As hard is it was for Emilia to admit or to even believe it, being dead hadn’t stopped her from having the time of her life last night. Despite her being the eighth unexpected and unseen guest at Tracy’s bachelorette party, Emilia had laughed, danced, and craved the decadent and drenched in bad calories food Olivia had made for the event. The owner of the house went to great lengths to make her feel included all through the party. Whenever Emilia mentioned the name of a song she wanted to hear, Olivia would just go up to her Ipod and change the song herself.
Olivia had even indulged Emilia when the hit song, Single Ladies, began blaring from her speakers and had gotten the rest of the female guests to get up and imitate this very famous video’s choreography. Oh yes, the ghost recalled in pain, she’d been the one leading the uncoordinated dance group, symbolically at least. Olivia had stood behind her and copied her moves while the rest of the women wooed at the maid-of-honor’s knowledge of the sexy moves from the music video.
Emilia had always assumed a woman’s last wish before the big day was to see as many hot men as possible. The only time she’d gone to one of those places had been when one of her cousins got really wild the night of her own bachelorette party. Wild as in the poor dancer had to leave the place because her cousin had pretty much crossed the line when she’d tried to pull off the sexy dancer’s thong. Emilia was sure a restraining order had been involved as well.
Last night though, had been more fun and less embarrassing at least for the dead woman. And the only naked men present at the party were the pictures adorning a naughty set of poker cards Olivia had bought for the numerous card games they played and which involved dangerous and nauseating amounts of tequila and whisky. Even Emilia’s memory of a stomach had lurched over whenever one of the women had had to take a penalty shot. Like Sam used to say, Emilia’s was more of a girly-type of drink like flavored margaritas or apple martinis.
Like she’d told Olivia outside her parents’ house, she’d never had one true ever lasting girlfriend like Tracy. She’d hung out constantly with her friends from the office or went out with Sam’s friends from work. But the camaraderie she’d seen flow between the women who’d come yesterday to Tracy’s last night as a single lady had warmed her weightless, breezy self.
While getting her house ready, Olivia had begun telling her who was going to come. Emilia hovered close by as the maid-of-honor had been going around her house, lighting candles, prepping the bar, taking out the funky martini glasses that changed color, which she’d bought at a party store the other day, and making a party list on her Ipod.
Emilia had been certain the event was going to suck.
The first ones to arrive had been Tracy, her mom and a cousin of Tracy’s. Emilia had been able to notice the dagger glances she kept sending Olivia during the entire night, as it was quite obvious Tracy’s cousin resented being just a bridesmaid and not the leader of the group. Olivia’s mom arrived next and then two other teachers from Virginia Falls High School: the volleyball coach and the English teacher, Ms. Bell.
Far from Emilia to call herself a saint, it had been fun to watch other people get drunk and make fools of themselves, especially when it came to the drinking games. Who’d known Tracy’s mother had been dating two guys at the same time during high school. A piece of information she’d shared with them, while playing I never.
It had all been a different scene from her outings with her female friends from work. Emilia’s pale lips pulled up in a faint smile, as the buzz from those times engulfed her while sitting at Olivia’s dinning room table. They’d been fun at first, until her boss from hell, Amanda, decided to join them. After that, the rest of their bar outings would, much to Emilia’s dismay, include her boss.
Not everyone at her former office had despised the boss. In fact, Emilia had probably been the only one constantly at odds with Amanda. Maybe she would never know why, but Amanda got under her skin in a bad way and the two women were always snipping at each other during work hours.
Of course, neither women had never been able to do anything about it. In one hand, Emilia had never been able to do more than just bottle up all the expletives that came to mind whenever her boss dumped her unexpected work on occasional Fridays half an hour before six in the afternoon.
On the other hand, Amanda, as slow witted and nosy as she was, had been smart enough to know firing Emilia would only have proven to be a mistake. Emilia had been pretty darn good and fast with numbers, agile and resourceful with the computer, and had worked twice as fast as the others.
So, as a consequence, with her boss a constant fixture every time they went out, there’d been no room whatsoever to unwind and have a good and healthy dosage of office gossip over a round of drinks, like she’d seen Olivia do almost every day before going to teach her classes.
To Emilia, the whole scene always made her think of being stuck back at the office. Only that instead of drinking steaming and crappy coffee from their own mugs, they drank from martini glasses either cosmos, apple martinis or frozen margaritas. And the unshakable tension felt throughout the office, weighing down on them like a sack of rocks in the dim-lit and noisy bar.
