“Roman…” Adham’s hand was on my shoulder, the room filled with nothing but smoke.
It swirled around Bryn’s face, tracing her in glowing grey until she looked like a ghost too. I thought I had gotten rid of my ghosts but maybe they were just lying in wait. Simmering coals waiting for more gasoline. But Bryn’s death wasn’t gasoline. It was an atomic bomb creating enough fire and destruction to fuel my demons for a lifetime. I didn’t want a lifetime without Bryn but I wasn’t going to destroy myself to get it. That’s something the old Roman would have done. He was the only one who was really dead.
She’s not…she’s not…
“I’m sorry, Roman.” Adham’s voice was barely a whisper and I realized that mine had been too.
I hung my head. “She’s not dead.”
“Okay…” The word was weak but it was also certain.
I looked up at him, searching his eyes for that certainty. What I found instead was…so much sadness.
I wondered if this would all be easier if Bryn and I had a relationship like Cole and Adham—one where she pretended she couldn’t stand the sight of me while I couldn’t stand to have her out of my sight. Adham loved Cole the same way I loved Bryn but there was some kind of…miserable magic in being loved back. He had never felt that; without it I wondered if he could ever feel something like this.
But then I remembered the way Bryn had looked at me as I’d carried in her corpse; the way she’d looked at me, through me, past me, every time I tried to talk to her. Then I realized that losing her wasn’t easier now that she was so far away. And that’s what that feeling was, my grief exponentially more agonizing because I hadn’t just lost her once. I’d lost her twice. And I was still losing her, inch by inch, second by second.
My ghost had sensed it, promising relief if I’d just let him out. If I’d just lose control. If I didn’t believe in even the slightest possibility that I could find a way to save her I would have let myself do just that. But even before Bryn and I had met in the real world she’d taught me to hope. Now that hope was all I had left. I wasn’t going to let death steal it from both of us.
“Let’s get you downstairs,” Adham said, trying to lead me back toward the hallway.
I was still steaming and I wiped my brow. “Adham…”
“What is it?” His hand was still on my arm, his grip reminding me of the roots of a tree. “Roman, everything is going to be okay.” He answered the question I’d so desperately asked Bryn, his words still and calm and sure.
I wanted to know how to be that still, that calm, that sure. I wasn’t sure if it was Adham’s religion—the one that believed we were some kind of divine creation—or maybe his mother’s meditations—the patient fuel he used to cast a safety net over Cole as he slept—that grounded him in every storm. But if I was going to keep my ghosts at bay I was going to need him to teach me how. That meant admitting that I was still being haunted at all.
I stared at Adham’s shoes. “I…think I need your help.”
*This excerpt is from a WIP and is subject to change*