Cold Tea and Ghosts

The tea and toast were stone-cold, but she didn’t notice. How could she, when he was there?

His shadow wavered in the evening gloom, flickering against the striped wallpaper of the parlor. Jane sat, transfixed by the movement near the window. Her skin had broken out in goose flesh as the eerie phantom danced in the corner. For as long as she could remember, she felt haunted. It was as if her body had become a water tank, poised on spindly legs and overflowing with the multitude of memories and moments she couldn’t quite escape.

Now those hauntings had transformed into an actual spirit standing–no, hovering–in the shadows of this ancient room with peeling wallpaper and moldy couches.

And her tea was cold.

Tears cascaded down her cheeks in rivers of sadness she couldn’t quite name. So much loss, so much longing, and the tea had sent her over the edge. The running away hadn’t helped either, at least not like she thought it would. Instead of serenity, she seemed to have only found darkness underneath the already black shroud covering her life.

She should have gone to some tropical beach where good looking cabana boys delivered ice cold drinks on silver platters instead of here, to this ancient and dilapidated mansion on the rocky cliff’s of Ireland. It was beautiful and quiet, but she couldn’t help feeling defeated in such a gloomy and desolate place. The rain never stopped and the crashing waves created a thunderous backdrop to her already dark machinations. And, of course, the ghost.

At first, Jane had forced herself to believe that he was only in her imagination, her unsettled mind playing gory tricks on her, but he hadn’t disappeared yet, even with all her focus on blinking him from existence. And now he was starting to look familiar which was even worse than being haunted by a stranger because then she could just imagine it was all in her head.

His watery face looked like Jack and she knew it wasn’t a facade. Jack had followed her for twenty years and he was the reason she found herself sitting on a battered couch in an old Irish mansion with nothing to eat but cold toast and tea.

Jane glanced at the phantom floating near the window and scowled. “Why don’t you just go away!” she shouted, shaking her hands in protest. She had loved Jack so incredibly that she had almost died when he left. Or, perhaps it was when she did. Jane didn’t know and the ghost in the corner was making it so much harder to forget.

She couldn’t stand it any longer and headed for the door, leaving the miniscule meal and the ghost behind in her wake. She would call Sarah, the only true friend she ever had, but the only service on this blasted cliff was near the treacherous edge. Jane didn’t care in the slightest. She needed a respite that this place wasn’t giving her.

Practically running through the ankle-deep grass, her feet sinking in the sticky mud, Jane reached the cliff and turned on her phone. She hadn’t looked at it in a week and the screen lit up with a dozen notifications she bypassed with ease. Who cared about Facebook and Twitter when a poltergeist had followed her out to the cliff. Jane could see Jack’s glimmering silhouette in the distance, hovering halfway between her and the house. Feeling crazier than ever, she glared at him and dialed Sarah.

The phone rang twice and beeped to let her know the signal was lost. Jane scowled at the phone and cursed her stupid vacation plans. With phone in hand, she stretched out, her toes barely touching the muddy ground.

“Damn it!” she muttered as the phone continued to blink in and out of service. “Why won’t you work?” Jane yelled, her eyes pointing heavenward, focused on the phone and not the perilous cliff at her feet.

Just then, the bars lit up and she pushed send only to feel the earth disappear from beneath her. The phone tumbled from her fingers as her body tumbled through the open air.

A scream caught in Jane’s throat and she closed her eyes as the wind sailed through her amber hair. She thought of Sarah. She thought of her writing that would never be finished and her dad who she hadn’t seen in ages. Images of a life, long and sweet, flashed through her mind, a movie playing out behind her eyelids. A smile blanched her lips just as the wind disappeared, but it wasn’t the cold Irish sea she felt enclose her in its liquid embrace. Instead, warmth blanketed her body, sending hot spikes through her skin. Jane opened her eyes, and instead of seeing the cliff or the water, she saw Jack. His brown eyes were blurry and his features uneven, but there he was, saving her from dying at the mercy of fate.

Before she knew it, her feet touched the muddy hillside and Jack’s arms had left her wanting once more. “Thank you,” Jane whispered, the words coming out like sand. She could feel the tears sliding down her cheeks and the longing replaced with gratitude and satisfaction in knowing he loved her. Although Jack still lived, his spirit had saved her, just like remembering his face had done so many times in the past. Jane smiled as the phantom dissolved into the fog that had begun creeping up the cliff.

Jane turned back towards the house and saw her phone lying a short distance away. A laugh erupted from her mouth, taking her by surprise. She hadn’t realized how much she had needed to know that Jack had really loved her, and it finally felt over. She could go home.

Phone in hand, Jane trudged back to the house with a weight lifted from her heart. She needed to call Sarah, to tell someone what had happened. The phone still flashed a dozen messages and the first one was from Sarah.

Oh, Jane. I’m so sorry. Please call me as soon as you hear.

What? Had something happened? Her mind immediately thought of her father and his ailing health, and she stabbed her finger into her phone, searching for more information.

The next message was from her sister.

Call me! Where are you??

Her sister seemed frantic. Jane’s heart raced faster, a tiny jackhammer inside her chest. What could it be? And then the beating stopped.

The third message was from Jack.

Jane, I know it’s been awhile, but I needed to tell you how much I regret letting you go that day. I know now that we could have been so much more than something. Call me when you get back (Sarah told me where you are). I miss you and hope you find what you’re looking for.

Jane’s mouth went dry and she could actually feel her heart beating, its tempo stuttering like her breath. Just as she had been trying to forget him, there he was. Her smile had returned, thoughts of disaster falling from her mind the same way her feet had tumbled over the cliff’s edge.

Absently, she checked the fourth message as her thoughts wandered to warm beach summers and salty night kisses. Jack. He had saved her twice today.

But the message. It said something strange. From Dad.

Jane. You need to come home. Jack died yesterday. Car crash. Come home.

Jane blinked, her vision blurring as she remembered Jack’s ghostly arms saving her from the sea. Her knees hit the ground, sinking into the dark mud, and she realized she should have known. The ghost had never been so real as he was today. Jack had died five days ago, but he had never forgotten. He saved her just like he always had and he loved her. Jane had his words and his ghostly rescue to prove that.

As she lay in the mud, dirt sticking to her hair, Jane finally said goodbye.

***

Written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge–Kill Your Darlings

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