However, the light and giddy atmosphere from last night vanished, when her wandering eyes stumbled upon a piece of paper lying on the dining room’s table.
Emilia remembered her parents taking that picture of her when they took her to Paris two years ago. Sam had gone too, and although this shot showed her with the impressive Eiffel Tower as the breathtaking background, Emilia’s gaze had been focused on him as he had taken that picture.
It was yesterday’s local paper, and it was spread wide open on the obituary section. Since both she and Olivia had lived in the Arlington area, it didn’t come as a surprise that the announcement of her death had made it here.
The bold, black and to her, enormous letters, felt like a sick dream. Maybe she could walk through solid walls, or hear another woman’s inner thoughts, and go through life knowing she would never again be noticed, but it were always these small details, the missed Thanksgiving with her family, craving the taste of chocolate, thinking about Sam, seeing her death so somberly plastered all over the paper that dug a hole deep inside her, and made the hollowness she’d felt ever since waking up at the hospital, even more unbearable.
Her pale hands shook as they reached down and skimmed over the details of her life, and stopped when she glimpsed a legend at the very bottom that informed every reader her funeral would be held today at five in the afternoon at Arlington’s Silent Hill Cemetery.
Ah, darn it. Emilia complained. She’d been really looking forward to go to Tracy’s wedding tonight. But her plans had dramatically changed. Today, she would be attending not a party, but her own funeral.
Olivia was aware the sun had come out already. And she was also aware that the only people left in her house were her mother, and of course, Emilia. Tracy and her group had unsuccessfully tried to slip out quietly from the house like an hour before. Olivia could bet anything Tracy’s cousin had been the one to drop her shoes on the wooden floor, the loud bang causing her to stir momentarily on the living room couch she’d claimed for herself last night. Or where she’d slumped rather ungracefully, while Tracy and her mother had begun to bawl while going on and on about how they would miss each other.
The aftershocks from the hangover had pulled her back to the depths of sleep, and Olivia sincerely had believed at the time, that sleep would be enough of a remedy to stop the pounding coming from inside her alcohol-fried brain. At least, it was easier to achieve than the chopping-off-her-head solution she’d thought about as soon as consciousness reminded her there was always a heavy price to pay whenever huge quantities of different types of drinks were mixed irresponsibly during the same night.
Her mother, bless her heart, had made her close the curtain of her living room window in anticipation of the shameful after-ten-shots-of-tequila state she would wake up to this morning.
The ridiculously hard and nonstop headache had finally woken her up. She lay down, looking up at the ceiling, grateful everything stayed in its place and wasn’t spinning out of control as it had done last night after penalty shot number three.
The only noise, apart from the occasional curse and groan coming from her was of the water running upstairs from her bathroom, as Sylvia Beckett had most likely woken up feeling as fresh a spring flower. Her mother had not drunk copiously as the rest of them, which made Olivia wonder why her own mother, her flesh and bone, hadn’t stopped her from drinking herself stupid.
Good thing the spotlight wasn’t going to be on her today. Olivia only hoped Tracy would feel fully recuperated by the time the make up artist and hairdresser arrived at her house at eleven this morning. Just the idea of having to seat straight for an hour while some woman stuck pins in her hair and chocked her with hairspray, was enough for her queasy stomach to do a cartwheel and threaten to make all the food she’d pigged down last night to find an escape route.
Grossed out, Olivia began to rise as slowly as was humanly possible, closing her eyes when her head felt heavy once all of her body was vertical.
Emilia strode in, noiselessly, thank god, and sat on the sofa across from her. It took Olivia a while to make her eyes focus on the ghost and really take in the look on her face. Her eyes were clouded with pain, the gray in them making her think of a thunderstorm, only this one was lashing out at Emilia from within. Her face paler than what she’d grown accustomed to, with the same sadness making her look like a marble statue, as cold and hard.
“I think all went to hell for you, the minute you decided it was a good idea to wash down the taste of tequila with a shot of whisky.”
The memory of her foolishness made her lower her head between her knees. Immediately, she cursed her reckless move, the second her still salvageable neurons scrambled like marbles inside her head.
“Ah, bad move. Oh, please, just shoot me.”
“And here we were thinking I had come here to save your life.”
The faintest trace of humor made the darkness around Emilia crack slightly. Clearing her throat, she waited until her friend’s disoriented brown eyes focused on her again.
