Thursday, February 19, 2015

HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS, chapter one

Confessions of a Wallflower

   I shake my head at my perfumed, glitter-lotioned, fashion-plate roommate. I dont want to spend my whole night watching you stalk some guy.

Im not stalking Kevin! He invited me to the party.Chrissy applies another coat of pink lip gloss.

   Two weeks ago, Chrissy spotted Kevin in the campus weight room. This prompted a flurry of extra workouts on her part, and a stylish change in exercise outfits. It must have been the super-tight, pink tank top that finally snagged his attention.

   In fact, everything on Chrissys side of our dorm room is pink. In contrast, everything on my side is purple or blue―and can a person own too much tie- dye? Over my desk hangs a whiteboard where I wrote my newest quote of the week.

 “The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.―Lorraine Hansberry

   Chrissy raises a perfectly plucked eyebrow. Whos Lorraine Hansberry? Is she dead, too? I swear―everybody you put on that board died ages ago. Would it kill you to write something from Ellen, Madonna, or Angelina Jolie?

   “I cant help it if all the interesting people are already dead.I grab a book from my overstuffed shelf and flop on my bed.

   “Youre so strange, Emma.Chrissy laughs. But please come to the party with me. You never know―you might meet someone interesting who is still alive.I sigh. Why dont you ask someone else?

   “There isnt anyone else. This is such a suitcase college. All my real friends went home for the weekend.
   “So were not friends?

Were roommates. Its different.

   What she says is true: a computer program called Fate made us roommates freshman year, and we just continued in the same pattern out of mutual convenience. It works for us, and who knows, if I had to change roommates I might end up with a psycho or something. Friends arent reliable anyway. Some girls claim to be your friend and then turn on you, talking behind your back when it suits them. Granted, that hasnt happened to me since high school, but Ill never give anyone the chance to do that to me again. If you dont trust anyone, then no one can hurt you.

   “Come on, Emma, whats wrong with you? This is an off-campus party were talking about here. Off campus is good, remember? Older guys, no nosy RAs, lots of booze...” Chrissy crosses her arms. Im not letting you spend another Saturday night alone in our dorm room, reading a book.

   “I dont mind being alone here. What I do mind is being ditched at a party, so you can go flirt with some guy.

   “Then find someone of your own to flirt with...after I quick fix your hair and makeup―that brown ponytail of yours looks like its been glued to your head.

   “No way.I step back.

   “Emma, you have the nose of a model. Id kill for a nose like that. If I gave you a makeover and curled your hair, youd look really nice.

   “What if I dont want to look nice? What if I want to look like me?

   “You’ll still look like you―only better.” Chrissy rummages through her makeup drawer with such enthusiasm I want to run away screaming.

   I have to do something―fast. Chrissy approaches makeovers with a rabid fervor. Ill look like a Las Vegas showgirl before shes finished with me.

   “Okay, okay,I say. How about this? Ill go to the party as long as I dont have to endure a makeover beforehand.

   Chrissy pouts. But I dont understand why you dont want to look pretty for the party. There might be some real cute guys there. And it wouldnt kill you to talk to a guy once in a while, you know.

   “I talked to guys in high school.What I dont mention is that these boys voluntarily named our small group of friends the Nerd Herd. I resented my participation in their misguided pride―as if anyone should want such a label affixed to them.

   “Emma, high school guys dont count.

   “Its just that we live on an all-girls floor now. Its so awkward meeting guys. And I can’t flirt―you know that.

   The minute I find someone the least bit appealing, my mind freezes into a useless, congealed blob. Chrissy never panics like that. In fact, she could probably talk to the President of the United States like an old chum.

   “Youre being silly. Anyone can flirt. You just dont want to try.Chrissy unplugs her curling iron and stands up to leave. Oh, wait. Youre not wearing that, are you?

   I glance at my black shirt, cargo shorts, and purple Converse low tops. Yeah, so what?

   Chrissy fishes through her closet and whips out something bright pink and sparkly. Why dont you wear this?

   “Because I dont want to look like a cupcake.

