Annie taught Alex as much as she could about being a ghost in the short time they had together, but she'd failed to mention a few finer points about living with a vampire and a werewolf. Alex, on the other hand, knew exactly what advice she'd impart if she ever met a fellow ghost in need of mentoring.
Why? Because she kept a list. Hey, she had to pass the time somehow.
1. You'll probably end up doing all of the cooking even though you're the only one who can't eat.
“I will bash both of your heads into pulp!”
The words blasted across the room, startling Alex out her dull stupor (it was supposed to be meditation, but that wasn't quite working out). It took a moment to reorient herself. Armchair. Right. She was staying up. Crazed vampire. Ghost. Got it.
“I'm a ghost, it won't work,” she snapped back.
Hal hadn't been joking when he said he'd scream and plead and threaten as they tried to sober him up. And especially shout. He really hadn't been joking about that. Which was all well and good for the afternoon, and the evening, and even the night. But now it was five in the morning and the whole thing was starting to get old.
Alex glanced over at Tom, stretched lengthwise on the couch, feet propped against one armrest, gaze trained on Hal. He looked like he could use an hour or twenty of sleep; he was starting to twitch and the bags under his eyes had passed from heavy to black-eye territory. But the last three times she'd pointed that out, he'd just shrugged and mumbled something about packs and taking care of his mate.
She sighed. It was probably time to admit this whole 'meditation' idea was a bust.
“You want some tea or something?” she asked.
“I want blood,” Hal growled, rattling against his restraints.
“I wasn't talking to you. I'm not making you tea for – ” How long is the normal amount of time to punish someone for drinking your blood? “A while. Tom?”
Tom shrugged a slow, sleepy shrug. “Yeah, all right. Could you make some toast, too?”
Oh, right. He must be starving. Huh. The whole lack of bodily needs thing would take some getting used to. “Care to join me? I don't know where anything is.”
She'd half thought Tom would collapse in an exhausted pile as soon as he stood, but he managed to shuffle his way over to the kitchen, ignoring the noise as Hal started whining about friendship. “The tea is in … one of the cupboards,” he offered.
“Thanks.” It was actually already out on the counter, but if he was too tired to notice, pointing that out wouldn't help anything. “What about the frying pan? I could make some eggs.”
He perked up at that, nodding gratefully. “Uh – that one?”
The cupboard he pointed to did, indeed, contain a frying pan, but that had to be at least half luck. Alex had seen this before with her youngest brother. And the other two. And her dad, really. She started rummaging in the fridge for eggs. “Annie did most of the cooking, did she?”
“Me and Hal worked,” Tom offered sheepishly.
“Well, luckily for you, I am an expert chef.” Three eggs left. Good enough. “I don't know if Hal told you, but I have three brothers, and my mum...” She turned around. Ah. Never mind. Tom was at the doors, staring out at Hal. Clearly, he wasn't taking in a word. “He's not going anywhere. You can take your eyes off him for three seconds.”
“Do you still fancy him?” The question was thrown out casually, but there was a certain intensity in Tom's eyes as he turned back to her, like the answer mattered. Not where she'd expected this conversation to go.
“Does it even matter? I mean, can I even still … do things?”
“Annie did, I think. With Mitchell. He was a vampire.” Tom scrunched his nose, contemplating. “He wasn't as nice as Hal.”
“Hard to imagine.” She hadn't really thought about it. She went to the door to look out at their bound housemate. He was handsome, no question about it. Those deep eyes and full lips hadn't gone anywhere in the last day and a half. But, no. Just — no. “It's hard to fancy someone you've seen licking your maggot covered blood off the floor. Why?” she added in a whisper. “Do you?”
“What?” Tom started, looking at her as if she'd spouted fangs herself. “No, he's me mate. I was just wondering, nothing like that.”
He rubbed his hands together as he said it, a shifty sort of movement that reminded her of Ryan when she quizzed him about pretty girls at school. Interesting. Something to sort out another day, though. For now, she should probably focus on keeping Tom fed. And Hal from feeding on people.
“Sorry I asked.” She grabbed the pan. “Why don't you make yourself useful and get me some butter?”
Hopefully Hal would get better soon, and they'd be able to find her body and she'd pass over, easy as that. But she'd have to make this work until then. They were just two blokes, really. A vampire and a werewolf, yeah, but a bloke's a bloke. Maybe she could even get used to living with them.
