Jenny Jeffers is a totally normal teenager, except for the fact that she’s haunted by the ghost of a deranged babysitter-beater-upper who once tried to push her off a cliff.
As ghosts go, Mr. Hagen is probably the worst type Jenny could’ve got. He doesn’t ooze dark water like the girl from The Ring. He doesn’t rattle chains like the old dudes who haunted Scrooge. He doesn’t portend matters of state like Hamlet’s dad.
He sort of just hovers in the background with his arms crossed, looking dour and disapproving as he critiques Jenny’s babysitting skills.
“That child should have been in bed an hour ago,” he says thunderously as Jenny sets up another game of checkers for the kid she’s watching.
“It’s not even eight yet,” Jenny protests. The kid looks up at her curiously and then looks back down at the checkerboard.
“Children under the age of seven must be in bed by seven,” says Mr. Hagen. “That is the rule I’ve raised all my children by.”
Yeah, Jenny thinks, because you’re such a stellar parent.
She doesn’t say this aloud, though. The kid already thinks she’s crazy.
When she’s not on a babysitting job, Mr. Hagen prefers to haunt her kitchen. He likes to glower at the coffee machine, since he can’t turn it on and have a cup. He also likes to read the back of the Cheerios box, so Jenny makes sure to keep it in the cupboard and out of sight.
“Once,” she tells Laura over pizza, “I caught him trying as hard as he could to open all the drawers, Poltergeist-style.”
Laura wrinkles her nose and rips a greasy-looking pepperoni off her slice of pizza. Jenny expects her to set it aside on the napkin next to her plate, but instead Laura pops it into her mouth and plucks another pepperoni off the slice. Then she starts in on the mushrooms, and then the slimy, overcooked banana peppers, and then the olives.
“You only eat toppings now?” Jenny asks. Laura raises an eyebrow at her.
“You’re talking about the ghost of some dude you babysat for five years ago,” she says wryly, “and you wanna take issue with the way I eat my pizza?”
Jenny can’t help but feel abashed. She considers making some sort of gesture as an apology — like paying for dinner, maybe — but then she looks down at the two medium pizzas they got and the sodas and the order of breadsticks and thinks, Well, maybe not.
“Anyway,” says Laura, setting aside her topping-free slice of pizza to grab a fresh one from the tray, “why doesn’t this guy go haunt his family instead? What’s the point in hanging around some random chick who babysat his kid for less than a year?”
“He did sort of fall off a cliff trying to kill me,” Jenny points out. She looks down at her pizza, suddenly feeling uncomfortably full. She takes a drink of soda and grimaces as it settles in her stomach, watered-down and fizzy. “I just hate how he follows me around all the time. Not to the mall or school or anything, but on my jobs. You know how hard it is to keep some random kid entertained when the ghost of a middle-aged psychopath is standing around saying, ‘Hey, Jenny, don’t you think Looney Tunes is a little violent for a nine-year-old?’”
“Looney Tunes?” Laura repeats disbelievingly. “The Babysitter Attacker thinks Looney Tunes is too violent?”
Glumly, Jenny dips half a breadstick into a tub of melted cheese, examines it as it drips, and then sets it aside untouched. “He said it’s not decent how the Road Runner beats up Wile E. Coyote all the time.”
“Wile E. Coyote beats himself up,” Laura says, shaking her head in disgust. “Jeez, Jenny, I don’t know how you put up with it. I’d lose my mind if I had some ghostly Mr. Hickey—”
“Mr. Hagen,” says Jenny automatically.
“—Mr. Hacky-sack floating around criticizing my every move.” Laura snatches Jenny’s abandoned breadstick off the plate and chews on it thoughtfully, blissfully unaware of Jenny’s envious gaze.
Jeez, Jenny thinks, I wish I could eat like that and stay so thin.
But thinking about Laura and her flawless looks always leads Jenny down a dark rabbit hole, so she shakes the thought away as quickly as she can.
“I’ve got it,” says Laura suddenly, decisively.
“The perfect solution.” Laura shoves her plate full of picked-over pizza slices and half-eaten breadsticks to the side so she can plant both elbows on the table. She leans forward, eyes glittering with mischief. “Something that’ll scandalize Mr. Haagen-Dazs so bad that he’ll leave you alone forever.”
“Oh, no,” says Jenny, but she leans forward, too, unable to hold back a smile. “I’m listening.”
