His lips were soft against mine and gentler than I’d expected. I returned the kiss with enthusiasm, a shot of warmth buzzing around my body, sending my heart into a flutter.
It didn’t take me long to run out of breath, having not been entirely ready. I had to break the moment, pulling back as he chuckled, a lazy smile filing his face.
“I’ve wanted to do that since we first met, Amelia.”
I blushed and a stupid giggle escaped from nowhere. “Really?”
He nodded, brushing a strand of hair behind my ear, making me tingle all over. “Like I said,” he was whispering now. “You fascinate me.”
“I’m just . . . me.”
He leant in again and this time I was ready. This didn’t feel so spur of the moment, this felt serious and real and true and – wrong though it may seem – right. We took our time, not gasping for breath or rushing. We just existed there together for a moment so perfect, I almost couldn’t believe it was happening. One of his hands slipped around my waist and one of mine in his silky orange hair. The silence surrounding our breaths and kisses seemed warm and gentle.
I started wondering why I’d never found time to think about him like this. And then I remembered what was going on outside of this room.
I pushed him back, shaking my head. “We shouldn’t be doing this. This is wrong for so many reasons.”
He took my hand and squeezed it. “Why?”
“For a start . . .” I let out a shuddery breath. “You’re dead. Isn’t this necrophilia?”
“I’m not that dead.”
“And I should be worrying about my family and friends and my impending doom, not you.”
“Who said you had to wallow in misery?”
“I’m not wallowing. Just trying not to sink.”
He sighed. “I know it’s shit but it’s gonna get better.”
“Just trust me on that.” He was tracing his fingers over the back of my hand and I calmed, looking at his tattoo again.
“When’d you get that?”
“Just after my eighteenth birthday.” He grinned. “Lucky I’d booked it way before otherwise I never would’ve gotten it. I was only eighteen for two and a bit weeks.”
“I’ll never be eighteen . . . will I?” My birthday was four months away. I didn’t want to think about missing it, about missing the summer, about missing Christmas.
He bit his lip and just looked at me. “Do you want to know?”
My heart dropped. “You don’t have to answer that. I know I won’t.” I looked back to his arm, unable to meet his eye now.
The arrow was as simple as possible, thin and coloured in, that was all. And oddly beautiful. I understood why people got tattoos but I wasn’t nearly an arty enough person to justify marking my body forever. Not to mention that I would never be old enough to get one.
With a trembling hand, I hovered over it, wanting his permission before touching him. He squeezed my hand and I saw a flicker of a smile. “It’s okay.”
I traced the top of my fingertips along where the ink had marked his body. For some reason I was expecting to feel something but I could not. Just a plain patch of the softest flesh I’d ever felt. I couldn’t take my eyes away.
“Did it have time to heal?” I asked. “You can’t have had it long.”
“Not nearly long enough for it to sink into my brain that I had it. It almost had time to heal but not quite. It was still a little raised when I died but . . .” He shrugged. “My spirit remembers both what the tattoo looked like and what my arm felt like before it so I made it work.”
“Did it hurt?” I looked into his eyes again, my hand on top of his arm.
“Not really. It wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t bad all at once. It’s a shame I only had time on earth for the one. But I guess I’m glad it was this one.”
“What does it mean?”
He took a deep breath. “When I got it I thought it was about defence and being strong and fighting for yourself and power and that sort of masculine nonsense. Now I’ve had it so long it means something else as well.”
“It still means all that?”
“Oh yeah, one of the reasons I’m glad I went for this first was because it means so much and yet it’s the simplest thing I wanted on my body. I wanted all sorts.” He chuckled. “I just didn’t have the time.”
“So what does it mean now?”
“Well, to shoot an arrow forward you have to pull it back. So when you’re having a shit time of it, being pulled back, you should be ready to be launched into something great.”
I smiled. “That’s convenient, huh?”
He chuckled. “Maybe. It also makes me think that we have to confront stuff in our past in order to move on to the future.”
“You’ve had a lot of time to think about this haven’t you?”
He nodded. “Enough, yes. Do you like it?”
“Yeah.” It came out quiet. “But I was a little surprised by it. I didn’t imagine you to be a tattoo person.”
He laughed. “How little you know about me. But going back to where we started, it wasn’t wrong, kissing me.”
I pressed my lips together. “Then why do I feel guilty?”
“For all those reasons you said before.” He stroked my hair and I shut my eyes at his touch. “But you don’t have to worry. I told you that.”
“Like that helps.”
“I know.” He smirked. “But you should really start to trust me.”
“I don’t even know you.”