“Listen, I won’t be able to make it to the wedding with you.”
“What?” God, why did her throat have to feel like sandpaper?
“I just have somewhere I need to be today at five. I’m sorry, though.”
“But you were so excited about it just last night. I promise what you saw last night won’t happen tonight. Believe me, I’ll try not to embarrass you tonight. I am the maid-of-honor, it’s my job to stop the bride from doing just that.”
Emilia would’ve gotten up to hug her if she could’ve actually been physically capable of doing so. She felt bad for being the second person to bail on Olivia for today, but this was something she needed to do alone. Besides, she was also certain that if she told Olivia the real reason for skipping the party, she would’ve felt torn up between her responsibility toward her best friend and being there for Emilia.
“It’s not that and come on, you need more than that to scare me away. I am the dead person roaming this world remember?”
“I just don’t understand. Is it because you and Sam….”
“What the wedding? No, at least before dropping dead I hadn’t reached that level of bitterness where I couldn’t watch anyone else getting married just because I wasn’t gonna to anytime soon. I’ll tell you tomorrow. You are maid-of-honor and you need to be focused on your friend. My problems can wait.”
Moved, Olivia slowly got up and dragged her feet over to stand in front of the ghost. Putting her palm up front, she waited until Emilia mimicked her move and despite the shiver as her warm skin grazed the ghost’s, she confessed.
“You still annoy the hell out of me. But now, I feel like as weird as this situation is, we were meant to meet. I know you have to do this on your own. I just want you to remember that as stubborn as you think I am, I can also be a good friend.”
It would’ve been swell to have met this woman under different circumstances. Emilia couldn’t remember the last time she’d met someone who had offered her friendship after only a few days of having met. And as much as she could use a friend today, she preferred to deal with this part of her own mess by herself.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
And with that, the ghost strode past Olivia and disappeared through the closed door. When Olivia walked over to the window and pulled the curtain to the side, there was no one out there.
Sylvia Beckett had forced her only offspring to have some breakfast, even though the idea of food was as unappealing as having a drink ever again in her entire life. Yet as mother’s go, her mother had also known her daughter needed her wits about her to perform her most important job ever and one she was honored to be doing for Tracy.
Olivia certainly felt less of a wreck after having had some chilaquiles her mother had made for her with the corn tortillas and green Mexican salsa she had in her fridge. The spicy taste was enough to counteract the dryness and sour after taste of alcohol still lodged inside her throat.
Grateful that her hands had stopped shaking three hours ago, she sat in front of her vanity mirror going through the final stages of her makeup. Since she had wanted Tracy to spend as much time as she could with her mom, she’d asked the make-up artist to make her a list of steps for applying her makeup at her own house.
Her hair, again, bless her mother, had been blow dried and then tied up with several pins. A few tendrils of brown had inevitably come loose around her face. Which was what she’d been aiming for. She hadn’t wanted to look too elegant with her hair in a tight bun, but she also had crossed off the option of having her hair loose. Her current hairdo looked classy but relaxed and carefree at the same time.
A few minutes later, she wiggled her body into the dress and sighed in relief when the zipper came up with no struggle. Thanks to her long arms, she didn’t need any assistance in zipping up the back. Her coat and her small clutch were on the bed, where she sat down on one corner and tied the straps of her shoes.
When she was done putting on the discreet necklace with a single diamond tear Tracy had given her as a gift, Olivia surveyed the finished product in front of the mirror and even did a small twirl to have a better view. She had to admit Tracy had outdone herself with the strapless, wine colored dress for the maid-of-honor and the rest of the bridesmaids.
Picking up her cell phone, she saw her timing had been perfect. All she had to do know was get to Tracy’s parents’ house and help the bride with her final preparations, before the limo got there to pick them up at four to take them over to this small park near the church to have the wedding pictures taken. The mass was set to begin at six sharp.
Grabbing her things, Olivia began to descend the stairs, regretting that Noah was not down there to comment on how she looked in her dress. Tracy had been right. The strapless dress hugged around her body tight enough for her breasts to look bigger and fuller than they really were. Olivia felt sexy, powerful and ready to dance her ass off at the party later tonight.
Just as she was about to go grab her car keys from the kitchen, a light knock sounded on her front door. Frowning at the inconvenience of whoever was on the other side, Olivia put her coat and clutch on the dinning room table and went over to answer the door. The gasp that escaped her was of pure shock.