When Kids Incorporated was rocking, The P*lace was the best place to be for anyone. The latest sounds filled the retro malt shop and kids of all ages came in to enjoy the music, as the band – Robin, Kenny, Eric, Ana, and Haylie – performed on stage.
From their point of view, the band could see all that came into The P*lace – friends, classmates, the occasional parent or teacher, kids their own age. Whenever someone they didn’t know came in, one or more of the band members would meet them and befriend them.
On this particular day, while they were performing, Robin happened to see someone different come inside the P*lace. That she could spot someone in particular from the stage was no big deal – a couple of years ago, when he was with the band, Richie, from behind his drum set, spotted a girl in a red dress and carrying a picnic basket, and with everyone’s help, including Robin’s, would later get to her grandmother’s house.
This particular boy wore blue pants, a white shirt, and had dark hair. He watched as the band performed. Robin noticed him, but didn’t think much of it. Except the boy looked a little lost, maybe even a little sad, as if he wasn’t really enjoying himself or the music that was being played.
And then he wasn’t there. Robin couldn’t see him anymore. He was still in the crowd, but probably standing behind someone.
The song ended, and Kids Incorporated came down off of the stage and sat down in front of the counter, where Flip, manager of the P*lace, had some sodas waiting for them. The Kids began to talk about life itself, as Robin looked out over the crowd.
“Who are you looking for, Robin?” Ana, her cousin, asked.
“Someone in the audience,” Robin replied.
“Anyone in particular?” asked Eric. “There’s a lot of them out there.”
“Just some boy,” Robin said. “He caught my attention, that’s all.”
“Was he cute?” asked Haylie, the youngest of the Kids.
“Maybe he was a classmate of ours,” said Kenny.
“I’ve never seen him before,” Robin said. “Maybe he’s new in town.” Robin described what the boy was wearing to her friends.
“Don’t know who he is,” Ana said. “Maybe he is new.”
“If I see him again, I’ll point him out to you,” Robin said.
The Kids resumed talking about the days’ events in school, and Flip, the manager of the P*lace, talked about a job fair that was in town.
“What kind of jobs were they offering?” Haylie asked.
“Lots of them, a multitude,” Flip replied. “They had representatives from every field imaginable. Even in the restaurant business.”
“Really?” asked Ana.
“They’re looking for people to work in restaurant management, hotels in Las Vegas and Reno, tech companies like Microsoft and something new called T-Mobile,” said Flip, showing them some brochures he had picked up that day. “They’re even looking for people for government jobs, like the FBI.”
“The FBI?” asked Eric. “I can picture myself doing that.”
“Agent Eric is on the case,” joked Kenny. “Hey, Robin, maybe you can be an FBI agent as well.”
“Me? A Fed?” said Robin. “Get real.”
“What about nursing?” asked Ana.
“There was a hospital putting out offers for nursing school,” Flip said, “but its back east in New York state. A place called Port Charles. Are you interested?”
“Maybe,” answered Ana, “but if I have to go that far across the country….”
They all talked about the job fair, as Robin looked around. That’s when she saw him again. The boy was looking straight at her, standing near the entrance of The P*lace.
“There he is!” Robin exclaimed, trying to get Ana’s attention and pointing to where he was.
“Where?” Ana asked.
Robin looked at where the boy was. A group of kids had come inside the doors, but the boy wasn’t there anymore.
“He was there,” Robin said, wondering where the boy had gone.
“Maybe he left,” Eric said.
“Maybe he did,” Robin said.
“Come on,” Haylie said. “Let’s get back on stage and do our next set.”
The Kids went back on stage and performed another set. As they did, Robin subtly looked over the audience for the boy she had seen. There were lots of boys in the audience, but none looked like the one she had seen.
But Robin knew the boy was there at the doors of The P*lace, and in the audience earlier. And suddenly, he wasn’t. It was as if he was a ghost.
The show was over, and the audience headed home. The Kids were about to leave themselves, as they were at the counter. Robin was the last to leave the dressing room and joined the others at the counter.
“Still looking for your mystery boy?” Eric asked.
“He must have gone home already,” Robin said.
“Maybe you can see him tomorrow,” Ana said to her cousin. “Come on, let’s go.”
“You go ahead,” Robin said. “I’ll catch up to you later.”
The other Kids left, as Robin stayed at the counter. Flip was inside the back office, counting the money from the day. So, for all intents and purposes, she was alone inside The P*lace.
It was pretty dark inside The P*lace, save for a light or two, as Robin looked around, and wondered about the boy she saw today. She wondered why she was able to pick him out of the crowd, and what made him stand out. Lots of kids came to see Kids Incorporated when they played, and most of the time, they could pick out their friends from on stage. She knew Eric and Kenny could pick out a beautiful girl out of the crowd.
