There were a few things that Luke was absolutely certain of.
Firstly – that he was dead. That had been a weird one to process, if he was being honest. Luke had never imagined himself dying young – had never felt anything more than a burning desire to live his life to the fullest, before it had been cut unexpectedly short. Dying at seventeen had never been part of the plan – no, the plan had always been to spend his life doing the one thing he loved the most, play music. But he had died, and the distinct lack of physical form and heartbeat confirmed that as a certainty.
The second thing Luke was absolutely certain of was Reggie and Alex. The three of them had been fast friends from the moment they’d met their freshman year of high school, and the one thing Luke could always rely on was their friendship. He used to be able to say that about Bobby, too – or Trevor, whatever his name was – but not anymore. No, the only friends he could rely on were Reggie and Alex. They were his family, more than they were friends – Luke was absolutely sure of that.
Thirdly – Luke was absolutely certain he was completely, head over heels in love with Julie Molina.
That had been sort of unexpected, if Luke was being honest. He’d never been in love before – not really. Alex and Reggie had been the ones who’d brought that life experience to their song writing sessions. Luke had always been too focused on music to pay attention to anything – or anyone – else.
Luke had been intrigued by her from the moment they’d met her. Her grief, it had radiated from her in waves, and Luke had felt an affinity towards her for it – all of them had. The moment he’d heard her sing for the first time had sealed the deal, in a way, making it clear to Luke that his feelings for Julie were developing into something more than just mutual respect and friendship.
How was he supposed to get up on stage with a girl like Julie and not fall in love with her? Her passion, her love for music – if Luke could have imagined himself the perfect partner, he could never have even begun to imagine a girl like Julie. Once they’d gotten past their initial qualms and bickering, Luke had never felt more understood or seen by another human being.
And when she’d gone to visit his parents.
Luke’s greatest regret was the way he had left things with his mom and dad. They were good people, and they wanted a good life for Luke – they wanted him to go to college and build a stable life for himself. Luke had only ever wanted to play music, from the moment he got his first guitar, and it had caused constant arguments. Luke had just never been able to see it from their perspective – why should he have a backup career? He’d believed so wholeheartedly in Sunset Curve, he couldn’t imagine the band not succeeding.
And if Bobby had just given him the credit he deserved, his parents would have known that Luke’s dream had been worth pursuing. Luke would never forgive Bobby for what he’d done, for how he’d stolen Luke’s life work and denied his parents the comfort of knowing Luke would have been able to follow his dreams and build a life he was proud of with his music.
Julie had given his parents some of that by giving his mom the song.
Luke couldn’t ease his parents grief, but Julie had tried to – and in that moment, Luke’s love for Julie had settled right down to his bones. Well, it would have, if he still had bones.
Though now Julie could physically touch them, Luke wasn’t sure how it all worked.
Being dead was a bit of a mystery, sometimes.
The point was that Luke loved Julie. He loved her passion, her singing, the way she would do this hilarious little snort when she started laughing too hard. She loved how Julie loved Alex, and Reggie – how she’d happily sit with them and fill them in on the twenty five years of life they’d missed, how she eagerly told Alex all about LA Pride and how they should all go – how she indulged Reggie’s obsessions, going as far as to buy him an actual banjo for his birthday out of her own money.
Luke loved how she wore the old Sunset Curve t-shirt they’d given her mom at a show before they’d died, the t-shirt miles too long for her achingly familiar to Luke as they’d sit for hours on end, writing songs together.
Luke loved everything about her.
But he was dead.
That was always going to be the problem.
Luke was pretty sure he’d be able to kiss Julie. He could hug her – kissing her wouldn’t be all that different.
But Luke couldn’t give her a life, could he? Luke – he was either going to be a seventeen year old ghost for the rest of Julie’s life, or one day, they would finally finish their unfinished business, and cross-over, and Julie would be alone.
Luke couldn’t do that to her.
He – he was pretty sure Julie had feelings for him. Alex and Reggie had teased him about it enough, and Luke, well – he trusted Alex on a lot of things, but especially things like this. Alex had always been the most empathetic of the three of them, in-tune with people’s feelings in a way that Luke could only admire.
Luke could never confess his feelings to Julie – no, he would have to keep it to himself.
