You know how sometimes you’re doing something totally important, like picking out the perfect Stila lip gloss, or staring at the back of Brandon Dunham’s neck during math (trust me, he has a very cute neck), and you get interrupted by something horribly annoying, like an unwanted text message or a teacher calling on you? Yeah, welcome to my world. Only, a lot of the time it’s not my phone or a teacher interrupting me. A lot of the time it’s a ghost. I see them. I listen to them. And then I do whatever they tell me so that they can get closure and move on to wherever it is ghosts go.
Like right now, for example. I’m in math, and this girl ghost (usually the ghosts are girls—I’m not sure why that is, and it’s not like I can ask someone what the rules are) just shows up, dressed like a gymnast, and starts doing cartwheels and flips! Right down the aisle between the rows of desks!
Of course she’s blond (figures), around sixteen (figures), and really beautiful (figures, figures, figures). She’s all, “Kendall, help me!”
And my dad wonders why my math grades are so bad. It’s because of distractions like this (and Brandon Dunham’s neck, which, as previously mentioned, is very, very nice).
“Kendall Williams?” my math teacher, Mr. Jacobi, says from the front of the room.
“I’m sorry,” I say in my most polite tone. “Can you repeat the number of the problem you’d like answered?”
“I don’t want a problem answered,” Mr. Jacobi says. “I want you to tell me what you got on your quiz, so that I can record it in my grade book.”
“Oh,” I say. “Um, seventy-two.”
Mr. Jacobi gives me a little bit of a disgusted look, like, Wow, if I’d gotten that grade, I wouldn’t want it recorded either, and then moves on. Mr. Jacobi is definitely not my biggest fan. It’s mostly because I just cannot seem to get a handle on the quadratic formula. And that isn’t even really my fault. My dad said that the quadratic formula is super-hard, and he never learned it until ninth grade. And I’m only in seventh. Which seems really unfair. They’re just moving formulas up, like, two whole grade levels.
The bell rings then, and I sigh and gather up my new math binder. I bought it last night in an effort to get myself more interested in math. It’s this sparkly aqua color, and it has a place to put pics of you and all your friends on the inside. Of course, I haven’t gotten around to that part yet.
I glance out of the corner of my eye at Little Miss Gymnast. She’s sitting over on the windowsill now, stretching out her legs. I wonder why she’s still doing that, when she’s obviously dead. I mean, once you’re a ghost, you really don’t have to worry about your body anymore. But since she’s a beautiful teenager, she probably won’t believe me when I tell her that. Sigh.
At least she knows she’s dead. That’s one of the good things about seeing ghosts. I don’t ever have to tell them they’re dead. They already know, which is good, because can you imagine? It would be super-horrible if I had to tell them.
I let out another big sigh, and it must be a lot louder than I thought, because Brandon Dunham turns around and says, “I wouldn’t worry about it, Kendall. It’s just a quiz. You can make it up.”
I guess he thinks I’m upset about my grade. Brandon Dunham knows all about my math grades. Mr. Jacobi makes us pass our quizzes to the person in front of us to grade, and Brandon sits in front of me. Which is really not fair. To make it even worse, then Mr. Jacobi goes around the room and you have to say your grade out loud so that he can record it. So the whole class knows how bad you did, which is really not fair.
“Yeah,” I say. “I’m sure I can make it up.” Sometimes Brandon and I talk. You know, just about little things, like we’re doing now. I’ve been trying to work out how I can push us into we’re-friends-and-talk-about-other-things-besides-school territory, but, like the quadratic formula, I haven’t quite figured that out yet.
“You can,” Brandon says. “I know once you get the hang of this stuff, you’ll be able to do it in no time.”
Hmmph. Easy for him to say. Brandon is, like, a math genius or something. He always gets 98 on his quizzes. I know this because of the whole saying-our-grades-out-loud thing.
And then I have it. The most perfect, brilliant idea ever.
“I don’t know,” I say, looking down at my binder and hoping I sound forlorn. “It’s getting a little late in the year for me to be able to catch up.”
Brandon looks confused. “It’s only October.”
“Yeah, well, it’s never too early to start thinking about your future.” This is a very smart thing to say. My dad always says it, and he’s pretty much the smartest person I know. Of course, whenever he says it, I always just blow it off, because who really listens when their parents say something like that? But I can still appreciate the smartness of it.
“I guess.” Brandon turns around to leave, and I see him slipping out of my grasp, like a slippery little fish.
“I wish,” I say really loud and pointedly, “that I had someone to tutor me.”
“They have an after-school tutoring program,” Brandon says. “They meet every Wednesday after school. It’s down in the math lab.”
“Thanks,” I say. “I’ll definitely look into that. But it’s too bad that we have another quiz tomorrow. You know, before I’ll have a chance to get to the math lab.”
“We have another quiz tomorrow?” Brandon starts leafing through his planner. It’s a lie, of course. We don’t have another quiz tomorrow, but can’t the guy get the hint that I want him to tutor me? I mean, seriously. My dad says I’m about as subtle as a Mack truck. So either Brandon is really dense or I’m not doing a good job of getting my point across.
