word count: 1147
Picture this: you’re seven years old and you’re suddenly whisked off to some town you’ve never heard of. Your parents don't know that you’re leaving behind all of the friends they can’t see. Even more importantly, they don’t care about you leaving behind your beloved Rosie Grey. The two of you did everything together; you can’t imagine a world that doesn’t involve her. You spend the next ten years of your life fantasizing about returning to your childhood. You try to comfort yourself by flitting between graveyards and other forgotten spectral haunts. You befriend ghosts, lose those ghosts as they pass on or are otherwise taken, and repeat the cycle countless times. You become the kid that everyone avoids at school (even when you pull straight As on all of your report cards) because no one else can see said ghost.
After some time, your parents realize that maybe the move wasn’t the best idea. It’s not because of your actions. They never really cared about you. The real regret is that your mom’s new job doesn’t pay as much as the one she had ten years ago. And – surprise! – that old job is hiring. So you pack your belongings, say goodbye to the ghosts you’ve barely just met, and move back to that town you’ve been dreaming about for your entire teenage career.
But then you get there.You go to your favorite place and look for your old friends. The ghosts you knew aren’t there anymore. They haven’t been for some time. There’s new ghosts there that have heard stories of you and knew the previous ghosts, but it isn’t the same. Your old partner-in-crime shows up, but she isn’t the same, either.
The old Rosie Grey’s clothes had always been ready for a good bout of roughhousing. You had even lent her a pair of your cousin’s old jeans one time when she wanted to play in the mud and her dad said her pants were too good for that. You can’t imagine this Rosie stubbornly finding a way to spend time in the great outdoors. Her thin winter gloves and fall coat are all in similar shades of a subtle gray. Her sneakers are nowhere to be found; instead, you find that she’s wearing a pair of boots. Not combat boots like your own - high-heeled, fashionable brown boots that you had always joked about when you saw high schoolers wearing them years ago. Even the way that her hair is styled hints that she had lost her wild touch.
Still, you trust her. You go through the motions that you did when you were a kid. You have a better sense of humor than you did back then, so you add in a few nice smirks and offhand comments she doesn’t appreciate as much as you thought she would. Things are going sour, but you don’t think they’ll go too bad. You can salvage this.
Then she says the words she’s never supposed to say.
And those ten years of hoping and wishing and praying are all for nothing.
Welcome to my life.
It was the day after my disastrous return to South Haven. I rarely wanted to get out of bed early in the morning, but I especially didn’t want to do it that day. I woke up a good twenty minutes later than I probably should have. I popped some bread into the toaster and nursed it as my parents talked off in the living room. It almost reminded me of when I was seven years old, but this wasn’t the same house. The kitchen hadn’t been so close to the front door back then. I tried not to think about whoever had bought the house after we moved away; it had never really been my favorite place in South Haven, anyways.
I rushed to get ready. I put on my very best (and only) black leather jacket in the hopes that I’d make a good impression on my former classmates. I had seen the inside of the high school a few times before. It wasn’t anything to get excited about. It was so old that they couldn’t replace the windows because the right size pane was no longer being manufactured. There was even a healthy dose of asbestos lurking in the ceiling.
I stood outside in the surprisingly cold weather and caught an unsurprisingly obnoxious bright yellow bus. I was one of the first kids on it. Naturally, I claimed one of the seats in the far back of it. I would have taken the single seat there, but some kid had already beaten me to it. We made eye contact for a few seconds - me giving him a look - but the kid refused to budge.
...At the very least, I could admire his dedication.
The bus went through a series of stops. The streets almost looked familiar. It wasn’t until we came to a stop in front of a house that occasionally showed up in my memories that I realized Rose and I were on the same bus route. We had hoped that would happen for years, but it looked like the school busing system had a sense of irony. I rolled my eyes when I saw her join up with a far-too-formal looking guy. Gelled back brown hair, pristine collared white shirt, and black dress pants - the guy looked like he was going to work at some fancy business, not heading off to another dreary day at South Haven High.
Rose stepped onto the bus. Everyone in the seats she passed gave her a wide berth. It looked like Rose had picked up an instrument: an impressively large tuba. It was so large that she needed an entire seat for both her and the case.
Leaving the boy she was making lovey-dovey eyes at to sit down in the nearest seat.
For a little context: the only empty seat on the bus was the one right in front of me. And the only one that had space for one more person near that seat was mine. I rolled my eyes for a second time and looked out the window as he sat down. Rose didn’t even notice me at first; that wasn’t much of a surprise.
When I glanced over at the two, the boy had rested his arms against the back of Rose’s seat. He had a dreamy, soft look to his green eyes as he stared at my ex-best friend. I tried my best to remain emotionless, but a frown stubbornly flickered across my face.
“I hate band days,” the boy said.
Rose laughed. I shifted a little in my seat. I had forgotten how much I had missed that laugh of hers. “Theo, we have all of our classes together. We’ll make up for it then.”
“But I want to sit with you now,” he said, resting his hand on hers.
I rolled my eyes again.
“Well,” she said, a mischievous little smile dancing across her lips. There was my Rosie. “If a certain Theodore Mendel had gotten his license earlier, he could have been driving me to school by now. And the tuba could have been thrown into his car’s trunk-”
“Rosebud?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”
I did my best not to retch at the pet name. Seeing how Rose was staring at me now helped just a bit.
“Van-” Rose started to say.
Whatever she had been about to tell me, she never got a chance to finish.
Everything happened so quickly that I barely had a chance to register it all. I’d later find out the more specific details, but what happened was as follows:
The bus stopped at a light that had turned red faster than expected. A truck that had been tailgating the bus for the past two streets didn’t see the light change - and it didn’t help that the driver was texting. The front of the truck collided with the back of the bus with a loud satisfying crunch as the truck driver tried to steer the truck away. He only partially succeeded; it just hit the side of the bus that I was on.
I felt pain. I felt another bleeding body as I was knocked into Theodore Mendel by the collision. I felt a strange, familiar warmth. And as my world fell into darkness, I heard a voice I knew I should have recognized say words that I could barely hear.