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Natalie likes to perch on the furthest counter during chemistry class. It gives her an optimal view of the room. Most of the time, she is quiet, observing the other students, but sometimes, she can’t help but add variety.

Take today. One of especially shrill popular girls (Natalie can’t bother to remember their names, they all look the same anyways) is occupying herself not with writing down experiment data, but tying together the shoelaces of the unfortunate red-haired boy that everyone seems to bother. Natalie knows him vaguely, he was one of the few people that was kind to her during her brief time at Stoneybrook High School. She tries to recall his name (James? Jonathan?) as she drifts over to his tormenter’s lab station, and knocks over a beaker filled with chemicals.

It hits the floor with a loud shatter. The liquid flows across the table, falls onto the girl’s lap. She shrieks loudly, the teacher reprimands her, even as she glibly protests she didn’t do anything.

“What was is then?” The teacher smirks. “A ghost?”

The rest of the class laughs derisively, and the girl turns bright red.

Natalie glides back to her spot on the counter, smiling to herself. If only the teacher knew how right her comment was. Being caught between two worlds does have some benefits, she thinks. If I can’t pass on to whatever afterlife is out there, at least I can have some amusement at the hands of old tormenters, in the very chemistry lab where I’d died.

She resumes her lookout. For a second, she startles.

It seems that the boy, the one she had helped, is staring directly at her.

Impossible though, she thinks. Humans can’t see ghosts.

--

Natalie can’t remember much about her actual death. She can vaguely recall that it started out as an average day. She had resisted going to school, but that happened every morning. Her parents had transfered her to SHS earlier in the year, in the hopes that she would find a better niche than Stoneybrook Day. If was, if anything, worse. Stoneybrook High was too large, overwhelming, full of hordes of screaming idiots who had all known each other since preschool. Natalie felt invisible, was content to spend lunch reading in the library. Actually, this situation would have been ideal if the same idiots who knocked into her in the hallways had also loved to hide her books and mock her at any given opportunity.

She recalls this, very clearly.

She knows that she’d died in third period chemistry, but the details blur from there. There had been a fire, and others had been hurt. She knows there were news stories, lots of people crying. Honestly though, she would have been content to pass on to some other dimension, but for some reason, she found herself back in the chemistry lab in a few days, able to float through doors.

She’d been frustrated at first, even cried about it (well, as much as she could cry, since ghosts don’t really have tears). However, when she’d broken a tray of beakers by accident (even in non-corporeal form, she’s retained her klutzy habits) and the whole class had screamed,

Natalie had realized that she might as well have some fun.

It’s not a huge change from when she’d been alive anyways. She’s always felt invisible, perpetually on the sidelines. The difference is that even though no one can see her, she has the upper hand for once.

--

Natalie’s used to being lonely. She’d been solitary when alive, more fond of books and animals than the company of others. She hasn’t needed to transition much apart from the well, being dead thing.

At times though, she finds herself craving simple conversation. Even a hello, a wave, some kind of acknowledgement. Even when she’d been the outcast at school, she’d had her family for company.

She misses them, wishes that she could tell them good morning, or share some of her greater chemistry lab pranks. Her parents would disapprove at first, but she knows that secretly, they’d admire her initiative.

--

The next day in chemistry class, she sees the boy staring at her again, all wide-eyed bewilderment.

Natalie doesn’t know what to think.

--

The red-haired boy is a target once more. The girls (obviously not humbled enough from recent events), are mocking him for tripping and dropping papers everywhere. No one should look that sad, Natalie decides. It’s sickening, how cruel these girls can be. Certain people always need targets. She’s left, so they need to fill the hole.

Well, not with him, she decides, floating over to the girls. She drifts through one of them, causing her to scream and jump a foot in the air. Her books fly up with her, scatter all around the room.

Her friends laugh, call her a spazz. The boy is forgotten. Natalie sees him look at her though. He looks more curious than afraid, and she can swear she hears him mouth the words “thanks.”

--

Later that day, Natalie overhears a conversation between him and the chemistry teacher.

“There are no such thing as ghosts, Jackie.” The teacher says, firmly. “I know recent events have been...hard on everyone, but if you keep talking like that, people are going to think you’re crazy.”

Jackie, Natalie thinks to herself, as the boy glares at the teacher in indignation. That’s his name. A long distant memory comes back, how when she’d first arrived at SHS, he’d offered to sit with her at lunch. She’d shaken her head and gestured to the book she’d been reading, but at least he had noticed.

