“Are you sure about this?” asked Chris.
“As sure as I’ve been about anything since I died.”
“Which would be, not very.”
I tore my eyes away from Clarice’s grave to look over at her. “I’m pretty sure.”
We stood side by side at the grave’s edge, watching Gus dig. It was a clear night, with stars visible through the trees overhead. We had a lot of company in the form of other ghosts wandering about, most likely doing their best to fend off boredom. Chris held a flashlight for Gus, but the moon was bright enough that he didn’t really need it. I was oblivious to things like hot or cold, but judging by Chris’s leather jacket and the way she hunched her shoulders, I guess it must have been a bit nippy. Save for the grunts and labored breathing coming from Gus, it was a quiet night in the cemetery.
“It feels wrong,” Chris said. “Digging up a little girl’s grave…you know, grave desecration can bring about some pretty hefty consequences.”
Clarice appeared on the other side of her grave, just for an instant. She looked at me and smiled, then vanished. “Don’t worry,” I told Chris. “We’re doing the right thing here.”
“I hope you’re right. ‘Cause if I get haunted by anybody else, I’m going to sick the exorcist I hire on you.”
“Why are you so cranky?”
She turned to stare at me. “You’re kidding, right? It’s an ungodly hour of the morning, it’s cold, we are now officially grave robbers, and I’ve barely gotten any sleep since you died.”
“Here.” I nudged the thermos that sat on the ground between us in her direction. “Have some more coffee.”
She glared at me, but she helped herself to a cup all the same.
Gus looked to be about three feet down by now. He stopped digging and leaned on his shovel. “You know,” he managed between all his panting, “I didn’t sign on for this. How come I have to do all the digging?”
“Cause Ron’s a ghost and I’m the boss, and I’m paying you double-time for this,” said Chris. She blew on her coffee. “Besides, you need a lookout.”
“Can’t Ron be the lookout while you help dig?”
“Tell him to shut up and dig or I’ll tell you what he did to my body at the wake.”
Sipping her coffee, Chris almost did a spit take. “What the heck did you do to my sister at the wake?”
Gus’s eyes widened. His face was already red from exertion, so it was hard to tell if he blushed. “Nothing,” he said, and got back to work.
Chris looked at me, and I shrugged. “Gus loves me.”
“Beats me. It was news to me, too.”
She just shook her head and went back to sipping her coffee. We settled into a comfortable silence for a while. Then, out of nowhere, she said, “So if this works, what will happen to you?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“You probably should. Your novel’s done except for the clean-up, and I can hire an editor for that. I read it, by the way. It’s really good.”
“Your agent thinks so, too. She’s sure this will get you on the best-seller list.”
“Well, that figures,” I grumped.
“Anyway, that’s done, and your relationship with Dad is as resolved as it’s ever likely to get. You don’t have any more unfinished business. The only thing keeping you here is Sarah.”
“Oh. Y’know, that didn’t even occur to me.” Now that I thought about it, she was probably right. Once Sarah was out of the way, it would most likely be time to move on. I’m sure Max couldn’t wait. And Joe…well, Joe had been tortured long enough. The prospect scared me, though. I didn’t know what we’d be moving on to.
“If that happens,” said Chris, “I’ll miss you.”
“I know. But you’ll be okay.”
“Eventually, maybe.” She sighed, then looked over at me. “Say hi to Mom for me.”
“I will if I see her.”
We both got quiet again. I realized that this could be our last opportunity to say anything to each other. It was too much pressure. I wanted to leave her with some piece of profound wisdom, or at least a useful bit of advice. I supposed I could apologize for all the times I was mean to her growing up, but that stuff didn’t really matter now. There were probably a million things I could or should say. But I couldn’t think of a single one.
I figured she was probably thinking the same thing.
So neither of us said anything. But it was a peaceful silence, not awkward or uncomfortable. The kind of silence that can only exist between two people who love each other so much they don’t need to say so.
Eventually, Gus went from a torso and a head sticking up out of the hole in the ground to just a head. “I think I hit something,” he said. I leaned over to peer into the grave while he scraped dirt off of the casket. “Aw, man,” he said once he’d uncovered it. “I don’t want to be here anymore.” He climbed up out of the grave. I couldn’t really blame him. The casket had been made of pine, and it had rotted and cracked under the weight of all the dirt. Clarice’s tiny corpse, or what was left of it, could be seen, her skull grinning up at us through the slats.
Chris sighed, handed Gus her coffee, and jumped down into the grave. “Look for a red ball,” I said, “about the size of a croquet ball.”
“I know.” Her face twisted into a grimace, she bent to grab hold of the rotted wood. It came away pretty easily. She had most of the lid torn up when she called, “I see it!” She retrieved it and held it up for us to see. “It’s not very red anymore, though.”
“That doesn’t matter. I just need you to get it to the house for me.”
She handed the ball to Gus and let him pull her out of the grave. “You guys go on,” he said. “I’ll stay here and fill this in.”
Chris looked him up and down. “How come you’re so eager to do backbreaking labor all of a sudden?”
“Look, I may be so sore I can’t move for a week,” he said, tossing a shovel full of dirt back into the grave, “but at least I know I won’t be stuck haunting that house with Ron by morning. Don’t worry. I can take the bus home.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “You’re going to get on the bus outside a cemetery, covered in dirt and carrying a shovel?”
“Have you seen most of the people who ride the bus? I’ll fit right in.”
“Fraidy cat,” I muttered.
Chris rolled her eyes. “Let’s go,” she said, heading off in the direction of her car.
“Hang on,” I said. “I’ll meet you there. I better get back and give the guys the lowdown.”
“Oh. Okay.” She looked a little disappointed.
I sighed. “Look, I don’t want you coming inside that house again. When you get there, just open the door and toss the ball in, then get away.”
She rolled the ball back and forth between her hands. “Sure,” she said. “Fine. So I guess this is it.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
She blinked her eyes rapidly and tried surreptitiously to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. “You were kind of a jerk sometimes.” Her voice wavered a little.
“Yeah, I know. Sorry about that. But you were kind of a twerp sometimes.”
She smiled, and sniffed. “Yeah. I’m not really sorry about that.” Then she got serious. “You were a good sister, Ronnie. You were my best friend.”
“Hey, what’s with all the past tense? I’m not gone yet.”
Sniffling, she looked down at the ball and nodded. “Yeah, well… have a good afterlife, okay?”
“I’m not really sure how much say I get in that.”
“Are you scared?” she asked.
“Kind of. A lot.”
She nodded again.
“My kid sister’s safe, though,” I said. “And she turned out pretty awesome. So I think I can deal with whatever’s next.”
She smiled again. She just looked at me for a minute. Then she said, simply, “Bye, sis.”
“Bye,” I said, and returned to the house.
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