“Well, no,” I say, because I realize that if he thinks we’re going to have a quiz and we don’t, he’ll know I lied. “I just have a lot of anxiety about quizzes, so I tell myself that we have them every day. You know, so I’ll make sure to study.” Brandon nods, like this makes perfect sense to him. “Plus I’m going to ask Mr. Jacobi if I can do a makeup quiz tomorrow. To erase my grade. But only if I can study a lot tonight.”
This whole time the blond gymnast in the corner has been watching with fascination. She probably thinks I’m crazy. I bet she always had, like, three bazillion boys asking her out all the time, and used to date the hottest guy in school. But I don’t care if she’s watching. Ghosts don’t really make me self-conscious. I mean, how can they? They’re dead. No matter how amazing they used to be, I still have one thing over them: I’m alive.
“You can do it,” Brandon says. He shoots me his amazing smile. He has the most amazing perfectly straight white teeth. And his eyes twinkle. Seriously. His eyes twinkle when he smiles. Like a prince in a Disney cartoon or something.
He turns to go, and I sigh yet again.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Blond Gymnast says, vaulting off the windowsill in one smooth movement. “If you want to study with him, then just ASK HIM.” I cock my head and give her an incredulous look. “Do it!” she says. I give her an even more incredulous look. “Boys are dumb,” she says. “He doesn’t get it.”
He doesn’t? That seems a little unlikely, since I was practically throwing myself at him. But I guess she could be right. I definitely buy into the whole boys-are-dumb thing, and this girl seems like the kind of person who would know about stuff like this.
“Hey!” I yell at Brandon’s back, right as he’s about to walk out of the classroom. “Do you want to study together? Today? After school? In the library?” Blond Gymnast rolls her eyes, I guess because she knows that I’m making a big mess out of asking him. But what does she want from me? It’s a miracle I even asked him in the first place.
“Sure,” Brandon says. “I’ll meet you after eighth. Is it okay if Kyle comes?”
“Of course,” I say, my heart soaring.
“Finally!” Blond Gymnast says, once Brandon’s out the door of the classroom. “Now we can get to my problem. Which is way worse than some middle school study date.” Right. There’s that. And figuring out who Kyle is.
• • •
I’ve been able to see ghosts pretty much as long as I can remember. My mom left me and my dad when I was just a few months old, and so at first my dad thought I was making up all these imaginary friends because I was looking for a mother figure.
He thought I’d grow out of it, but I didn’t, and right around the time I turned eight, I figured it probably wasn’t the best idea to bring it up anymore. My dad was totally overwhelmed with everything he had going on—raising a daughter all by himself, keeping up our house, and working super-long hours trying to get his contracting business off the ground. So I decided it was best to stop talking about it, since he was starting to act all worried every time I brought it up. I realized it was pretty abnormal to see ghosts, and so I haven’t told anyone since.
I’m not sure exactly when I figured out that if I help the ghosts, they leave. It’s kind of like asking someone when they realized that they loved their parents, or that they liked chocolate. It was just . . . there. Obviously I couldn’t help the ghosts when I was younger. I just saw them kind of milling about. They’d come and hang out with me when they were bored, or needed someone to talk at. It seemed like they enjoyed seeing me as a baby and as a little kid, I guess because it reminded them of the circle of life or whatever.
Anyway, I’m much older now—twelve, almost thirteen, and in seventh grade—so obviously I’m in a much better position to help people. Although you’d be surprised at how many ghosts get annoyed when they realize I’m the one who’s going to give them what they need to move into the afterlife. They pitch fits about me being so young. Can you imagine? It’s like, beggars can’t be choosers, you know? And I’m really good at what I do. I’ve never met a ghost that I couldn’t help.
Still, I try not to get too upset with them if they get cranky. They are dead, after all.
Anyway, it becomes pretty obvious that Blond Gymnast is going to be the kind of ghost that tries my patience, because as we head out of math, she starts to freak out.
“Hello!” she’s shrieking as we walk down the hall to my next class. “Are you going to help me or what?”
Sometimes the best thing to do with ghosts is just ignore them until they realize that shouting and stuff won’t get them anywhere. They also need to understand that I have to work with them on my own time. You know, when I’m alone and can talk to them without people thinking I’m crazy. Usually they get the message pretty quickly, but not this time. Blond Gymnast is pushy.
“I know you have sooo much to think about,” she says, all snotty, “with your little study date and all, but this is important. Life-and-death stuff.”
I seriously doubt that, because she’s already dead. So it can’t really be a matter of life and death. Unless she’s talking metaphorically, which I guess she could be. Even though she probably doesn’t even know the meaning of the word “metaphorical.” I laugh to myself, but this makes Blond Gymnast angry. “Hello!” she shrieks again. “Over here, Lady Gaga!”
I gasp. I know exactly why she’s calling me Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is known for her crazy sense of fashion and hairstyles. And today I’m sporting my hair in a very cute style of three tiny braids to the side, then pushed back off my face and held with three tiny glitter clips. I like to do my hair to match my mood, and this morning I was feeling very whimsical. It’s all I can do not to dignify this with a response, and I just keep marching to French class.
“Fine!” she says, throwing her hands up in the air. “For some reason you are pretending not to hear me.” Um, maybe because if I talk to you, people will think I’m crazy? “I’ll meet you after school. In the library.”
Great. Looks like my date with Brandon is now going to be a double.