Maybe it was dumb luck that she could pick this one boy out, Robin thought. There was nothing special about him, but still, there must have been something about him or otherwise……
Robin turned around. There was the boy standing just a couple of feet in front of her. She was calm, but really freaking out on the inside.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Billy Lynden,” he replied. He was still wearing blue pants and a white shirt. “I hope I didn’t scare you.”
“You kinda did. How’d you get in here? It’s all closed up for the night.”
“I was just here, that’s all.”
“Should I call your parents? They must be worried.”
“You don’t have to. It’s all right. But I do need your help.”
“Well, before I tell you, there’s something you should know.”
Billy stayed quiet, looking straight at Robin. “There’s no other way to say this, but….”
“Robin,” Billy said. “I’m a ghost.”
And suddenly, he disappeared.
Robin just stood there, her eyes widened in absolute shock. There she was talking to a boy one minute, then he suddenly vanished into thin air, because he was a…ghost.
“If you want to scream, go ahead.”
Robin looked to her right. There was Billy, just a couple of feet away from her.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “I sometimes just appear and disappear.”
Robin just looked at him before saying, “Are you sure you’re a ghost?”
“Of course I’m sure,” Billy replied. “I’m dead. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a ghost.”
“I was expecting something else.”
“I don‘t know,” Robin replied. “You’re not floating in the air. And you’re not transparent.”
“And I know that I don’t look anything like Casper,” he added. “Then again, I didn’t expect to be dead either.”
Robin cringed. “Do you mind not using that word?”
“Dead? Sorry, but I am.”
“Still, try not to say it.”
“I’ll try.” Billy moved in front of Robin. “Aren’t you scared?”
“A little,” Robin said. “It’s just that I never met a ghost before. Like I said, I was expecting something else.”
“Well, I’m glad I’m not scaring you.”
“Maybe I’m just confused. But why appear to me? Why not my friends?”
“I tried to, but it didn’t happen. Besides, what if I did? Eric would tell everyone and try to call ‘Ghost Busters.’ Kenny looked too rational to believe in ghosts. So did your cousin Ana. And Haylie, I might really scare her, since she’s the youngest.”
“Again, why me?”
“You seem to be the most nicest and most understanding,” Billy said. “That, and I think you’re the prettiest.”
A ghost that flatters the living? “Okay, I can buy that,” Robin said. “Mind if I ask you something personal?”
“How did you…,” Robin said, “you know…”
“Oh, how did I end up like this?” asked Billy. Robin nodded. “Well, I was crossing the street, and minding my own business. I wasn’t looking where I was going and there was this big truck, and well, you can guess what happened.”
Robin cringed. “Sorry, I asked.”
“It wasn’t the driver’s fault,” Billy said. “His brakes failed. So did his heart. He told me he was sorry before he went off.”
“Went off where?”
“Into the light. Apparently, he went to heaven.”
Robin decided to ask something less morbid and more pertinent. “So what do you need me for?”
“I need you to get a message to someone,” Billy replied.
“Yes, but since it’s coming from me, they may not believe it.”
Robin could believe that. “So what’s the message?”
“There was this girl I really liked before I…you know,” Billy said. “Anyway, I wanted to tell her how much I liked her, but I never got the chance. I once sent her a note but I don’t know if she got it.”
“Not exactly,” Billy said. “I’d also like to know if she felt the same way about me.”
Robin tried to comprehend the situation. The ghost of a boy wanted to tell the girl of his dreams how much he liked her, and find out if she felt the same way about him. Seemed reasonable – except the part about the boy being a ghost. This girl better be worth it, she thought.
“Just who is this girl anyway?” Robin asked.
“You know her,” Billy said.
Billy pointed at the stage. “She used to be there a lot,” he said.
Robin’s eyes widened. “She used to be in Kids Incorporated?”
“Her name is Nicole.”
Robin knew who Billy was talking about. “I’ll do my best,” she said, “but I can’t promise anything.”
“I know, but do your best. Please.” And with that, Billy’s ghost disappeared.
Robin knew who Nicole was. Nicole was a dancer for Kids Incorporated when Kenny first joined, but she had already left the group when Robin came aboard. She was now seventeen years old, and at the high school, where Robin had heard she was now a cheerleader.
The next day, after school, Robin sent a message to Nicole over at the high school, asking to meet with her at The P*lace. She didn’t say anything about Billy; if Nicole was going to think she was nuts, it might as well be in person. Plus, if Billy put in an appearance, so to speak, at least he would see her.
