Raina's mother was folding towels on the living room table when Raina opened the front door and came in from the windy Thursday evening. She glanced up, smiled slightly, then went back to her folding. It was a sight Raina was used to. Ever since her brother, William, had put a pretty bullet hole in his head, her mom had been cleaning and straightening. She'd gone from wedding planning with William's fiancee, Janet, to funeral planning, to perpetual house maintenance mode. The house was always impeccable when Raina's father came home, every thing in its proper place before dinner, and then, silently, Raina would sit across the tale from her parents and never look up from her plate. Silence was everywhere in the air in the house. Everywhere except Raina's room where she spent most of her time listening to records.
"Could you go out and check the mail?" Her mother asked, piling perfectly creased towels into a red laundry basket. Her charcoal hair was pulled back into a tight bun. A few silver strands frizzed at the temples. Raina wondered how her mother had gotten those gray hairs. They had been there for as long as she could remember.
Raina stepped back out the front door and onto the porch to collect the mail. The mailbox was stuffed full of mostly junk mail, a few of the gothic and new wave music magazines Raina subscribed to, and a blue envelope with strange familiar handwriting. Raina's name was scrawled on the front of the envelope. The edges were dog-eared as though the letter had sat around for a long time before getting dropped in the post. There was no return address, but Raina knew that handwriting.
She headed straight inside for her room, tossing the rest of the mail onto the end table by her father's recliner chair, and lightly touching the outside of the door that used to be William's room as she passed. She threw the letter onto her bed and slammed the door shut.
Her room was her cave, decorated in the things that she loved. Two bookshelves housed hundred of books she'd collected over the years. Mostly classic gothic novels like Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein, but a good selection of modern ghost and vampire stories. Along the tops of the bookshelves, Raina had her collection of Dia de los Muertos dolls. She had collected them at Halloween every year for as long as she remembered. There was a shop at the center of town that handed them out. It was a tradition she and William had started when they were both fairly young. All stick fingers and costumes against the night.
Raina sat across the room from the letter, on the floor. She wanted nothing more than to open it, but whatever was inside it might bring back too much too fast. Old feelings about William's suicide, old feelings she had for William's best friend, Damian. The same things that had probably kept Damian sitting on the letter. Yes, she knew that handwriting was Damian's. Did she want things to change? Was she ready to reopen the bullet hole and kill William off forever? She'd found a nice dark corner in the fabric of life, and now this letter was threatening to rip a clean hole through. To let the light in. To give her a place to crawl out.
Raina crossed the room to her record collections, ran her fingers over the spines of each and every one before pinching her fingers together and pulling out a copy of her favorite Southern Death Cult record. It was white with the band name in black across the simple cover. Raina slid the vinyl disc out from the sleeve and placed it onto her turntable. She set the needle in the groove of track three, and crouched by the speakers to sit down.
She glances at her reflection. There's a screw loose somewhere. But never when it rains.
She sat in the corner for a long time, painting her toes a bright shade of electric purple that matched her hair, brushing the gray carpet this way and that way, first dark, then light, but every time she looked up, the letter came into focus. Stranded on the mattress with one corner standing at attention and waiting for her thumb and index finger to clamp on it and rip at it. She had to. It was like not pealing off the rest of a partially pulled back sticker. Temptation. She crossed the room and sat down on the bed. Laid her head next to it and stared until her eyes crossed and made a blur of two of those taunting corner edges.
And all good people who've lost in love should never lose their souls.
That was it. She pushed herself off the bed, stormed over to her computer desk and wrapped her fingers around a pair of scissors. She turned back to where the letter drew her to the bed. She'd make it bleed with a neat, clean incision along the end. Two folded pages spilled out.