Which was why he was sitting on the stairs of the garage, watching as Julie excitedly headed out for her first date with Nick.
“If you stop sharing your location even for a second,” Flynn said, her tone serious. “I will make your ghost boys whoosh in and make sure you’re not being murdered. Okay?”
“Flynn – it’s just Nick.”
“He’s still a boy!” Flynn rolled her eyes. “Alex, back me up here.”
The other weird new development in their afterlives was that they could now show themselves to anyone they wanted to. Mostly, that just meant that they made themselves visible around Flynn, and so she’d become a major part of their life, in recent weeks.
Reggie was the one who interjected. “Flynn’s right,” he said, trying his best to look serious. “We can come and beat him up.”
Julie rolled her eyes. “You’re a ghost,” she reminded. “You can’t beat anyone up. Anyway – I am going to go now, before anyone else says anything weird.”
And with that, she was gone.
On a date.
Luke didn’t think of himself as a jealous person. He – he was a chill guy, okay? But there and then, Luke was pretty sure that jealousy was about to eat him up from the inside out.
“You’re doing the right thing.”
Luke looked up to see Flynn standing in front of him. She could see them – but not touch them – and so her comforting hand went right through Luke’s shoulder. “Huh?”
“Julie,” Flynn’s voice was soft. “I know it can’t be easy for you to not tell her how you feel.”
Luke could deny it.
He could deny it and tell Flynn she was crazy and that he didn’t feel anything toward Julie – but judging by the look on her face, on Alex and Reggie’s, they wouldn’t believe him for a second. And so – he shrugged.
“I can’t ask her to love a ghost,” Luke said quietly, picking at a hole in his jeans. “It wouldn’t be fair.”
“She does love you, man,” Reggie interjected, squeezing himself on the step next to Luke, Flynn humming her agreement.
“She can’t have a life with me,” Luke replied, shaking his head, hating the way that tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke, his voice cracking. “She can with Nick – or whoever else she might meet. I can’t give her anything.”
“You gave her music back,” Flynn pointed out.
Luke closed his eyes.
He did. They did. She did it for herself. Those three things were all equally true, if you asked him – and that would have to be enough. Luke could never give Julie a life – a house, a family, a future. But he hoped that one day, long after he was gone, crossed over to whatever came after you died, Julie would remember him fondly and sing the songs they wrote together.
That would have to be enough for Luke.
That was enough.
Luke would take anything Julie would give him.
“Thank you,” Flynn spoke again.
“For not stopping her from going on this date,” Flynn said. “I – I know it can’t be easy, watching her walk away and maybe fall for someone else. But you know as well as I do that if you told her how you really felt, she’d never do it.”
He knew that.
Of course he knew that.
“I need to get some air,” Luke said, ignoring the fact that he didn’t actually need to breathe, anymore. He stood up, giving Reggie a weak smile as his friend tugged on his hand.
“You’re a good guy, Luke,” Reggie reassured.
“The best,” Alex hummed, sympathy oozing from his every pore. Alex – Alex was a romantic sap, and he loved love, and he believed so wholeheartedly in love, Luke had almost been jealous. The world had never made Alex jaded or cynical.
But it had for Luke.
It was cruel of the universe to put Julie Molina in his life and make it so Luke could never have her – not in the ways he wanted to.
Luke figured it was a punishment – for being a shitty son, maybe.
It had to be a punishment, because otherwise, it was really not fair to have him die and then get his heart broken for the first time as a fucking ghost.
If it was happening to anyone but him, Luke would laugh.
Closing his eyes, trying his best to remember how warm sand had felt underneath his feet, Luke transported himself to the beach, the busy crowds at Malibu a welcome distraction from his own thoughts as he sat down, notebook in hand.
Writing songs was the only way Luke had ever known how to process his own emotions – and so that was exactly was he was going to do.
And maybe –
Maybe one day, when Luke was long gone, Julie would find it, and she’d understand how much he loved her, she’d understand that if life had been different, if they’d been alive at the same time, Luke would have loved her openly and never let her go.
But that wasn’t this life.
Luke was certain of that.
Luke was absolutely certain of a few things, actually.
One - that he was dead.
Two - that Alex and Reggie were his family.
Three – he loved Julie Molina with everything he had.
Four – he could never tell her.