Half an hour after the high school let out, Nicole showed up at The P*lace, dressed in her cheerleader uniform. With her, was a guy in a letterman’s jacket.
The only current member of Kids Incorporated that she knew was Kenny, so she quickly spotted him as soon as she came in.
“Hi Kenny!” she said, giving Kenny a hug.
“It’s been a while, Nicole,” Kenny said. “What brings you here?”
“Well, I thought I’d take in a song or two before tonight’s basketball game,” she replied. “Plus, I got a message to see Robin. Where is she?”
Kenny pointed her out. Robin was sitting at a table by herself. Billy’s ghost hadn’t yet showed up, though Robin doubted that Nicole would notice if and when he did.
“Who’s your friend?” Kenny asked.
“This is my boyfriend, Colton,” Nicole replied.
“Hi there,” Colton said. His voice sounded dark and heavy, and from the look on his face, he didn’t want to be there.
“Just stay here, I’m just going to talk to her for a bit,” Nicole said to Colton. He nodded begrudgingly as Nicole went over to the table where Robin was sitting.
“Hi Robin,” Nicole said, as she sat down. “What did you want to see me about?”
“Well, before I begin,” Robin said, “I’d just like you to hear me out first. Then if you think I’m crazy or nuts, go right ahead, because what I’m about to tell, I hardly believe it myself.”
“Believe what?” asked Nicole.
“Who’s Billy Lynden?”
Nicole’s mouth dropped open about a mile. “I haven’t heard that name in so long,” she said. “What about him?”
“That’s the part you’re not going to believe.”
“He died a couple of years ago. I cried when I heard about him.”
“So you knew him well?”
“As well as anybody did. He mostly kept to himself, but there was talk that he kind of liked me.”
At that moment, Billy’s ghost appeared, standing next to Nicole. “I did more than kind of like you,” he said to her, even though Nicole didn’t obviously hear him.
Robin searched for the right words to break this to Nicole gently. “Look, Nicole, there’s no other way to say this, but…..”
Robin just blurted it out. “Last night, Billy’s ghost visited me, and he wanted me to talk to you and tell you how much he liked you and wanted to know if you felt the same way about him,” she said quickly.
Nicole just looked at Robin as if Robin had just left a mental institution.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” Robin asked.
“No,” Nicole replied flatly. Billy just rolled his eyes, knowing that was true.
“I don’t blame you,” Robin said. “I have trouble believing it myself.” Nicole looked as if she was going to get up and leave, when Robin said. “He sent you a love note.”
“Stuck it in her locker at school,” Billy added. “The day before I, well….you know…ended up like this.”
“A love note?” Nicole asked. A few feet away, those words caught Colton’s attention, and he glanced over to where Robin and Nicole were.
“He said he stuck it in your locker at school,” Robin said.
“I left it sticking out so she could see it,” Billy said.
“He left it sticking out so you could see it,” Robin repeated to Nicole.
Colton came over to where Robin and Nicole were sitting. “Is everything okay?” he asked, looking a little worried.
“It’s fine,” Nicole said to him. She said to Robin, “Go on.”
“He was waiting for your response when he….you know,” Robin said.
Nicole said, “He did, I mean, he was?” She looked a little confused.
“Come on, Nikki, let’s go,” Colton said, trying to get her to stand up.
Billy was still there, looking at Colton. “You’re dating this guy?” he said to Nicole. “From what I knew about Colton, he was a few IQ points short of dumb.”
“No, no wait,” Nicole said. “Robin, I don’t know who you talked to, but I’m getting curious. What else do you know about Billy?”
“Not much,” Robin said. “He had sad eyes, and he really liked you. The note must have been his way of expressing his feelings for you. I know it sounds odd, but that’s the impression that I’m getting.”
“I knew he was kind of shy,” Nicole said. “But he was a nice guy.”
“Sad eyes?” Billy said. “What am I, a bassett hound?” Robin ignored Billy’s presence as best she could.
“Come on, Nic,” Colton said. “Let’s go. This girl is nuts.”
“Nic? Nikki?” Billy looked at Colton. “I thought she didn’t like being called that.”
“Colton, what’s wrong?” Nicole asked. “I just want to hear what she has to say.” She said to Robin, “What else do you know?”
“I can recite the note from memory,” Billy said to Robin. “Just repeat after me.” And Billy began to recite his love letter to Nicole, which Robin repeated to Nicole.
Robin said, “He said in his letter, ‘Hi Nicole. Let me come out and say I really like you. I’ve known you so long, and I’ve been trying to say how much I like you without sounding either sappy or stupid. Maybe just saying it is the best way to go….’”
Nicole slowly turned her head to look at Colton, who looked like he just got caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.