There is no excuse that I could come up with as to why I haven't written in the last year. I guess I was afraid that if I took a moment to think about it, I would feel drawn back to that place. I never wanted to forget you or William, but I also didn't want to remember. I didn't want to see that inevitably, Janet would go on with her life. I was afraid that no one else would. She was always the kind to persevere. She never cried. Even when the cat she'd had since the fifth grade passed away, she didn't shed a single tear. I think that made it much easier for me to forgive William for being the one she loved. I was always curious of her capacity to love. She wasn't the person I wished for my best friend get married to. I wonder why I ever wanted her to love me instead. Especially when you were there, all along, to show me what unconditional love was all about. You were my beacon of everything good in the world. You always have been.
I guess though, I was afraid that if I stayed I would never leave. That if I stayed, William's ghost would hold me there. I couldn't look at you and not see him staring out at me. I couldn't watch you suffering. I wanted to do more than hold you, but I failed. The day of the funeral, when you stumbled as we crossed our way to the grave, you let out this tiny little sound. It was the saddest sound I'd ever heard and I knew than that I couldn't ever comfort you as I wished I could. So I ran, and it has taken me this long to look back. I can imagine you hate me for running and not taking you with me, but if I had brought you along, I would have been dragging the demons along my side. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't running from you, but from what you made me see. I realise now that I should have faced it and that is why I am coming home. There should have been many letters before this one, telling you how miserable I've been in what I thought would be a perfect life. This city is beautiful; the people are beautiful, with lots of garbage and pain. They carry it around like vagrants with shopping bags, but I, alone, am ugly inside and fighting within myself. This letter is the first thing I've written in months. I thought this place would be my inspiration for that book I have always wanted to write, and I think under different circumstances it would be. But not now. Not with no ending to my story, yet. I have thought a lot about things in the last few weeks and pictures of you looking out the window as I drove up the driveway keep infesting my dreams. I suppose you thought I never saw you, but I did. It made you dear to me and at times I felt closer to you than I ever did to William. You seemed to see the world in the same shades as I did. I hope you haven't changed. I hope that when I pull up the driveway you'll be drawing back the curtains and looking for me.
See you soon,
"Mom. He's coming back! Damian is coming back." Raina nearly broke her toe on the hall corner as she rushed out to the living room.
Her mother looked up from the phone bill she'd been staring at. "Does he know about William?" she asked.
"William was the reason he left, mom. Remember? The day after the funeral? Just over a year ago. Oh god, a year. " Raina sat down on the floor across from the couch and looked at her mother. "I'm so angry with him right now."
"You loved him then, didn't you?" her mother scrunched her face as if it were all coming back to her in fuzzy flashback. The lines around her eyes pushed together and folded over one another. "You used to hang on his every word and fawn over his silly jokes. I remember. He was William's best man. Yes. He's coming back?"
Raina nodded her head, reaching for one of her mother's cigarettes off the coffee table. "I don't know how I feel about it. I can't figure out if ... if …" she scratched her head and reached for a lighter. "I can't figure out if …"
"If you still love him?" Her mother finished the sentence for her.
"No. I know I still love him. I can't figure out if I will want to know if he's coming back because of me or because of William."
Her mother's face smoothed out and she lit a cigarette of her own. A stream of smoke glided from between her lips. "Don't analyze it so much, Raina. It only makes it more complicated than it has to be. You always do that with things. Just be glad he's coming back and wait until he gets her to decide it you want to hit him or kiss him." She knelt her head back to the phone bill.
The front door opened and Raina's father came in. He was dressed in his work suit. A perfect picture of respect and authority, a; all pressed tie and starched shirt. Raina felt her stomach turn, butterflies and silent screaming. She stood up, and faced her mom. "Call me when you need help with dinner, okay?" She headed back to her room and read the letter over and over before folding it up neatly and placing it into a shoe box under her bed.
Raina heard the sound of Damian's car pulling into the driveway for the first time in a year. She knew the sound of his engine as she knew the words to the songs that she listened to. Her mother was gone shopping, and her father was at work. Raina smoothed the skirt of the black lace funeral dress she'd picked up from a thrift shop. It smelled slightly of moth balls still despite her efforts to get rid of the scent. Two white roses she'd trimmed from her mother's garden rested on the table by the door. She was going to deliver them to William and Damian would just have to join her, now.