“Release me, you ignoramuses!”
If Hal would just shut up, anyway.
2. They might need your help interacting with the world.
“So, uh, why do you, um, want to work here?”
“Need the cash. You know how it is. Keepin' the ladies happy isn't cheap.” Alex threw in a wink for good measure.
Across the table, Tom flushed. “Ah, right. But, uh, why … a cafe?”
Hal, arms crossed and glowering, gave Alex a warning look from behind Tom's shoulder, and she repressed her laugh. Barely. Hal had made it clear that they needed to keep Tom's confidence up. Very clear. Two separate lectures clear. As if he didn't trust her not to mock the poor kid's complete inability to conduct a proper interview. (Okay, fine, maybe she'd needed the first lecture. But two was overboard.)
And, really, Tom had done a perfectly good job during their first trial run, when she played a cheerful and qualified candidate. Under his stammering exterior he knew his stuff — she could see why the cafe's owner had promoted him. But her current run as a rude slacker was a disaster.
“I figure I might as well work somewhere where I can check out the birds.”
“Well, there, uh … there ain't really time for that.” Tom gave her a confused, pleading look, but if he though she was going to let him off easy he didn't know her. Which, to be fair, he hardly did. Well, if they were stuck as housemates, he might as well learn she doesn't back down. Not even when she's playing a part.
“You telling me you never got a girl's number while you were working? What're you, some kind of loser?”
Tom's eyes darted between her and the list of questions in his hand, clearly desperate. “Actually, there was one time – ”
“Yeah?” Suddenly she was genuinely curious. It was hard to imagine Tom picking up … anyone. “Was she hot?”
“I dunno. It was a bet.” He glanced back down at his paper with a pained expression. “This ain't right.” He twisted around to look at Hal, who smiled gently.
“Remember, Tom, you're in control here.”
“Yeah, but – ”
“No buts. You're in charge. Like in a fight.” Hal waved his fists in an imitation of boxing. He looked ridiculous, of course, but sweet. It was hard to believe this was the same man who had threatened to gut Tom and dress in his entrails just a week ago. “Would it help to start over?”
Tom nodded and turned to face Alex, anxiety miraculously transformed to a determined stare. “That all right?”
Hal caught her eye again, and if she'd been considering saying no — which she wasn't, thank you — the threat lurking in the edge of his frown would have been enough to stop her. They were going to keep at it until Tom was 100 percent ready to go in and hire Hal's temporary replacement the next day.
She nodded. I get it. She sighed and got back in character.
“Oi mate, you the bloke I got to talk to about this job?”
3. Sometimes you need to let things go.
“Not to be insensitive or whatever, but are we going to deal with all that baby stuff?”
It seemed like a reasonable question. The empty cot lingering in the attic gave her the creeps, and the stockpile of nappies unnecessarily clogging up the wardrobes kept falling over. And it wasn't like Eve was their baby. Besides, it was sad that she died and all, but she'd gone out saving the world from horrible vampire overlords, which was more than Alex could say about her own death. Not the worst way to go, if you're stuck kicking it early.
That was her logic, anyway, but apparently this was a miscalculation.
Hal and Tom, who'd been watching the telly, snapped around in unison as soon as the words left her lips. From their expressions you'd think she'd announced a plan to resurrect Eve and re-murder her.
“Her name was Eve,” Hal hissed.
“Sorry.” Was it wrong that she wanted to roll her eyes? That was probably rude. “Don't you think it's time we removed Eve's things?”
Tom tried to respond, mouth opening and closing uselessly; tears sprang to his eyes. Hal raised a tentative hand to his shoulder, hovering for a moment before taking a deep breath and squeezing gently. He caught Alex's eye, fury burning behind glinting pupils.
“Listen.” She hesitated, taken aback by the response. No. Too late to back down, now. She had to stand her ground. “I get that you're still sad, but it's been almost a month since she died, and – ”
At “died” Tom sprang to his feet and dashed from the room, slamming against the bannister as he sprinted up the stairs, each heavy step a creaking rapprochement. The bang of his door slamming echoed through the house.
Alex scoffed. “Talk about an overreaction.”
Hal was standing now, anger plastered across his face; his thumb beat a rattled pattern against his fingers. That, Tom had once warned her, wasn't a good sign.
