hoping he would show up again.
Jamal looked up to the sky, then to random structures in the Park. He sighed. He did not know what he was looking for exactly, only knew he desperately needed a sign or some sort.
"Where are you?" Jamal asked to the breezy air. He could not help but things would have been different if GW stayed.
Casey studied Jamal's face. Jamal had a tendency of just drifting into space deep in thought. She didn't remember when he started doing that, but it had to be some time in college. She was convinced that doctorial programs warped one's mind. However, she also knew what he was thinking about. Jamal was constantly bothered by Ghostwriter. Out of all the members of the gang, he had been the one who had the most trouble letting go.
It was easy for Casey as she was back in Detroit by the time he had left. For her, Ghostwriter was a fantasy she encountered during her stay in New York while her mother was getting her life together. Once she had moved back to Detroit to help her mother start fresh and battle her alcoholism, that's when Casey stopped living in her dreams. She had to keep her feet firmly in place on the ground she would not let anything lift them off. She learned early on that one had to be grounded because if one kept their head in the clouds for too long or dwelled on what was out of reach, they lost all their senses and self-destructed. Casey tried her hardest to make sure her mom would stay grounded with her, and now that same feeling was taking over regarding her cousin. Casey knew Jamal was in danger or losing his mind. This had been years in the making, and Casey had no idea how to handle it. All she could do was offer another joke.
Alex feigned annoyance at Tina wanting to take yet another photo of him while on their way back to the group. Despite his light protestations, Tina knew Alex craved this attention. Anyway, she needed to test out her new camera and simply took advantage of Alex's slight narcissism.
"Ok, Tina, let's take a break please," sighed Alex sincerely. "I'm spent."
"Alright, alright…" said Tina as she was reviewing her shots. "Are you sure we can't take few more?"
"Em!" exclaimed Alex and he just plopped down on the sharp grass.
"Kidding!" replied Tina. Alex stretched his arm upwards as a show that he needed help getting up. As Tina grabbed ahold of his arm, Alex pulled her down. Though a romantic gesture, the two actors lacked the graced needed to pull it off successfully and Tina ended up falling head-first into Alex's torso missing his head by a few centimeters.
"Are you hungry?"
"Ha Ha" As Tina got herself up, Alex was still plopped down showing exaggerated looks of pain. "Em, I need help."
"Yeah I know you do."
"No, I mean it. I'm real pain."
"Alex, I'm not giving you my hand again." Tina said matter-of-factly.
"No, seriously, I need your help…I can't get up."
"Anh! Oh my God, what did I do?" Tina started inspecting Alex's ribcage to find the pain as she had anything that would have helped.
"That's not going to help, Em. This is the only thing that can help me." Alex then repeatedly pointed to his lips.
Tina rolled her eyes before giving him a generous amount of kisses. She knew when she lost.
Tina felt a vibration in Alex's pant pocket. She knew what this meant.
"Hold on, Em," Alex said as he dug into his pocket. He had trouble grabbing ahold of it. Taking far too long for Tina to take, she reached into his pants and grabbed the phone.
"Thanks…you're getting better at that."
"Thanks a lot," replied Tina as she rolled her eyes.
After some back-and-forth between Alex and the speaker at the other end of the line, Alex told Tina he was needed at a crime scene.
"What is it?" asked Tina.
"They found a woman bloodied up, running around Manhattan half-naked and unwilling to cooperate. Yvette is already there, and they need us to play good cop bad cop."
Tina didn't say anything but gave him a half-hearted smile. It was a smile was all too used to. He hated the feeling of putting Tina in this situation. He recognized that she put on a brave face for his benefit, and for herself as well as she would rationalize him having to leave her yet again. As much effort as he put in telling Tina she was the most important thing in his life, he was not sure if she believed him and worse yet, he was not sure if it was true anymore. No doubt Tina was the most important person in his life. Before she shared that status along side his Mama and Papa and sister Gaby, but Alex now realized that it was Tina who was on the top of his list. However, Tina was not competing against any one person, but with society. His calling, his duty to protect and serve was taking up more and more of his time and consciousness. He did not know what to do with these overwhelming feelings.
"You never call me `honey', you only call me that when you're trying to get out of being in trouble," replied Tina, half-jokingly.