She pulled her black veil over her face and stepped out onto the porch as Damian was getting out of his car. He looked the same, though his hair had grown out from a black spiky style to a longer, messy shaggy style. It was deep purple and curled around his ears and neck. Raina remembered running her fingers through his hair all those nights she and Damian and William had sat and watched old black and white horror movies in the living room.
He was wearing black pants and a black shirt with a silver star on the front that glinted in the sunlight. His boots kicked at the gravel driveway as he glanced up at her, dark glasses covering his eyes.
Without a word, Raina climbed into the passenger seat and Damian got into the driver's seat.
"I don't have to ask where you want me to drive, do I?" He asked anyhow, his voice tensing slightly. Raina knew he'd been expecting this, but had possibly been hoping it wouldn't come.
She shook her head and smiled at him, quietly, holding one white rose to him. He took it, set it on the dashboard with the rows of tiny skeleton dolls he'd glued there over the years. Each one represented a Halloween that Damian, William, and Raina had spent together. It was tradition.
They drove in silence from the house to the cemetery. Damian reached over and clicked on the tape player.
Must have died a thousand times, feeling less than human.
Raina sang along. She knew the words. Chameleons UK was the band. She'd seen them in concert with William and Damian once. It had been an all day adventure. They'd had to drive across one state to catch the band performing in a small venue. William had refused to tell Raina where they were headed. The entire trip William and Damian had laughed and Raina had guessed all the many places they might be headed until it became a game of who could invent the most bizarre scenario.
Damian turned the car onto the street where the cemetery stretched out. An entire block of tombstones. William was the first one who had brought Raina to this place. It was the middle of the night, and they had run through the streets in their velvet and lace, William pulling her by the hand. She'd been drinking from a bottle of absinthe that one of William's friends had made, and the warm burn of it in her belly was only surpassed by the warm burn in her head. She had stumbled through the head stones, wondering where the giggling and music was coming from. William laughed. She was thirteen and he was seventeen. She was drunk for the first time in her life and it was her brother who was going to introduce her to all the fun she'd been missing out on. He'd pulled her past grave after grave and Raina had felt peaceful bliss. They'd finally stopped at a far corner of the cemetery where some other kids were hanging out. They were all William's age, or a little bit older. Raina met Damian that night and scribbled his name all over her schoolbooks and folders the next day. But because he was her brother's best friend, and because he was so much older than her, she had stopped short of flirting with him, instead, clumsily kissing a boy who called himself Ravyn. He was sixteen and smelled like licorice and peppermint. In the cemetery that night, with UK Decay's song Twist in the Tail playing on the small tape player someone had brought, Raina had felt a sense of belonging for the first time in her life. Candles set all around them and the fear of being caught. Raina had watched Damian out of the corner of her eye as she'd let Ravyn touch her between her legs. She'd wrapped her thighs tight around his hand and forced herself against him, all the while imagining him to be Damian who sat against a tombstone writing in a small black notebook. William had stumbled off to find a place to go to the bathroom, and when he'd returned, he'd put a stop to her and Ravyn's childish squirming against one another. He'd dragged her off toward home and told her that acting like that was no way to get a boy to love her. She'd wanted to tell him about her father then, but before the words came out she'd hurled vomit all over the ground and fallen to her knees in the soil, unable to stop herself from getting sick. Damian had knelt down beside her and held her hair back for her because William had to run off and throw up himself. With tiny rocks cutting into the palms of her hands and the skin of her knees, Raina had cried and puked until she had nothing left inside.
Raina climbed out of the car and headed for the place she knew William rested. She could hear Damian behind her. The rustle of leaves under their feet seemed loud in all that silence.