“’…because I know you are a very beautiful person who doesn’t need to be flattered,’” Nicole finished, getting up from her chair and looking very angry at her boyfriend.
Robin asked “Nicole, is something wrong?”
Nicole looked like she was about to explode. “That was HIS letter!?”
Colton tried to get the words out of his mouth but nothing was coming out. That’s when they realized the truth.
“You stole my love note!” Billy exclaimed.
“You stole Billy’s love note?” Robin exclaimed.
“You stole his love note!” Nicole exclaimed.
The commotion attracted the others. “Was there an echo here?” asked Ana, as the rest of the group came over. Colton was now sweating bullets, as he tried to think of something to say. Nicole, on the other hand, had no trouble.
“Billy sent me a letter and you stole it!?” Nicole angrily said. “And you said it was yours!”
“Well, I saw him put it in the locker crease,” Colton finally said. “I read it and I was going to throw it away, but I held on to it. I rewrote it and put my name on it!”
“Before or after he died?” demanded Nicole.
“Does it really matter?”
“It doesn’t,” Billy said. “But just so we all know…”
“I stuck it back in the locker after I rewrote it,” Colton confessed. “I didn’t even know Billy was…you know….”
“That’s low,” Robin said, the temper inside her rising.
“He wasn’t going to need it anymore!” Colton insisted.
“I wish I could hit him,” Billy said.
Billy didn’t have to. Nicole walked up to Colton and swiftly raised her knee. It connected, as Colton quickly dropped in obvious pain to the floor. Everyone watching cringed at the deserved retribution, as Nicole called him a few words that weren’t suitable for The P*lace, as well as some that were suitable – like “ex-boyfriend.”
“Couldn’t have done it better myself,” Robin said.
It took a couple of minutes for Colton to get up and leave The P*lace, walking very slowly as he did in pain as Nicole’s ex-boyfriend. After he did, Robin explained in full about Billy’s ghostly appearance at The P*lace the night before to the rest of the band as well as Nicole. When she was done, the others just looked at Robin.
Eric finally said, “Should we be calling 'Ghost Busters'?”
“Careful,” Robin said, “Billy’s still here.” And he was, as Billy rolled his eyes at Eric’s remark.
“Does Billy look anything like Casper?” Haylie asked.
“He doesn’t,” Robin replied. “He was just a kid like us.” Robin looked over to Nicole. “Sorry if I did anything to hurt you,” Robin said to her.
“It’s all right,” Nicole said back. “I just wish….” She began tear up in her eyes, “…I wish I had known all this before…I wish I could’ve said something to him.”
“You still can,” Robin said. “He’s still here.”
Billy moved over next to Nicole. “Go ahead, you can tell me,” he said to her.
Nicole looked around, then said, “Billy, I’m sorry about what happened. I kind of already knew about you liking me. I don’t know how much but you did. I wish we could’ve been friends more while you were here.”
Billy smiled, then he leaned forward and kissed Nicole on her cheek, even though it was more symbolic than anything. But after he did, Nicole raised her hand to where Billy had kissed her.
“Billy?” she asked.
Billy looked at Robin. “I’m going now,” he said to her. “The light is here.”
“He’s going now,” Robin said to Nicole.
“Good bye everyone,” Billy said. “Thanks, Robin. Goodbye, Nicole.” Robin watched as Billy turned around, and walked away, vanishing as he did, this time, for good.
Nicole began to cry, but said, “Goodbye Billy.”
The next day, the Kids gathered at the counter before their first performance of the day at The P*lace, talking to Robin about the ghost of Billy Lynden.
“I’ve heard ghost stories before,” Ana said, “but this is the first one I know that wasn’t scary.”
“I know I would be scared,” Haylie added.
“I guess most ghosts aren’t scary,” Robin said. “They’re just spirits who just wander around wondering what happened and what can they do about it.”
“Sounds like ghosts are feeling guilty about something,” Kenny said. “So how is Nicole doing?”
“She’s doing better,” Robin said. “It will be a while before she gets over what happened.”
“I guess I can forget about calling ‘Ghost Busters’,” Eric remarked.
“Maybe this can be a full time job for you, Robin,” Ana said. “You can talk to a ghost, find out what’s bothering them, and help them move on.”
“A shrink to the spirit world?” Kenny asked. “That would be a new one.”
“I don’t think so,” Robin said. “One ghost is enough.”
“Maybe so,” Eric said. “But I bet you would have a cool job title. They would call you the….ghost girl!”
The others groaned as they headed for the stage.
“Wait!” Eric said as he followed them. “How about the ‘ghost communicator’? ‘The ghost getter’? ‘Ghost finder’? Wait, I got it! They can call you …‘the ghost whisperer!’…”