Tony should have felt better by now, but he'd never felt more dreadful in his life.
An hour after dawn had broken, Gerry had suddenly managed to glean a signal from his mobile and called 999, but for four people, help had arrived six bloody hours too late.
Tony sat on the front steps of a place he’d idolised since he was a child, watching as the paramedics loaded four black bags into the back of one ambulance. In the other ambulance, Jean was having her ankle looked at; she’d been told that it was badly broken and that she’d done amazingly well to carry on walking for as long as she had. Of course, all three of them already knew that. They’d wanted to take Jean to the hospital straight away, but she’d refused to leave Tony and Gerry and Gerry had just completely refused to leave. He’d said he was waiting for somebody.
Time passed. A police car arrived and two policemen asked Tony questions. He told them the truth. They laughed. They left him alone.
“Is this yours?”
Tony jumped at the sudden sound of a voice beside him; he turned to see one of the paramedics holding out his jacket to him. Laughing sharply and a little hysterically, he reached out a hand to take it, but as soon as the medic had turned her back to him he threw it on the floor and ground it under his foot.
Tony barely registered the passage of time as he leant against the wall of the kitchen, unsure of whether he wanted to leave or stay. Jean had left the ambulance and was leaning on a crutch to talk to Gerry when the taxi pulled up at the end of the driveway.
Gerry turned round at the sound of a woman’s voice. “Melissa!”
The taxi’s door opened and a woman with curly red hair catapulted herself out of the passenger seat and into Gerry’s arms; she almost knocked him to the ground but he clearly didn’t care. He closed his eyes without saying a word and crossed his arms protectively over her, as if he’d never let her go again. Jean backed away quietly from the pair of them and even the police officers, who’d barely paused for breath between questions since they’d arrived, left Gerry and Melissa alone.
Time passed, and they still hadn’t let go of each other.
“That’s true love right there, huh?” Said a woman’s voice at Tony’s side. He spun, expecting to see Jean, but instead he saw a woman with freckles and dark blonde hair, looking at him with a mixture of anger and sadness.
How long has she been standing there?
The newcomer’s eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with red; Tony thought he recognised her, but he couldn’t work out why. When the woman spoke again, her voice sounded familiar to him as well.
“Tony White. I always wanted to meet you; me and my brother were huge fans of your show. Obviously. It’s nice to meet you at last, but I doubt the circumstances could be any shittier!”
Tony stuttered. “Um... sorry, but who—“
“Oh!” The woman laughed shakily. “I’m sorry! Julianne.”
Julianne. Julianne. Why do you know that name?
Then, he remembered. “You’re... you’re Dave’s sister.”
Julianne sniffed and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. “Yeah. I was so happy for him when he landed the job; you wouldn’t believe this, but he actually still believed it was all real!” The irony in her voice was apparent. “He swore if I ever told you this he’d murder me, but he... he always kind of idolised you.”
“Yeah,” said Tony. “I did as well. I mean, I thought it was all real. I didn’t idolise myself. Shit.”
Her laughter was soft and cheerless, but not sarcastic.
For fuck’s sake, Tony, say something more substantial.
“Dave was... he was one of the nicest people I ever met,” Tony continued. “He was a great friend; I was always shit at making friends, so...”
“So was he,” interrupted Julianne, “but he never stopped talking about you. He was so happy you two were friends. And... never mind. I just thought you should know that.”
“I’m so glad I knew him, and...” Tony’s voice caught, and he cleared his throat firmly.
Dammit, Tony, don’t you dare cry. Whatever you think you’re feeling, it’s a million times worse for her.
“And,” Tony continued. “It should have been me.”
“What?” Julianne put a hand on his shoulder.
“I mean it. It should have been me. I should have been in that kitchen when the fire started, but I wasn’t. I was sitting like a fucking lemon on the stairs. If I’d been just five minutes faster, then maybe... maybe...”
Julianne said nothing.
“No, screw that ‘maybe’. I should have saved him. I should have been able to save all of them. If anyone deserves to be in the back of that ambulance, it’s me.”
Julianne paused; she had Dave’s kindness in her, Tony knew, but he began to wonder how much of Dave’s brutal honesty she had as well.
“Tony,” said Julianne. “I don’t blame you. I don’t blame anyone for this. It was—“
“Please don’t tell me it was an accident,” cut in Tony. “The bloody police have been trying to convince me of that shit all morning. They even asked if any of us had lighters, like they thought one of us set the bloody place on fire!”
“It wasn’t an accident,” insisted Julianne. “It was... it was the fucking ghosts.”
Tony looked at her, trying to figure out if she was mocking him. She wasn’t.
“Tony, did Dave ever tell you why he believed in ghosts?”
“Our house was haunted. We moved when we were twelve, and loads of strange things started happening. It was never... it was never dangerous, just frightening at first. He loved it. He thought it was really exciting.”
“Wait, you guys are twins?”
Julianne smiled sadly. “Yeah. We were.”
“Sorry, he never told me much about you at all. He just said that he wrecked your car.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you; God knows, you’re going through enough as it is. I’m so fucking awful at talking to people!”
Tony turned away from Julianne, covering his face with both hands. He was now facing the driveway and he could see that the ambulances had left, taking Jean with them. Gerry, on the other hand, was still talking to the police, with both arms round his wife.
There was a short silence before Julianne spoke again, and when she opened her mouth, the words were soft and kind.