“Or … not?”
“No. Not an overreaction.” Repression dripped off every low-pitched word. It was far too reminiscent of the time he'd met her for drinks. “I am going to go try to calm him down. I suggest you make yourself scarce.”
“Make myself scarce? Is that really a thing people say?” Hal pressed a trembling hand to his forehead. God, she should learn when to shut up. “Fine, yeah. I'll – go for a walk.”
She almost added that maybe they should consider talking about their damn feelings if they were going to go mental at every mention of Eve, but it wasn't the time. They'd figure it out.
4. That whole werewolf transformation thing is a big deal.
Hal was curled into himself, arms wrapped around knees, when she came to check on him with a tea. The room was dark as he glared at the flashing light of the telly, domino clenched between his fingers. She placed the mug on the coffee table without comment, dropping into the seat next to him. On screen someone tripped over a stool as an obnoxious laugh track roared its approval.
“Not your usual programme,” she commented, just to have something to say. She didn't care about what they were watching; she just didn't like the idea of him sitting there alone, going slowly insane as he waited for Tom to come back.
“There's not a lot on at four in the morning.” He smiled apologetically. “I told you, you don't have to stay up with me.”
She shrugged. “What else am I going to do? Ghost, remember?”
“You never let me forget.” He unfolded his legs, sighing as he stretched. Despite his protests to the contrary, he looked relived to have the distraction. “I really am very sorry that I haven't been able to make much progress finding your body.”
She waved the complaint away. “It's fine.”
That was a slight exaggeration. Worry about her family picked away at her constantly; they must be desperate, not even sure if she was dead or just run away. She'd seen her dad after her mum died, and he wasn't exactly top notch at keeping himself together. Still, living here, in this surreal supernatural hotel — it wasn't not fine. And Hal had enough on his plate at the moment. She'd start bugging him to help her once she was sure he wouldn't eat his way to her body.
“It's not, though,” Hal protested. “It’s not fair. I'm the reason you're here in the first place.”
“Can we not?” Not that she didn't appreciate his apologies. But after a solid week of constant teary eyes and heartfelt cries of remorse she'd told him to suck it up and move on. All the sorrys in the world weren't going to bring her back to life, and extremely-repentant Hal was almost as annoying as the yelling, bloodthirsty model.
“Anyway,” she added as an awkward silence loomed over them. “When is Tom supposed to get back from his little trip into the forest?”
Hal seemed to shrink, slumping into the cushions with a shrug. “I don't know, exactly. A few more hours.” The domino sped up.
She wished she knew how to make him relax, but Tom was the only one who had any luck with that. And tonight Tom was the whole problem. He'd been surly all week — even she'd noticed it wasn't normal. Of course, Tom insisted he was fine, but Hal had figured it out: It was his first transformation since he'd almost slaughtered a club's worth of people.
So here they were sitting up all night to make sure he got home safe. And sane. Hal probably wouldn't have been able to rest even if he'd wanted to; he'd practically glued himself to the window when Tom had walked out the door that evening with a fake smile and a weak thumbs up.
A blast of inappropriate laughter burst from across the room. She did know one thing: This stupid show was not going to help.
“Right.” She declared. “What we need is some sci-fi kung-fu.”
Hal gave her a blank look.
“You've never seen The Matrix, have you?” He shook his head. Ah. Perfect. “Well, fortunately for you, I have all three on DVD.”
And then, just because she could, she rentaghosted to her room and back. Hal was wearing a quizzical look when she returned, brandishing the movies.
“Where did you get DVDs?”
She shrugged. “A lady never reveals her secrets.”
“You stole them, didn't you?” He tried to sound stern, but the hint of amusement in his tone killed the effect.
She shrugged again and went the DVD player (also new, though he hadn't noticed. If she was going to be stuck in perpetual afterlife, her house would at least be up to date with the 21st century. The world owed her that much). “You'll thank me after you see it.”
Hal quirked a skeptical eyebrow, but reluctantly settled back into the couch. Movies, Alex had discovered long ago, make an excellent distraction. She wasn't wrong. By the end of the opening scene, the nervous fluttering of Hal's domino died to the occasional absentminded twist. She gave herself a mental high five.