Her next babysitting job is on a Friday night across down, at the Stuckeys’ house. The Stuckey children are both under five and are already asleep when Jenny arrives.
And if the Stuckeys are surprised to see that Jenny has brought a friend, they don’t show it. Laura comes bouncing up the front steps as if she owns the place, her blonde hair bobbing against her shoulders, her hands shoved into the pockets of an over-sized letterman jacket she probably got from the cute quarterback who thoroughly trounced their team at last week’s game.
She’s irresistible, Jenny knows. She looks wholesome and carefree and innocently sexy, and she can tell from the way Mr. and Mrs. Stuckey are looking at her that they think Laura must be some sort of church girl, someone who doesn’t quite understand what she does to teenage boys when she puts on lip gloss and tilts her head like that.
The parents don’t even put in a cursory protest to Laura’s presence. Mr. Stuckey smiles at both of them and Mrs. Stuckey says, “There’s a list of instructions on the fridge. Feel free to call for delivery if you get hungry.”
And then Mr. Stuckey says, “Have fun, girls. Be safe.”
And then they’re gone, and it’s just Jenny and Laura and the sleeping kids and…
Mr. Hagen, scrutinizing the Stuckeys’ child-proofing measures and tutting in disapproval.
“Do you see him?” Jenny whispers.
Outside, headlights swing slowly over the front windows as the Stuckeys back their car out of the drive. Laura is staring right at Mr. Hagen, her face screwed up like she smells something rotten.
“Oh yeah, I see him,” she says. “Let’s get started.”
Anxiety shoots up Jenny’s spine like an electric shock. Her palms are sweating. She bites her thumbnail and keeps her eyes fixed on Mr. Hagen so she doesn’t have to look Laura’s way.
“Right now?” she says. And then, because she has to say something, “Right here?”
“Well, I was thinking on the couch,” says Laura, clearly amused. Mr. Hagen looks their way and then does a double-take, putting his hands on his hips.
“You brought company?” he says, his voice a high-pitched shriek. “You know how I feel about company!”
“Aw, jeez,” says Jenny, covering her face. “Yeah, the couch is fine.”
Laughing, Laura takes her hand and leads her into the living room. The sofa there is large and soft-looking, though there are numerous obvious stains to be seen — vegetable soup on the arm, apple juice on the middle cushion.
“Company leads to distractions,” Mr. Hagen rants as he drifts into the living room behind them. “Distractions lead to accidents, Jenny. As we speak, one of the Stuckey children could be drowning in the bathtub or falling out the bedroom window.”
Laura pushes Jenny down onto the couch, smirking, and Jenny meets her gaze and rolls her eyes, as if to say, You see what I have to deal with?
“And you aren’t even going to check, are you?” says Mr. Hagen waspishly, clearly disgusted. “No, clearly that would be too much to ask. You’re going to sit here with your friend, I see, and chat about boys and listen to rap music while those children — those — what are you doing?”
His voice goes up a couple octaves, hitting peak shrillness, making the kind of noise that would make Jenny’s middle school choir teacher clap her hands with joy.
What Jenny is doing, of course, is kissing Laura.
And she’s a bit shocked by it, too. The thing is, even though they planned this, even though she’s had two days to grow accustomed to the plan, Jenny still didn’t really see it coming. Not until Laura’s strawberry-flavored lips were on hers, all soft and warm and gentle, and her fingers were brushing bare skin at Jenny’s waist, touching her where her sweater had ridden up, not until Laura’s beautiful blonde hair was hanging down over Jenny’s face and tickling her neck.
She closes her eyes. Faintly, in the background, she can hear Mr. Hagen making scandalized noises. She makes out a few words, quick snatches that illustrate how offended he is: Inappropriate, of course, and unbelievable, and in a harsh whisper, he spits the word, lesbians! And Jenny can’t help but laugh at that.
But soon enough, Mr. Hagen fades away, and it’s just Laura’s hands on her inner thigh, Laura’s lips on her neck, Laura’s smile, Laura’s breasts brushing hers, Laura’s nervous, giddy laugh.
At some point, Jenny becomes aware that Mr. Hagen is gone. For the first time since his death, he’s fully disappeared. He’s not haunting her. The trick has worked.
And Laura’s hands are deftly unbuttoning Jenny’s jeans, and she isn’t ready to stop.