   She rolls her eyes and hangs it back up. Its your loss. It would look good on you. Now lets hurry. Chrissy pushes me out the door toward the elevators.
   She gets her way again, but at least Im not sporting the smoky eyes of a streetwalker and the wardrobe of a cheerleader, padded bra and all. I glance back as we walk away from the dorm. I dread parties. Standing by myself in the middle of a crowd always makes me feel even more alone and awkward than usual. Is this what Lorraine Hansberry means by exceptional? It sure doesnt feel like it.

   We cross the bridge towering over the wide expanse of the Chippewa River and dividing the college campus in half. A rosy sunset glimmers over the water. Trees line the river in both directions. Charming old mansions peek out among the leaves, shrinking from view as we leave the main campus. Close to the Fine Arts side of the bridge, I pause at a sign attached to the metal railing.

   Chrissy wheels around, hands on her hips. Whats taking you so long?

   “Check out this sign: ‘The Chippewa River is beautiful but dangerous...’ Have you ever read this before?

   “Yeah, I know all about it. Some guy drowned last year trying to swim the river a week before he graduated.

   “Really?A cool breeze raises goose bumps on my arms.

   “Dont you remember reading about it in the school paper? He was my Chem TA for a while. I always thought he was kind of dorky, but you shouldnt speak ill of the dead, right?

   “He tried to swim this?I peer over the bridge railing. Far below us flows the Chippewa River. I stare into its depths, mesmerized by all the swirling shades of green, black, and blue, coursing in a constant journey to somewhere unknown.

   Out of the waves floats a ghostly figure. A pale human statue rises up, with outstretched arms and curled fingers, as if grasping for something. The stark whiteness of the eerie skeletal face appears only for a second, haunting me with empty eye sockets and a mouth gaped in a silent scream.
   Then its gone.

   A strange voice whispers in my head. Help me, Emma!

   I freeze. My hands clench the railing.
   “Come on! Now youre just stalling on purpose!Chrissy grabs my arm and yanks me forward.

   Burying my panic, I focus on the ground until we pass the Fine Arts building and cross into the rows of run-down student rentals. My heart gallops like a runaway horse.

   That didnt just happen. Not again.

   And not in front of Chrissy. She cant know this about me.
   I started hearing voices in junior high. In eighth grade, the other girls were total bitches to me, making fun of anything I said and then running away from me during recess. Day after day, I stood on the playground, humiliated and alone.

   After school, Id escape to the woods near my home. The presence of trees always soothed me. Until one strange day when the skin on my neck prickled with the creepy feeling I was being followed. When I spun around there was no one there.

   At least at first.

   Then I spotted a girl among the trees, wearing a gingham dress and a bonnet. She waved her arms.

   “Walk with me,she invited.

   We spent the rest of the afternoon together. Her name was Elsie. She told me about her life, which sounded just like my Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

   When Elsie told me how shed died of scarlet fever, I guess I shouldve run away. Or at least been frightened. But I was too lonely to be scared of her. Elsie was the first girl my age to be nice to me in a long time.

   When I got home and told Mom about my new friend, she scolded me, saying I was much too old for imaginary playmates. She convinced me not to tell Dad. He was far too busy with work to worry about my overactive imagination. The next time I saw Elsie I tearfully begged her to go away and leave me alone.

   She did.

   I sort of missed her after that, but I never told Dad, or anyone else for that matter. And I never told anyone―especially not Mom―about the sightings that followed. Most people thought I was weird enough as it was.

   Maybe they were right.

   After Id chased Elsie away, I saw different ghosts―sometimes talking, most often silent―at most once or twice a year.

   I rarely spoke with them. Instead, I pretended they did not exist.

   This ghoul in the river is the creepiest one yet. Maybe things are getting worse. I take a deep breath and push the floating image out of my mind. Ill ignore this new voice, too, and it will fade away just like all the others.

   To distract myself from my trembling hands, I concentrate on the worn- out student rentals. Some of the dilapidated buildings are from the same era as the stunning mansions on the opposite side of the river, but these have been divided into as many student bedrooms as possible. They look forlorn and unloved, with crooked window shutters and blistered roof shingles.

   Chrissy throws another impatient glance my way. Emma, hurry up!

   As usual, Im dragging my feet. But this time, for good reason. Ive been unnerved by the floating dead body, not that Chrissy will ever notice. Shes on a manhunt.