Several hours, four cups of tea, and almost three movies later, Alex was jolted out of a dazed trance by the squeal of the front door slipping open. By the time she oriented herself, Hal was already halfway to the hall, where Tom was standing, shirtless and smeared with dirt.
“Hal?” he asked, wonder edging his dazed voice. “Wha – ?”
And then Hal was at his side. For a moment, he reached out, as if he wanted to lay a hand on his friend's cheek. But he pulled back. “Tom, have you have seen The Matrix?” He sounded halfway desperate and wholly intense, a surreal tone when matched to the question.
Tom stood blinking at him for several seconds before slowly shaking his head.
“You should. It's really very interesting.” Hal reached forward again, this time making contact long enough to brush a stray leaf out of Tom's hair. “We can watch it right now. Alex and I already watched it tonight, but I wouldn't mind.”
Alex didn't mention that he'd never cleared this plan with her and she wasn't particularly in the mood to watch the same movie twice; she could see what he was doing and she wasn't going to get in the way. Tom, however, looked entirely confused, and for once she didn't blame him.
Time to be of use.
“What he's saying is if you're too hopped up on your werewolf adrenaline to sleep, you should join us for our very repetitive movie marathon.”
Hal shot her a look that was half annoyance, half thanks. She shrugged. If he was going to go all Forrest Gump again, he'd have to deal with her jumping in. It saved everyone time.
Tom dragged his confused gaze over to her, probably only just realizing she was there.
“Oh,” he said. And then, after a moment of consideration, his face lit up with a smile. “Yeah, brilliant!”
And so Alex found herself curled up on one side of the couch watching The Matrix for the second time that night. Next to her, Tom slumped, exhausted, head resting against Hal's shoulder. And Hal, for the first time she could remember, looked completely content.
5. Be careful where you pop up.
Here's the thing about being a ghost: there's not a whole hell of a lot to do. A month and a half into the experience, and Alex was starting to envy Annie having Eve to occupy her time. There were only so many movies a girl could watch in a day, and wandering around the city alone — trying to figure out where her body was with no hints and no help — was just depressing.
She found herself wandering around the house instead. It wasn't exactly better, but at least it didn't mean setting out with hope that she knew was going to be dashed. She took to rentaghosting with larger and larger objects. Valuable defensive weapon, her arse; more like valuable source of entertainment.
That's how she found herself in the upstairs hall one evening, haphazardly clutching a side table while she watched her housemates make out. Hal was pressed against a wall, Tom's hands on either side of his head, lips meshed in a desperate, sloppy kiss. Hal's hand gripped the back of Tom's shirt, pulling him closer as he moaned.
Oh, she thought. And then I knew it, quickly followed by I should go. Unfortunately, the first two thoughts distracted her hands, and before she could act on the third the table slipped out of her fingers and slammed to the ground with a bang.
Hal and Tom jerked apart and gaped at her, Tom like a kid caught by a teacher, Hal like a deer with headlights aimed straight at his eyes.
“I am so sorry,” she gasped. “Worst housemate ever, am I right?”
They continued to gape. She gave them a thumbs up. Not that this wasn't awkward, but they should know she didn't mind.
“I'm just going to take this,” she wrapped her arms around the table, “And go … elsewhere. You boys get back to what you were doing.”
She popped away, giggling to herself.
6. No, they'll definitely need your help interacting with the world.
They both avoided her for several days after that, which hurt more than it should. Did they think she would have a problem with two blokes getting together? She was a modern girl, thank you very much. Besides, the genders of the people involved hardly seemed relevant once you were talking about werewolves and vampires.
She eventually cornered Tom to quiz him about it, only to have him gaze at her with that dopy look of his and mutter dejectedly that he didn't know what was going on, but Hal hadn't come out of his room for two days. Had he done something wrong?
She wasn't quite sure when she'd started caring, but seeing Tom moping around like a kicked puppy kind of broke her heart. Fucking Hal and his fucking awkwardness. One day, she would make friends with sensible people and then maybe she wouldn't have to fix everything, all the time. But for now … Hal had locked himself in? Great. Doors were no longer a problem.
“Why haven't you talked to Tom?” she demanded as soon as she appeared in Hal's freakishly pristine bedroom.
He was doing pushups, rising up in down with rapid pumps, counting as he went. “390, 391.”
That was an unnecessary number of pushups.