"I know…forgive me?" Alex gave Tina his trademark goofy smile as he shrugged his shoulders. In many ways, he was still that 11 year-old boy Tina had a mad crush for. She silently made a wish for that part of Alex to never go away.
"I can't forgive you for something that's not your fault." Tina kissed Alex. Before she knew it Alex held her close in an embrace.
"I'll make it up to you this week," Alex said. He felt her tense up. He wanted more than anything at this moment to put her at ease.
"We won't have time," said Tina looking up at the much taller man, "remember, I'll be tied up with…"
"Post-production," Alex interrupted, "I forgot…" It was Alex's turn to tense up.
"It's ok, we'll find a way." Tina said even though both of them they wouldn't find a way this week.
"I hate this!" Alex exclaimed as he held her tighter. He just wanted things to work out the way they were supposed to. She was his girlfriend things were supposed to get easier once they had settled into their jobs.
"Alex, it's ok."
"Everything we do now has to be `penciled in' or scheduled, I just feel like we're trapped in some sort of life that we didn't sign up for."
"Anh, we did sign up for it. We knew what were getting into," Tina said. "Don't worry, we'll get through this," Tina said unsurely, as she cupped Alex's face and kissed him.
"You need to apologize to Jamal though. You know he's only here for a few more days," Tina reminded Alex.
"Yeah, you're right. But let's just stay here for a little while longer."
As much as Tina loved this moment, she couldn't help but wonder about what she needed to cut next and how she was going to solve an issue regarding a denied song right for a crucial scene in her film. She also had to figure out a way to get out of dinner with the gang to work on another storyboard she was working on. She hated feeling overwhelmed with work, but it seemed as though she was always overwhelmed, no matter what she did. With Alex, it seemed like lately, all she had time for were moments like these, and even then, she's thinking about a proper title for her next project. The only she knew to do was to hug him tighter. Of course, he hugged back. He always did.
Lenni sat down on the bench after enjoying the moment and tried writing in her journal. However, nothing came out. Her head just wasn't in it at the moment. It had been a year and half since she submitted anything she felt worth her record company's time. The sweeping fear Lenni had was about to engulf her before she took control of herself. She was getting better at taking control of her emotions. She started by snapping out of it forcefully, then remembering where she was. This morning, Lenni had promised herself that today would be a great day. Jamal was back in Brooklyn and she was not going to sully his homecoming.
Rob left to sit a nearby bench to write in his notebook as well. Like Lenni, he was having difficulty jotting anything down. He did not have trouble with writer's block. However, he couldn't put his thoughts into something tangible. He started a project, then moved on before it was complete. He'd get little bursts of hope and excitement only to have it fizzle and die just as quick. He was on his way to starting his 13th novel of the year that he quickly knew would end up on his towering pile of unfinished writing projects he'd keep for later. He gave himself a date to go back and pick one from the pile to finish only to talk himself out of it. What was he afraid of? Insecurity? Past immaturity revealing itself? Rob couldn't find the words that were sufficient enough to describe what he felt on paper. Nothing seemed to fit.
Simultaneously, Lenni and Rob looked up to see Tina and Alex in a tight embrace. Oh how lucky Alex and Tina were they both thought. To the rest of the gang, Alex and Tina always seemed to know where they were going. Even with an unsolvable case, Alex could go home knowing he did all that he could. Tina was working on her third full-length documentary. Her second one won all sorts of local prizes, not an easy feat in New York where everybody was a filmmaker. Although a theatrical release outside the Northeast coast still eluded her, Tina was hell-bent on making her films. Lenni could not help but feel a little resentment at those two. Understandably given her circumstances. Rob was only envious that Alex and Tina found each other to help inspire motivation. He felt he had not found that muse yet and did not think it would come.
They then shifted attention towards Jamal who they caught looking up at the sky. They saw what he saw, a waxing gibbous moon in the sunlit sky. With Jamal, Lenni and Rob knew something was off. Jamal, on his way to becoming a doctor of Astrophysics…and yet why did it seem that he was never satisfied? Why was he always starving? Hungry for more. This, however, was not a mystery for them to solve. They knew the answer.
Where was Ghostwriter and was it all a dream they shared? If really was a dream, then would truly be better - perpetually dreaming or waking up to reality? That was the real mystery to which nobody wanted the answer.
Within moments, the nice breeze the gang enjoyed sped up with the brilliant blue sky clouding up. Within minutes, it began to storm - violently.