   We approach a faded green two-story house. The breeze carries the inviting smell of hamburgers sizzling on the grill. The setting sun illuminates a group of Frisbee players racing across the lawn. A boy in a bright red T- shirt jumps higher than the rest, whooping as he snatches a disc out of the air. He lands triumphantly and smiles like a movie star.

   My breath catches in my chest. The terrifying face is forgotten. It isnt real anyway.

   But he is.


   I cant take my eyes off his smile. Its not like I have a tooth fetish, but after enduring two sets of braces, three different retainers, and four mouthpieces―maybe I notice a nice set of teeth more than most people do.
Back in high school, one of my Nerd Herd friends told me he could fall in love with a girl simply if she smiled at him right.

   I really hope this isnt happening to me right now with Frisbee Guy. Ive already had my fill of disappointing crushes. So much time spent breathlessly waiting for the fairy-tale opportunity that never arises. Im so done with that. I want something more―not sure what exactly, but hopefully, it involves kissing, an activity I know very little about.

   Meanwhile, I stare at Frisbee Guy. The rest of the party fades away. Im making a fool of myself, but I cant move. Not my feet. Not my head. And definitely not my eyes. I just want to stare a little while longer.

   Then I can go home and tell myself how its never going to happen.
   Chrissy elbows me.

   “Ouch! Unnecessary roughness!I rub my arm.

   “Oh, please! I barely touched you. Did you even hear anything I just said?” “No.

   “Well, pay attention!Chrissy cranes her neck. I dont see Kevin anywhere out here. Lets go inside.

   I follow in her footsteps like an obedient child. Better stay away from Frisbee Guy. If Chrissy finds out I think hes cute, shell force me to talk to him for my own good.

   We work our way indoors, wade through the crowd, and wait for something to happen next to the keg. The busy living room has shabby couches pushed up against each wall, brown carpet, and dark wood paneling from the seventies. Movie and sports posters cover the worn walls.

   A few minutes later, Chrissy squeals. There he is. Thats Kevin!She dashes after him.

   For the next half hour, I linger next to the keg, lamely nursing my room- temperature plastic cup and nodding mutely at whoever stops by for a refill. Sweaty people gyrate around me, but I dont recognize any of the music being played. I have a hard time keeping the beat to songs I dont know, so I just watch the others have fun.
Since I dont recognize any of the sports figures, I study the movie posters instead: Heathers, A Fish Called Wanda, and Fatal Attraction. My eyes widen at the choices. Somebodys stuck in the eighties. Interesting selection, though.

   I scan the rest of the room. All at once, the waves of people part and I have a clear view of Frisbee Guy with a beer in his hand. A heavenly light shines down upon him. He glows. I melt. Then he smiles at someone to his left, and Im instantly jealous of whoever just made him happy.

   Whats wrong with me?

   “Hey, Emma, quit making so much noise!a tall boy commands as he and Chrissy interrupt my glorious view, both grinning like idiots. The guy laughs at his own joke.

   Chrissy leans forward and screams in my ear. Are you having a good time?

   “Yeah,I reply in monotone. This party is super fun.

   “This is Kevin! Hes really cute, isnt he?She narrows her eyes. Why arent you talking to anyone?

   Okay, fine. Ill make an effort. I turn to Kevin. I see you like eighties movies.

   He nods as he refills his cup. Yeah, I like movies that are a little different. You know, the classics.

   “The classics? You mean, like Cary Grant?

   He takes a quick drink. Carrie Grant? Whos she?

   “Youre so weird, Emma.Chrissy giggles and puts her hand on Kevinarm. Nobody watches those old, black-and-white movies anymore.
   “Actually, lots of his movies were in color.

   With their cups filled, Chrissy and Kevin start to move away before I finish speaking. Chrissy glances back and winks. Shes having the time of her life, and apparently, its my job to sit around and watch her enjoy herself.
I sigh. Im so out of here!

   “Hey, are you guarding the keg?someone asks.

   I spin toward the voice, sloshing lukewarm beer all over my shirt. Frisbee Guy stands right in front of me. 

Looking for more? Over the next few days, I'll post the second and third chapters of How to Date Dead Guys on my blog.

If you can't wait, here are purchase links:
AmazonBarnes & NobleMagers & QuinnThe Local Store

published by Curiosity Quills.

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