--

Natalie doesn’t really have a sense of time any longer. Another mortal invention, she thinks, of little significance in the long run. She knows when chemistry class starts, and when the sun sets and rises, but that’s about it.

The sun is just beginning to sink below the horizon when the door to the classroom creaks open. She darts into one of the nearby cupboards, even though she knows she can’t be seen. Learned behavior though. She’s been hiding and avoiding her entire life.
From a crack in the cupboard she watches to see who would dare come back, and startles when she realizes that it’s Jackie, holding a flashlight and looking determined.

“I know you’re there,” he calls out.

Natalie debates whether to say anything. She never has in the past.

“I’m not going to hurt you.” He’s saying. “I just want to talk to you.”

She remains quiet.

“It means a lot what you did for me.” He says. “I know you always thought no one could see you, but I always noticed.”

She doesn’t even know if she can talk. It’s been so long, and this is too bizarre.

“Come on!” He calls, his voice getting stronger, more insistent. “Can you hear me?”

She feels an odd rushing in her ears, which is even more odd, because really, ghosts aren’t supposed to feel anything...

“Come on!” He’s saying. “Natalie. Come on Natalie. Natalie...”

The rush is getting more intense. She almost feels dizzy, and then all of a sudden, there’s this blinding light and it hurts...

--

A steady beep of machinery. Blinding white walls. Her arms, wrapped in gauze.

“Natalie? Can you hear me?”

“I think she’s coming to.” A new voice. “Impossible.”

Natalie’s heart is pounding. She had been a ghost, hiding from Jackie, and now, she’s lying in some strange room, and there’s people in lab coats hovering over her.

“What--” She croaks out. Her voice is raspy, barely a whisper.

“Don’t try to talk.” One of the coat people pats her arm. “There was an accident at school, and you were in a coma for three weeks. We didn’t think you were going to come out of it.”

“What--”

She can remember the fire now. Oddly enough, she feels a little cheated. She had liked being a ghost. She’d been a contributor, done something for people. She’d even been admired, by Jackie. He had wanted to tell her something, but she hadn’t answered, and now there’s no chance for anything. She’ll get better, and then have to go back to school, where she’ll be invisible and misunderstood once more, and it’s going to be the same horrible, vicious cycle.

Natalie can’t help it. She starts to sob.

“Shh.” A new voice. Her mother, bending next to her. “It’s going to be okay. Things are going to make sense soon. You just need to rest.”

Someone gives her a shot, even as she protests, and she drifts off once more.

--

Natalie doesn’t know how much later it is when she wakes up. A fading sun is drifting across her room.

She just wants to sleep again. Maybe she can drift off forever, and then believe she’s haunting the chemistry lab once more.

A knock sounds at her door. “Sorry to bother you,” a voice says--

She looks up, and startles.

“Jackie?” She asks.

The boy looks surprised. “You remembered my name.”

“I remember people who were nice to me.” She smirks at him. “Since the list is so limited.”

Good. She might have just woken up from a coma, but at least she’s still capable of snark.

“I volunteer here,” Jackie is babbling. “You know, I’ve been in the hospital so many times, from all the stupid accidents, that I know what it’s like. I like cheering people up.” He smiles at her. “I’ve been coming by every day. I’m really glad you woke up. Everyone’s been so worried.”

“Every day?”

He blushes. “Well yeah. It was a major accident. People thought you weren’t going to wake up.”

“What happened?”

“Idiots in the lab not paying attention with flammable chemicals.”

“Typical.” She snorts.

“Yeah.” He pauses. “Anyways, I just wanted to say, I’m glad you stuck around. You’re probably tired now and don’t want to talk much, but maybe I could come back later?”

Natalie thinks for a second, remembers her first week at SHS. She’d rejected his offer once, yet for some reason, he still notices her, cares about. He’s glad she stuck around. That has to mean something.

“Sure.” She says softly. “Come by anytime. I’m obviously not anywhere for awhile. I could use the company.”

He grins widely. “See you soon then.” He says, and then almost walks into the doorframe on his way out.

As the sun begins to drift away, and Natalie settles herself amid her pillows to dream once more, she smiles to herself. Maybe, just maybe, this second chance at the mortal world won’t be so bad after all.