"You haven't told them yet? What you are?" Mr. Vaughn asked quietly.
Monica's eyes fell to the floor and her voice was more subdued this time. "I... no. I haven't. Do you know what it's like? It's so hard, coming back like this."
Mr. Vaughn nodded, and when he came forward and put a hand on Monica's shoulder, she didn't flinch away. "I've heard it's hard. But it's only going to get worse the longer you stay."
While the two were talking, Finnley and Mia were staring at them, bug-eyed. Finnley couldn't really make sense of their exchange, and Mia was getting a really weird gleam in her eye. "Okay, cut the mystery," she said, stepping forward. "There's no way we are going to judge you any more than we already have so can you please just tell us what you are?"
Mr. Vaughn cleared his throat awkwardly. "You see, your friend here is-"
"Let me tell them." Monica looked dead ahead at Finnley and Mia, no tremor in her voice or her hands. "I'm dead."
Finnley blinked hard. Of everything he had prepared himself to hear, that wasn't it. "E-excuse me?" He stammered. Mia noticed her mouth was slightly ajar and promptly shut it.
Monica sighed, as if this had been exactly the reaction she had been expecting. "I'm a ghost. I died several months ago and just ended up here recently. I don't even go to your school, I just... pop in sometimes."
Finnley didn't know what he could safely ask. How did you die? Too morbid, probably personal too. How does being a ghost even work? He wasn't sure if Monica even knew that herself. While Finnley was standing there, flummoxed, Mia took action.
"Oh my goodness!" she cried, hugging Monica tight. "I could never hate you for that! Sure, it's totally unexpected and more than a little creepy, but if you can't count on friends for that what can you count on them for? I think it's pretty cool."
"Really?" Monica said smiling tentatively. Finnley realized that he should've just said something normal instead of overthinking things. Why couldn't he act right in any situation.
"I'm with Mia," Finnley said after a moment. He wasn't very good at slapping a smile on his face, but he hoped that she could see the truth in his eyes. It was a poetic thought, at the very least. "It's... it's different, but that doesn't mean it's bad, does it?"
Monica smiled again, this time with relief, but Mr. Vaughn had a stern look in his eye. "Monica, we should talk for a minute, alone," he said. "I'm old, and it's quite likely that I know more about being a ghost than you do- there are some things I should warn you about, at any rate." He gestured for her to go upstairs with him, and Finnley was left alone with Mia.
"Woah," he said when Mr. Vaughn and Monica were out of sight. He sunk slowly into an old armchair. He was feeling a little faint.
"Woah is right," Mia agreed. She was crossing and uncrossing her arms and looking rather unsuccessfully for a place to sit herself. At last she settled into a creaky wooden rocking chair. "She's a really sweet girl, and I totally want to support her... but I get why she wanted to feel normal now. Wow."
Finnley nodded. "It makes so much sense, too. How she always seemed to appear or disappear- she literally disappeared into thin air." He let out a short laugh.
"I'm mostly just sad," Mia mused. "I mean, she's dead, and at such a young age! What- what must that even be like?"
"I don't know," Finnley admitted. "It must be really, really hard. But why come here, though? She said there was something she needed to do. Do you think that's why she's a ghost in the first place? Because there's something 'unfinished'? That's what the stories say."
"I don't know." The two were silent then, and they listened to the sounds of Mr. Vaughn's and Monica's voices drifting down from above, creating a murmured harmony to the half-dozen antique clocks scattered around the room. This, Finnley thought, was the definition of waiting.
Eventually, the two of them creaked back down the stairs. Monica's shoulders seemed to have sunk- they weren't scrunched around her neck like they were before, and Finnley took it to be a good thing.
"And you promise to tell him?" Mr. Vaughn was saying, staring intently at Monica. "You'll fulfill your purpose?"
"I promise," Monica said. "I will."
"Good. And then you'll leave?"
"Yes," she whispered in a single breath, the hiss of the 's' through her teeth echoing around the room.
"Okay. You be careful, alright? Come back if you need any help. Remember the things that I told you. Don't break any of the rules," Mr. Vaughn instructed her. "Finnley, I'll give you some more time to think over my offer of apprenticeship. I'll see you back here tomorrow afternoon." With that, Mr. Vaughn turned towards the back of his shop, softly humming a song from the seventies. Monica, Mia, and Finnley stepped quickly out into the shadows of late afternoon.
"You guys are really okay with it?" Monica asked, eyes flitting between the two of them.
"Sort of freaked out," Finnley shrugged.
"It's kind of crazy in a good way?" Mia suggested.
"It's actually pretty cool," Finnley added. Monica just smiled.
"So, you got any awesome powers?" Mia asked with a grin.
"Nope. Only I know some things I shouldn't and can pretty much appear and disappear at will," Monica said, seeming pleased that she could share this with them."
"Oh! I know, I know! Finn and I should dress up as the ghostbusters for Halloween," Mia declared. The three of them laughed, and in that moment, everything went back to normal. So their friend wasn't really alive. So what? It was a huge deal, and yet it changed nothing about their relationships. It was just who she was- admittedly, a really strange, supernatural and dead part of who she was- but it was who she was nonetheless. Finnley hadn't thought less of her the day before and he wouldn't think less of her now. It seemed that their friendships had only grown stronger from this.