“Dave didn’t think so.”
Tony turned back to her; he knew that this wasn’t a conversation he had any right to walk away from. He didn’t want to, anyway.
“Look, it’s ok; it just seems so... so stupid now! Would you believe that I didn’t speak to Dave for an entire year because of my bloody car? It’s just... now that he’s gone it, it just throws everything into perspective, you know? I should have forgiven him, so he knew I didn’t hate him, but I was too petty about my stupid fucking CAR!”
Julianne started crying, hard. Ordinarily, Tony would have fidgeted awkwardly or made some excuse to leave, but he was sick of being passive and useless.
“Stupid fucking ghosts, more like.”
He took a deep breath, gathering his composure, and then wrapped both his arms around her. He didn’t know her, and she didn’t know him, but both of them had known Dave, and that was good enough.
For a moment, Tony was worried that he’d been too forward, but then he felt her hugging him back, quaking as she sobbed. They were still holding on to each other when, at the end of the driveway, Gerry finally let go of Melissa.
A black-and-white van with red writing on the side pulled up on the driveway. Tony’s glasses had misted up with tears, so he couldn’t read most of the logo, but one of the words was definitely ‘NEWS’.
“Oh, no.” Tony looked at Julianne.
“What’s wrong? Well, you know, apart from everything.” Julianne looked down the driveway. “Oh, for shit’s sake!”
The side of the van slid open and half a dozen people got out; some of them held microphones, some held booms and a couple of others had cameras. Almost immediately, the blue glow of early morning began to bleach with flashes of white light.
“Right,” said Tony, wiping his eyes. “Have the police finished interrogating Gerry?”
When he looked past the news crew, he could see that the two policemen were now busy near the kitchen and Gerry and Melissa had already left.
How long have you been standing here?
“Ok, let’s go then.”
When they’d made it only halfway down the driveway, the news crew descended on Tony and Julianne like a hungry horde of zombies. There were only six or seven of them, but Tony was tired of being swamped by stress and he just wanted to go home. Julianne had her head down and her hair had fallen across her face, but he saw her slowly raising her middle finger from a clenched fist, so he did the same. The reporter didn’t seem bothered.
“I’m here with the show’s star, Tony White.”
“No you’re not.”
“Tony, could I have a minute?”
“How do you feel this tragic event will affect the reputation of your programme?”
“Sir, if you don’t get out of our way, I swear I’ll do things that’ll affect the reputation of YOUR programme. Let us through!”
“And what do you think, miss? As Tony White’s girlfriend, could you speak on his behalf?”
Tony stopped dead in the middle of the crowd. “You have GOT to be kidding me.”
“What’s your name, miss?” The reporter persisted, shoving his microphone further towards Julianne. She stopped right in front of him, tossing her hair back behind her shoulder whilst staring straight at the camera. Tony could see the same furious expression of determination on her face that he’d seen on Dave’s numerous times during the previous evening.
“My name is Julianne Jarvis, you little scumbag,” she said, “and I’m nobody’s fucking girlfriend. I’d never even met Tony before this morning, and in case you even care what the truth is, I’m here because my twin brother was murdered here last night. Now, if you want a heartfelt speech for your pathetic news show, I’ll give you a fucking heartfelt speech.”
“My brother Dave was the friendliest, funniest person either Tony or I had ever met, and he’s dead. But what makes me angrier than that is the fact that his killers...” she raised a shaking finger towards the house behind her, “will never be caught. I’ll never get justice for my brother because he was murdered by fucking ghosts, and ignorant people like you refuse to believe in them, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Now, I used to get angry with programmes like Bump in the Night because I thought they did nothing but take advantage of tragic fatalities for entertainment purposes, but now I realise there’s another programme that’s so, so much worse, and that’s the fucking news.”
Julianne paused for breath and as Tony watched with raised eyebrows, he saw one of the cameramen exchanging a frightened glance with the reporter.
“What’s worse,” continued Julianne, “Than the pointless death of my brother, and the fact that most of the world will spend the rest of their lives refusing to believe that he was murdered, is the fact that his death is now being EXPLOITED by dickheads like you. My brother’s death means that Tony and I and the whole of my family have had our lives ruined, but to the rest of the world it means nothing more than an extra couple of quid on YOUR salary.”
Julianne pointed at the news reporter, who flinched under her steely gaze.
“Four people have just died, and all you care about is making it into a good piece of television. You’ll even stoop as low as to crowbar in a fucking ‘secret girlfriend’ part just to make your job more interesting. Well, I’ve got some NEWS for you, mate,” Julianne said. “This isn’t fucking Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This is real life, and for those of us not viewing real life from behind a camera screen, real life hurts. You’d better wake up to that reality before somebody punches you awake. I’d punch you myself, but frankly, I don’t want to break my fist on your ridiculous hairstyle. Kiss my ass.”
Julianne flashed her middle finger at the camera before striding past the rattled reporter and grabbing Tony’s arm. Together, they walked away into the overgrown countryside, and only when they were out of earshot did she slow down. Julianne stopped, let go of Tony, and looked at him with a strained smile on her lips before finally speaking.
He wasn’t sure what she was about to say, but he was sure it would be meaningful, heartfelt and dramatic.
“Holy shit,” she said with a faint grin.
Only then did Tony realise how alike she and Dave really were.
“You ruined the atmosphere,” he whispered.