#2: Crushed

Chapter Two

Three's a Crowd

Lunch could not come fast enough. After my spontaneous outburst in P.E., I stopped by the administration office to find out what hoops I’ll have to jump through to get this dance club approved. The answer? About a hundred and fifty, all of which are wrapped up neatly in the Limbo Central Club Manual.

       Piece o’cake.

       I’m so busy thinking about how to answer these club questions that I’ve forgotten to worry about what’s going to happen at lunch. Now that Georgia is on the outs with, well, basically everyone in the group, is she going to sit somewhere else? Or is she going to stay at the regular table and make everyone feel super uncomfortable? Waiting in line for food, I realize just how awkward things could get. Seriously, who knew that being dead would be so full of real-life DRAMA?!

       “What’s for lunch?” a beautiful voice from behind me whispers in my ear.

       Heart stops.
       Butterflies flutter.
       A cartoon bluebird lands on my finger. Oh, Colin, where have you been all of my afterlife? (Or, I mean, for the last day and a half.)

       “Mystery meat with a side of questionable white mush?” I answer, jokingly.

       “Yum,” he replies, and my knees buckle a little. “So . . . how’s Limbo’s new Ghostcoming Queen feeling today?”

       Like she needs her King to set a date for their date. STAT.
       “Pretty good,” I say. “It’s lovely being royal.”
       “I’ll bet.”

       “Hey, you don’t happen to be a freakishly good dancer, do you?”

       “Uhm, not last time I checked. Why?”

       “Oh, nothing. It’s just, I’m starting this new dance club with Cecily and we need members.”

       “Oh. Nope. Sorry,” he says, putting a chocolate pudding on his tray and another one on mine without even asking.

       Could he be any sweeter?!

       “That’s okay,” I say, as we exit the kitchen and head over to our regular table.

       “So, you do photography for the paper and yearbook, don’t you?” I ask him.

       “Yup.”

       “I was thinking about joining. I’m kind of into photography,” I tell him, which is technically true, but it’s also the most perfect way to get some alone time with Colin.

       Bonus!

       “Cool. If there were just a straight-up photo club I’d join that instead, but there isn’t,” he says. “I see why not, but still.”

       “Wait, why isn’t there photo club?”

       “Well, ghost photography is tricky. We don’t photograph normally.”

       “And that means what exactly?”

       “It’s all about energy and light,” he explains. “We’re not physical in the same way that live people are, so the light messes with our solidity and ruins our ability to be photographed.”

       “So . . . you take pictures with no one in them?”

       “Oh, people are in them, they just don’t always show up when the photos develop. The strongest ones show up as holograms—basically like how you looked when you first got here. It’s like a film of a person.”

       “Fascinating.”

       As we sit down, I do a quick scan of the room and see that Georgia is nowhere to be found. Phew! Cecily is already seated across from us. Marcus is there too, but he’s with his bandmates Jessie Rodriguez, James Seaver, Trevor Diggs, and Miles Rennert at the other side of the table. My only real interactions with Jessie involve his constant desire to change their band name to horrible things like Apples to Oranges or Soup Fried Rice. Everyday he has another ridiculous idea. Hopefully Figure of Speech will stick! James and Trevor run the Limbo Central radio station and they DJ’d the Ghostcoming dance. Their taste in music is killer.

       No pun intended.

Miles is the oldest member of the group—I think he’s in his third year here. Apparently he’s the one who got them the gig. I’ve never actually talked to him. He’s kinda like one of my older brother’s friends, you know? If I had an older brother. He’s basically way too cool to be hanging out with us, and when he does it’s like he’s doing charity work for some cause he really believes in. He’s always staring into space and then quickly jotting things down on any surface he can find—a napkin, his arm, a backpack.

“Did you hear that Figure of Speech is playing at the Clairvoyance Café on Wednesday night?” Colin asks.

       “Yeah, Mia told me in first period,” I reply.
       Cecily stays quiet.
       “I’m excited to hear them,” I continue. “What kind of music do they play anyway?”
       “Kinda hard to say,” Colin says, with a chuckle. “Guess you’ll have to come and hear for yourself.”
       “We’ll be there, right, Cece?”
       “Right, Lou,” she says, nonchalantly looking over in Marcus’s direction. (Lou is her nickname for me.) I’m not sure if this means she’s decided not to try out for cheerleading, or if she’s just saying that to keep the conversation moving.

       “So, what did you do on Sunday?” I ask Colin.

       Please have a good excuse for not calling me! Tell me you were feeding puppies at the animal shelter or working at a soup kitchen or—

       “Played, like, five hours of Xbox and napped. It was pretty stressful.”

       “I’ll bet,” I reply. Strike One.

       Cecily gives me a look that says, “I really wish he was feeding puppies!” and I want to hug her.

       Just then, the March of the Cheerleaders comes into view as a group of uniform-clad girls make their way through the cafeteria single file, heading toward the table to the left of ours. I feel like I’m watching a documentary on National Geographic about how this strange species socializes in the wild. As you can see, the female cheerleader dresses in uniform so as not to blend into her surroundings. They travel in herds so they are always on the offensive, and ready to attack.

       “What’s that all about?” I ask, curious. I know I’ve only been here two weeks, but I’ve never seen the cheerleaders wear their uniforms during the school day before, let alone do any kind of synchronized strutting or eating.

       “It’s one of Georgia’s new ideas as captain,” Colin explains. “For tryout week. She says dressing up and displaying school spirit and solidarity during lunch and school hours will help recruit new members.”

       Even I have to admit that’s clever.

       “I like our school colors,” Cecily says, staring over at the cheerleaders dreamily.

       “White and gray? They are sort of signature ghost colors,” Colin chimes in.

       “Well, they go with everything!” Cecily says, animatedly. “Even my red hair. I mean, imagine if the colors were pink and brown or something? Yuck.”

       So I guess she plans on wearing the uniform after all.

       Just then Georgia comes over to our table and walks right up to Cecily.

       “I hope you saw the message blast about cheerleading tryouts this morning,” she says, putting her fake sweet on. “I think you’d be a really great addition to the team.”

       “Uh, thanks?” Cecily replies, but like she’s asking a question.

       “Hi, Colin,” Georgia says, softly.

       I get a twitchy feeling in my gut that makes me uncomfortable. On the one hand, if her saying a simple hello to Colin bothers me, that means I’m just as jealous and petty as she is. On the other hand, being on high alert is one hundred percent necessary, because I know this is just the beginning of her weaseling her way back into the afterlives of the people I care about. Still . . . on the other other hand, I hate the idea of behaving even remotely similar to the way she would behave. But back to the other hand, I’m having a lot of trouble curbing myself right now.

       Wait, how many hands is that?

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© 2016 Orli Zuravicky.