William's headstone was littered with petals from dried flowers and Raina knelt down to clear them off before placing her bouquet of fresh roses on the cold stone. She then reached into her small black clutch purse and pulled a sandwich bag filled with glitter from inside. She scooped a fistful of the stuff into her hand and sprinkled a shower of glitter over William's grave, stepping back to admire the shimmering silver flecks in the setting sun. Damian crouched down to read the inscription on the tombstone.
"He's beautiful, isn't he?" Raina asked, crossing her feet in the grass. "I can hear his laughter when I rest my head to the ground."
"I miss him." Damian ran his hand over the words carved in stone. Raina decided to walk away and give Damian and William some time alone. Maybe William would tell Damian why he'd done it. He'd never confessed to her.
Off on the road that edged the cemetery a group of high school kids gathered, pointing and staring at Raina. It reminded her of her years in high school. Torment. It didn't hurt so much to see a few of them poking fun now, but there had been a time when Raina had been filled with so much hurt and anger that she'd almost gone the route that William had chosen for himself.
She crossed the cemetery to the edge where a giant oak tree had stood since before her great grand parents were even born. Layers of bark hid scars of carving and paint. She loved this tree because it had selfishly given her a place for reading and writing over the years. She could tell the time by the shadows of the leaves in the summertime. She'd been there many a stormy night, walking circles around the trunk, imagining protective energy radiating with her every step. It had done so much for her, this tree. It had grown for her when she'd felt incapable of growing. She reached out with the palms of both hands and touched the bark. It crackled under her touch.
"William and I vandalized this tree once, I must admit." Damian's voice startled Raina. It had crept up like a sudden gust of wind carrying the voice of a ghost. "We pinned a picture of John Norton in his underwear on it when we were ten. Someone took the picture in the locker rooms during swimming over the summer and Xeroxed it. William and I found a stack and put them up all over." Damian crossed his legs and sat under the tree, near her. His hair was a deep purple, but in the sun it shone like ripened plums, bruise colored. His dark sunglasses covered any hint of his eyes.
"That was you guys?" It was hard for Raina not to giggle a little. John Norton's family had moved away so long ago. "That poor boy. I know how he must have felt."
"It was cruel. We were ten," Damian shrugged." I've tried to make amends for it." Damian took Raina's hand and pulled her down so that they were both sitting under the tree.
"I gave my first blow job to a boy against this tree." Raina said. She looked to see Damian's reaction. "I was fourteen, I think. He was twenty-six."
"Holy shit, Raina. I'm twenty-six now. What could a twenty-six year old possibly want from a fourteen year old?"
"Oral sex, obviously." She smirked, pausing. "Lots of my life moments have taken place here."
Damian nodded, his white skin turning slightly pink in the warm sun. "Do people still come hang out here at night?"
"Not so much, but once in awhile. I still come here as much as possible. Mom says it isn't healthy. She hasn't been back to visit William since the day of his funeral"
They sat, quietly, for several minutes. Raina wanted to scream.
"Raina, I'm so scared. I don't know how to act around you. I feel like slipping back into the way things were. It would be so easy. You're so easy to love and be close to. For me, at least. Yet, I know things aren't the way they were and I know you want to kick at me and scream."
Raina shook her head. "You've got it all wrong, Damian. I wasn't sure how I could react until you were truly home. It's all so lucid. It's like I've been here before, but it's much hazier and surreal this time around. Sort of backwards, come to think of it. I've imagined it going every sort of way since your letter came. Take after take in my head, like the filming of a movie. Forwards, backwards, rewind, delete."
"Then, you don't want to yell at me?" He lowered his sunglasses so Raina could see his eyes, the color of raisins.
Raina felt a wave of something coming but forced it back inside like she'd forced everything. "I don't know what I want to do with you, Damian, but I know that I need you. I haven't been close to anyone since William went and you vanished. I have no one. Mom is around, but she is so limp to everything, and her memory is very limited. It works for her, you know? When she has something to say it's very profound, but I still feel alone."
"I'm sorry, Raina. I was selfish and stupid to leave." He pulled her into his arms and everything was okay in that moment.