He grinned. “There’s plenty of time for all that, Amelia.” He leant closer so our noses we almost touching. He was so close my eyes almost couldn’t focus. “Live a little”
He kissed me again and something clicked in my heart and it started racing, pounding, like it needed to be heard because I was alive. In this moment I was alive and living and breathing and everything seemed too beautiful to touch. I let my guard down and sighed against his lips, feeling them pull up in a smile. I giggled against him and tried to get closer, our crossed-legs making that difficult.
I didn’t care anymore. He was right. I was alive and that was wonderful and I needed to make the most of it. I just needed to know how.
I let everything but the feel of him vanish into nothing. I was shining too bright and sparkling too violently for anything to get through. And wasn’t that how it was supposed to be?
This was nothing like kissing Kyle had felt. That had felt gross and bizarre and at times, not even pleasant. This was everything I’d wanted from Kyle and more. I felt a pulse of something radiant with every beat of my heart.
When we at last pulled apart, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face even if I’d wanted to. “For the record,” I said. “You’re fascinating too.”
He crawled forward so he was beside me, lying on his side, propping up his head with his hand. “Why thank you.”
I turned so I was in the same position as him, our bodies only inches apart. That set something on fire inside me and I could hardly draw breath.
“You should go to sleep,” he said. “You don’t want to sleep through your last human days on earth do you?”
“No. What about you? Do you have a house or something in the Hereafter to go back to?”
“Sort of, not that I spend much time there. Also, we don’t sleep, though that doesn’t mean I don’t have a bed.” He winked.
I felt taken aback and screwed up my face. “What?”
“Calm down, Amelia, I wasn’t inferring anything.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”
“You don’t have to worry about me watching you sleep. I’m not some creepy pervert. I promise I’m going to bugger off now.”
“That’s good to know.”
He kissed me quick on the cheek. “Goodnight, Amelia. See you soon.”
Far too soon, I thought to myself as he vanished.
I sighed and fell onto my back, staring at the ceiling, brain filled with too much to find sleep yet. I snuggled back under the covers and turned the light off, folding my glasses on my bedside table.
However great Zed made the Hereafter sound, I was still going to avoid it at all costs. I was going to use everything within my power to steer clear of it.
After all, I didn’t want to die.
I shot up, biting back a scream, body hot, sweat beginning to prickle along my skin. I let out a colossal sigh and pushed the fringe off my face, squinting to see the time.
But of course. 06:36.
I stared at my clock until the minute passed and I was safe for another twenty-four hours. There was nothing greater than knowing you weren’t going to die today. But nothing worse than knowing you could die tomorrow.
I spent the entire day by Mum’s side, following her into the kitchen and upstairs when she went. I couldn’t bear to part from her. I was lucky it was half term and I wouldn’t have to.
For the next week, I invited Otter and Nathan round my house almost every day. I listened to everything they said, just staring at them, wondering what I must’ve done to have been granted friends like them. But even so I couldn’t tell them about Zed and the angels and Heaven and Hell and the fact that my days were numbered. I decided that the burden was too large to rest any of its weight on them.
Zed hadn’t appeared again but that didn’t mean I didn’t think about him and our kisses. In fact, I was thinking about him now more than I had been when I’d first seen him vanish. Every time my thoughts drifted to him, I’d scold myself for being so stupid. If what Zed had been saying was true, and I was to the point where I’d believed every word of it, I’d have a whole other life to think about him. I shouldn’t waste this one doing what I could do in the Hereafter.
I awoke every day at 06:36 panting and sweating but alive and breathing.
As well as spending every waking moment in the presence of someone I loved, I spent as little time thinking and dwelling as possible. I tried to watch TV rather than take things apart or play with my Xbox and not my Rubik’s Cube. I wanted to show those angels that I wasn’t worthy of them. I was just your plain old average human being that could add nothing to their war.
After a week had passed I was exhausted. My mind, my body, my spirit.
Otter made me jump when she knocked on the door on Monday morning, ready for school again. I was sitting on the sofa staring at the wall, listening to Mum sing along to some popular song on the radio. I’d been up for hours of course, though I wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed.
I answered the door to her smiling face.
“Don’t be so enthusiastic, it’s just school,” I said.
“Yeah but we get to start our new courses. That’s pretty fun.”
“You’re far too chirpy for a Monday morning.”
“Well perhaps I’m just excited to tell you about my weekend in Dalbridge before we pick Nathan up.”
I shouted goodbye to Mum before shutting the door and heading for the car. “We’re picking Nathan up?”
“Of course we are. That lazy arse can’t be bothered to walk anywhere, ever.”
I let her talk my ears off about Mandy and their weekend and how happy she was. I was glad there was going to be someone there other than Nathan when I was gone.
I slowed right down before we reached the flowers, terrified to go anywhere near the road’s speed limit. I was not taking any chances. Especially with Otter in the passenger seat. I might be going down but I wasn’t going to take anyone with me. I felt guilty enough as it was.
