Brown men’s leather shoes, tattered, and matched with ankle-length socks. Nothing horrendous about it…except for the fact that they gliding a few inches off the floor.
I dug my fingers into my palms in an effort to stay calm. Breathe in, breathe out. Hyperventilating would only draw their attention, and so would holding my breath. All there was to do was just breathe. Nice and easy, Saoirse. That’s it. Just like that. And then it was over, with the ghost moving on, and I silently breathed a sigh of relief.
I turned around unthinkingly and found myself staring straight into ceiling-dwelling granny’s red eyes.
I’M NOT SURE HOW LONG I was on the floor, face buried in my knees, arms wrapped around my shaking body. All I knew was that one moment, ceiling-dwelling granny was pulling on my hair, cackling and salivating while trying to force me to look at her, and then the next moment, there was nothing.
Nothing except Hadrian’s strong, calm voice gradually penetrating my senses.
It’s fine now.
There’s nothing to be afraid of.
The buzzing in my ears faded, and the pounding of my heart petered down. His voice was a sign of sanity, telling me that ceiling-dwelling granny hadn’t succeeded in killing me with a heart attack or, worse, turning me into one like her: a lunatic in the afterlife.
I forced myself to open my eyes. My vision swam for a moment before righting itself and rewarding my courage with the most reassuring sight: Tall, Dark, and Heroic. My knight in wool and denim.
“What happened?” Hadrian crouched down, phone between his ear and shoulder, while he started retying the laces of his boots.
I shook my head, too shamed to speak the truth.
“I heard you screaming when I came out to take a call. I saw someone pulling your hair.”
Just hearing the words had me remembering, and I found myself biting my lip to keep it from trembling. His bright silvery eyes told me that the truth was out.
Hadrian knew I was afraid of ghosts.
Here’s another perk when you become a ghost. You never stink! I tested this out thoroughly, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out in the sun, how many days you’ve gone without a shower or how much durian you’ve eaten. It doesn’t matter. You will never stink.
WE WERE BACK IN THE car, the engine running, and I was on his lap, his arms wrapped around me. I had just finished crying, and his sweater was wet against my cheek. My fingers touched the stained spot, and I whispered, “Sorry about this.”
That grunt of his was like my audible version of a comfort blanket now, and I actually found myself closing my eyes just to savor its sound.
“You okay now?”
“Then can we talk about the elephant in the room?”
“You mean, the ghost in the hospital, right?”
I felt him smile against my hair. “I’ll take that as a yes.” And then he was gently pulling me off, and I knew my grace period was up, and it was time to do a little adulting.
I leaned against the car door as I met his quiet gaze.
“You should’ve told me you were afraid of ghosts.”
“It’s stupid, isn’t it?”
“What’s your favorite food when you were alive?”
“Uh…” The sudden question threw me off, and I found myself blinking at him. “Lasagna, I guess?”
“Did you start hating it when you died?”
“No, of course…” I made a face when I realized this was just Hadrian making a point, i.e. the things you loved, hated, and feared didn’t change just because you died. And yes, I really did get it now, but…
“What about you?” I forced myself to ask. “Were you really never afraid of ghosts?”
“But what about the future? Are you sure you’ll nev—-mmph.” Hadrian sucked playfully on my lower lip, and my toes curled.
Lifting his head, Hadrian asked dryly, “Does that feel like I could ever be afraid of you?”
A smile wobbled over my lips. “Nope.”
“Keep it in mind then.” He bent his head again, but this time he nipped my lip just a little harder and rougher, like a sweet punishment only a lover could give.
Why was it that I had to meet him when I was already dead again?
HADRIAN SHARED THE latest update on his case when we were back in his apartment having a late lunch. Just as he had predicted, CSI only needed a short amount of time to interview the catoblepas breeders on their list, and one recent transaction had caught their eye: a request for a high-dosage catoblepas pill that was strong enough to negate human sensitivity to heat, and when asked for a temperature range, the customer had said a minimum of 2,000 degree Fahrenheit would do.
“2,000 degree Fahrenheit?” I echoed incredulously. “And the seller didn’t think that was weird or suspicious?”