"You're forgiven." Raina laughed. She knew the longer she stayed in the curve of his arms, the longer she'd have to think about how angry she'd been with him. She didn't want to think about that right now. "Now, listen." She pressed her head to grass and waited for Damian to join her. She loved that he always gave her the benefit of a doubt and humored her strange requests. He hadn't even blinked twice at her in her funeral dress. Now he rested his head next to hers, his lips almost touching hers, and his sunglasses bent slightly off his face. She reached out and touched his hair. It was soft between her fingers and made her smile. He smiled in return.
"Can you hear?" Raina asked, the ground cool under her ear, the sun warmed strands of Damian's hair in her hand, "Some are crying and some are laughing. William's laugh is the loudest. He's thanking me for the shower glitter."
Damian grasped her hand tightly and listened, "Is he saying anything to me?"
"Listen! Sshhhhhh. He says he is just as happy as I am to have you back."
Raina emptied her fourth drink and set it on the bar next to empty glasses and wet circles. It had been a little over an hour since she and Damian had arrived. It was an hour and half ride in the car and the outside of the club had looked like every other hole in the wall place with a gravel parking lot and a neon martini glass sign blinking from above the door. A few kids dressed in black had huddled around a black Mustang in the parking lot sucking back nitrous hits from whipped cream can cartridges emptied into balloons. They'd giggled like insane hyenas.
Inside the club was an instantaneous shift of reality. Blue and purple lights swirled in chaotic circles and white light speckled into a million points of glitter, bathing the bodies of cherub faced kids. Beams of laser lights threw brilliant flashes across pale faces and turned black velvets to a deep bloody burgundy. The music was a mixture of slow minor chords and ethereal voices, rising up to a crescendo of harsh dance beats. Dancers moved beneath the assault of lights like marionettes and puppets, making sweeping gestures with their arms and hands. Raina felt as if they were all bodies moving through the dark sludge of some swamp, all lost and forgotten, never disturbing the surface.
Damian stood next to her, dressed in a black leather coat that fitted slightly at his waist and flared out over his hips, He'd teased his hair out and applied a thick ring of eyeliner around his eyes. Raina loved that she and Damian could come here dressed as though they had stepped into a period film and everyone around them fit into the same movie. She was still in her funeral dress and veil. She smiled and Damian and he leaned forward.
"I'm glad we decided to come." He said directly into her ear so that he wouldn't have to compete wit the music.
"Me too. It's been ages since I've been out." Raina agreed, "William would have loved this place."
"William and I came here a few times when we both were twenty-one." Damian confessed. "We wanted to bring you, but you were just eighteen. William did enjoy it. He wanted to bring you here for your twenty-first birthday."
Raina steadied herself against the bar. Her gloves slide on the surface and she felt herself falling. Damian reached a hand out to steady her.
"I'm sorry." He looked at her. Just then she wanted to forgive him everything. She wanted to forget that time had passed and that he had left her stranded in a less than ideal situation. Could he really not know, as her mother seemed not to know? She wanted to go back nine years and force her legs against Damian's hand instead of that boy she'd never seen again. Maybe things would have changed for her. For William. For everyone.
"I wanted it to be you against that tree." She said in a rush, but Damian turned away as someone walking by bumped into him.
He turned back to her. "What did you say?"
The music shifted and Raina was glad to hear the first strings of Some Kind of Stranger by the Sisters of Mercy unfolding. Up to this point, she'd been content with a drink in her hand, watching the dreaming dancers miming to the music, but now she was ready to dance.
"Oh Damian, we must dance to this!" She called to him, grabbing his arm and leaning into him.
"Are you sure you have enough balance to dance?" He asked her. She watched his lips twist as he giggled. "Your eyes are already half shut."