“I'm not going away until you talk to me about this.” She used her sternest tone, which was pretty bloody stern. She'd spent years perfecting it. Of course, Hal had had many more years to learn to ignore people. Up and down he went, only change a slight, defiant increase in speed, as if to say: I'm not tired.
Screw that. Alex swept her hand up, gently knocking Hal over. Er. Maybe not so gently. He tumbled to the side and slammed against the bed.
“Ow!” he protested. “That hurt.”
“And you drank my blood. Your point?”
He glared sullenly at her but didn't respond. Lovely.
“Would you like to tell me why you've been hiding in your room like a love-struck twelve year old?”
“No, I would not. Are we done?” He stood and grabbed a towel, wrapping it uselessly around his neck like a bit of armor. “I need to take a shower.”
Alex held up her hand in warning. “Nuh-uh. You have feelings, and we're going to talk about them.”
“I wasn't aware you were a therapist.”
“Well, maybe you could use one.”
“I am 500 years old. I think I'm beyond most therapists.”
“And you are also avoiding the point.” She was not going to let herself get off target, even though the question of what kind of help Hal did and did not need was a tempting tangent.
“And what is the point, Alex?” Anger flared in Hal's voice, sending a tremor across his bare chest. He flopped onto his bed and clutched his towel, visibly shaken.
“The point, Hal, is that I do not understand how can you be 500 years old, as you just reminded me, and yet you can't deal with having feelings for your friend. That's kid's stuff.”
Hal wrapped his arms together, studying her in silence. The room smelled like sweat; a car sped by outside, tires screeching. Stare down? Oh, she'd win a stare down, immortal vampire or not.
“Who said I have feelings for him?” Each word was measured out like a sacrifice.
Wow. Seriously? Did he think she was actually an idiot? “Uh, your lips on his mouth?”
“Kissing does not necessarily indicate feelings. If you think otherwise, you're more naive than I thought.”
Alex didn't even repress the urge to roll her eyes. As if they had not literally met while she was looking for a casual hookup. “Fine. Then how about this: I have three brothers. I can sense these things.”
“Your brothers fall in love with their best friends often, do they?”
Whoa. Whoa. “Who said anything about love?”
Hal's eyes flashed in panic before he buried his face in his hands. “I didn't mean – I was just trying – ” His back heaved. “I'll just hurt him.”
Blokes. Always idiots, no matter how many years they have. She crossed the room and sat on the bed, gently resting her hand on his back. The fact that he didn't flinch away said volumes. “You're hurting him now,” she whispered.
He turned his head, uncovering eyes that bristled with tears. “I always hurt people. Look at you.”
Yeah, well. She'd always had shit luck, not that he'd take that as an answer.
“I'm pretty sure Tom can protect himself. Besides,” she added, before he could think of another reason to protest. “I see the way you look at him.”
Hal eyed her skeptically. “Which is how, exactly?”
“Like he amazes you. And really, Hal, you're a billion years old. How many people still amaze you?”
With that, she made her grand exit. No need to muck up a perfect closing argument with more whining.
7. It's worth the headache. It really is.
Exactly two months after Annie had passed over, Hal and Tom came to Alex, clutching hands so tightly it looked like it must hurt. They said they were ready to clean out Eve's bedroom. She offered to let them do it alone, but they shook their heads. No, she should be there, too.
So they spent an afternoon in the attic, filling boxes for donation. It's what Annie would have wanted, Tom said.
The afternoon became an evening spent sitting cross-legged on the floor, as Tom and Hal showed her toys and told her stories, laughing as they remembered Eve's smile, Annie's mothering — and then Leo's concert adventures, McNair's odd and occasionally terribly useful advice.
“What about your brothers?” Hal asked at the end of a story about Pearl nearly throwing Leo out of the house for forgetting her birthday.
“Yeah,” Tom agreed, glancing at Hal with affection. “We want to know about them.”
Alex's chest tightened. She hadn't said much about her brothers. Not stories. Nothing out loud. Reminiscing about them in the past tense would mean she was really gone. But as she looked at Hal and Tom gazing at her at her expectantly, their fingers entwined on the floor, she decided she could handle it if they could.
This was where she was now, and maybe she was okay with that.
“Yeah, fine,” she agreed. “Let me tell you about Ryan's first tattoo, because that was idiotic.”