The day passed slower than I expected. My first two periods were engineering where I didn’t write any notes and let myself daydream about Zed for the first time. If my mechanical mind was what they wanted, I was going to halt all learning. Perhaps then they’d understand that I was serious about my life and the continuation of it.
When I reached our table at the start of break, Nathan was staring around with this befuddled look on his face. When I grew close enough, he pulled me down beside him.
“I just talked to Mel.”
I dropped my bag to the floor. “So?”
“I think . . . I think she likes me.” He had his dorky grin lighting up his face.
“Well why wouldn’t she? You’re the best.”
He laughed. “Cheers. If only she wasn’t with that dick Kyle. I think I’d seriously stand a chance.”
I sighed. “I don’t know what you see in her.”
“No, no, Abz, she’s not as stuck up as you think. It’s a mask and it’s coming down. If I’m honest, I like her even more now.”
I smiled, an idea coming to me all at once. “You really like her that much?”
“What if I told you I think I can do something to make her and Kyle break up?”
His eyes went wide and he grabbed for my hand. “What?”
I looked about me. “Promise you won’t tell a soul?”
Then I leant down to whisper in his ear and told him everything. I was going to live the end of my life right. I was already keeping one secret from him, no need for another. And if I could do this one thing for him I would feel much better about being ripped out from his life. How are you supposed to deal with losing your cousin and your best friend all in one go?
He pulled away when I was finished. “No wonder you hate him!”
“What can I say? He’s a twat.”
“Do you really wanna do this?”
“I don’t want to do it. But I will, for you.”
Out of nowhere, I was crushed in one of his big bear Nathan hugs. “You’re the greatest, Abz.”
I left my bag with Nathan and tried the study area where a lot of our year group spent their time, though not studying even a small amount. It didn’t seem as crowded when I opened the door, the year above us having left for good, but it was just as stuffy. I wrinkled my nose as I stepped in and scanned the area of desks, chairs, and computers for Melissa Greene’s lightest brown curls.
She was sitting on top of one of the tables with Ellie and Courtney, laughing about something. I caught her eye and waved her over, dodging the stains of unspeakable things on the carpet, picking my way over to her. We met half way into the room.
“Abia?” she asked, eyebrows coming together. I was a little surprised that she knew my name. “What’s up?”
The voices around the room seemed to swell and dim as we stood there and my tongue seemed too big for my mouth.
“I’ve got to tell you something,” I forced out. “Can we go somewhere?”
“Okay.” She shrugged, calling goodbye to Ellie and Courtney.
We ended up in one of the empty sixth form classrooms in this block, the silence eating me up as she scooted herself on top of one of these tables.
“I’ve gotta say I’m a little worried,” she said. “We’ve never spoken, have we?”
I shook my head. “No but there’s something that’s been eating me alive since last summer and I think you should know.”
Her mouth popped open a little. “What?”
“It’s about Kyle and the party he had in the summer and that he’s a total twat because he’s been lying to you.” I felt my words just spurting out of my mouth but I couldn’t stop them. I wanted to right all the wrongs but I wanted this to be over as soon as it’d started.
Her face darkened and she scowled at me. “What’s going on?”
So I told her. Everything. I didn’t hold back on the details. She needed to break up with that pervert before he ruined her life. She needed to be happy as much as Nathan did. Everyone did. And I felt stupid for only just realising that everyone deserved to be happy. I may have judged all my peers at Otter’s party but now I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about them. As long as they were having a good time, I didn’t care how much they drank or how loud they sang or how many people they made-out with. Everyone deserved to be happy.
Everyone deserved to live.
Melissa blinked and stared when I’d finished. I was glad I had no words left because I also had no breath left. I just grit my teeth and clenched my fists, waiting for whatever she had to throw at me.
She shook her head and I saw tears glistening in her eyes. She sniffed and looked up at the ceiling to try and make them go away. Jumping off the table, she pinned me down with her eyes but they weren’t as hateful as they had been before.
“Abia.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you.”
I baulked at the little smile creeping onto her face. “Thank you?” I choked out. “For what? I thought I would’ve ruined everything?”
She shook her head. “You were right. Ky is a twat.”
I could only look at her, my eyes as wide as they would go.
“I’ve been looking for an excuse to break up with him for weeks. People keep telling me I’m stupid because he’s . . .” She sighed. “They don’t know what he’s really like. He’s not right for me anyway. I just felt like I couldn’t leave him because it’s been so long. I – I don’t even like him anymore.”
I took a step towards her. “You can do whatever it is that you want. Forget about everyone else. I’m just sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
“That’s alright.” She grinned now, face ablaze with happiness. “I really don’t care about what you did with Ky and that’s really shown me that I don’t give a shit anymore. Oh, I’m gonna enjoy this.” And then she stormed out.