"Oh yes. You have to be slightly intoxicated to dance to this music." She laughed, pulling him closer to her and to the dance floor. She spun around and began to move her body, swaying from side to side, rotating her hips to move her, inch by inch, toward the dance floor. Finding a spot that suited her, she stopped and brought Damian into her arms, leaning against his chest. She was more intoxicated than she'd thought but as long as Damian was there to lean on she knew she'd be okay. She was always okay with Damian there to lean on. Even at William's funeral.
Yes, I believe in what we had. But words got in the way.
She could smell the mixture of incense and smoke in her own hair and felt Damian leaning into her, running his hand along her spine and up into her hair. He must have been a little drunk himself, Raina thought.
All I know for sure, all I know for real, is knowing doesn't mean so much.
She closed her eyes and leaned her head back so that her face was turned up to him, her lips curled into a mild smirk. He cradled her head and brushed a wisp of hair from her face.
When bodies meet, when fingers touch.
She pressed her body fully to the length of him. She felt exactly right there.
Some kind of angel let me look into your eyes.
He stroked the hair at the back of her head and seemed to welcome the sway of her in step with his lead.
Come here I think you're beautiful. My door is open wide. Some kind of stranger come inside.
Raina felt him tremble. "Oh my god, look, Raina." He said. His voice was almost a whisper.
She opened her eyes, looked up at him. "I am looking, Damian. I am." She wanted him to kiss her, but his eyes were looking somewhere over her shoulder.
"No, look there." He nodded his head toward a figure leaning against the far wall. Raina turned and gasped. Her eyes fixed on the figure as if in slow motion. Long bleached blond hair rustled about the shoulders of the guy as he took a long drag off a cigarette and turned his head to the side.
"William." Raina whispered, breaking free from Damian and running toward the apparition. She faintly sensed Damian trying to catch her from behind.
"William? William, is that you?" She asked, poising her arm out, afraid to touch him. He might disappear in a swirl around her fingertips if she touched him. Spirits and ghost always vanished.
"For you, darling. I'll be anyone you want me to be." The apparition smiled, looking her over. Starting at her feet and working his way up, then back down.
"You don't sound like yourself." Raina narrowed her eyes. She was confused. She placed her hand on the arm of the apparition. He didn't vanish.
Damian caught her arm. "Raina. It's not him. Come on." He started to pull her away and at first she let him. "I'm sorry, man. You look a lot like someone we knew."
"Is it him? Is it William, Damian?" Raina asked. She had to know. Hot wet in her eyes, the rims burned. She knew, even through her drunken haze that it couldn't really be him, but just maybe …
"No honey. It isn't." Damian answered, tugging at her arm, gently.
She started to pull herself away from Damian. "I have to know. It could be. Maybe he came back for a reason. Maybe he needs to tell us something." She tried to work her arm free of Damian's hold. "Let me go."
"Raina, it isn't William."
The apparition stepped forward and glared at Damian. "I think you should let go of the lady." He said. The voice wasn't William's. Raina felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
"You don't understand." Damian said. "She thinks you are the ghost of her brother."
"Let go of me!" Raina screamed, finally breaking free and throwing her arms around the apparition. "William. What is it? Why?"
The apparition placed his arms around her and leaned forward. He reached one hand up and wiped at her tears. "It's okay, love. It's okay." He cupped Raina's face in his hands. His fingers weren't cold, as she'd expected them to be.
"William …" Raina smiled, nuzzling her chin into the palms of his hands. "Did you come to tell us why you did it?" It was dark and she couldn't find his eyes. She wanted to tell him about father, but again she was drunk and the idea turned her stomach to knots and acid crept up into her mouth.
The apparition leaned in too close; she could smell the alcohol on his breath. He covered her mouth with his and she felt his tongue creep in like a wet worm toward the back of her throat. Confused, she thought of her father's kisses, urgent. She stumbled back and fell against Damian "Get me out of here, please." She cried.
Damian led her toward the exit, through the crowd. She could hardly see through her tears and she stumbled into almost everyone they came near. Damian finally got her to the doorway. It was pounding rain outside, but Raina pushed herself out into it and Damian followed.