That night after dinner I went back to the pier. I needed to get out of the house to clear my head. Mom was sitting in the living room when I left, sipping a glass of wine and knitting a scarf. Dad was in his workshop in the garage making a racket. I closed the front door and stepped out into the dusk light. The sun was setting in the west, brilliant shades of orange and pink. It would be beautiful over the lake. I walked briskly.
I sat and watched the sun set, taking in the colors as they changed and shifted. They reflected on the water with almost the brilliance they had in the sky. The soft sound of the water lapping against the boat launch was relaxing, dreamy.
I stayed, listening and watching until dark fell.
A million memories went flitting through my head, coming and going before I could grab onto any particular one and hold it. Eva at graduation, so happy and proud of her grade point average, her mother snapping pictures of everything and everybody. Her extended family, a gaggle of black-clad Italian uncles and aunts, had been in attendance, and there had been a big party at the Verdano house to celebrate their youngest daughter’s graduation that afternoon. My thoughts moved to after graduation; a shopping trip at the beginning of last summer came up, in which we had tried on and modeled dozens of bikinis for each other, at close to as many stores. She’d chosen a turquoise suit with yellow and white flowers that had little ties on each hip. Going back in time, Eva and Rob at the junior prom, both of them quiet and smiling. Her blue eye makeup and the zigzag hem of the dress she had chosen. And in our last year of high school, our morning drives with Beth every day, sharing bagels and drinking coffee in the cafeteria until the homeroom bell rang. Then, her happy triumph when she finally had the money to buy the secondhand car she had been saving for.
My mind settled on the car.
The Civic. The car she’d been killed in. The antenna was broken and we couldn’t listen to the radio, just cds. An old, two-door standard shift with over 120,000 miles on it. We called it her buggy. Her parents always let her drive their cars, but she wanted her own. And she wanted to pay for it herself. So she’d saved the money she made as a lifeguard during the summer and the money she earned during the school year tutoring math for students who were having trouble, and bought herself the Civic.
I let myself drift back to those many mornings she’d driven me to school. She’d leave her house early enough to pick me up. During the winter, the car was just warming up when she reached my house. We’d speed through the back roads of Chester and Manchester, no doubt too fast, talking, listening to music, the window down, even in the winter. The days had passed as quickly as those rides did.
I sighed, looking up at the stars. Millions of them in an endless sea. Extending forever into space. Was she there? Did she see me sitting here alone by this launch? Did she know I was thinking of her? I wished with everything in me that she would just walk up, say my name, plop down beside me, and tell me everything was going to be fine.
I sat there and waited for that to happen for a while, waited for her to make an appearance.
A great, yawning emptiness overcame me, my hips and lower belly ached. My heart contracted. I sat there letting tears fall for a while, until it started to feel cold and mosquitoes started to appear, attracted by my breath.
I rose to leave, giving up on the notion that she might appear.
But as I turned to go I froze, terrified and stunned to see Eva standing at the water’s edge, where the woods met the lake. I broke a cold sweat, panic seizing me as I backed toward the launch exit.
She was standing just at the edge of the water, her gaze fixed on me intensely. Her eyes penetrated me, seeing through me. She looked angry. Sad. Both. Otherworldly.
No. I was imagining this.
Backing away, my teeth chattering, the sight of my dead friend, the lake shining behind and through her, burned itself into my mind. I tried to keep moving backwards, tried to get away. But I couldn’t turn my back on her.
“Rowan. Don’t leave. Please.”
I shook my head, tried to clear my vision, my ringing ears, everything. “Rowan,” again. Was her voice in my head?
Though she stood still, she was not solid. She was gray from head to toe, a clear form but with a quality of transparency that made it obvious she wasn’t solid. My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t get my breath. Was this real?
She wore the GUARD T-shirt and cut-off denim shorts I had last seen her in, but all of her was the same colorless gray, her features and form distinguishable by variation in shade, or depth, perhaps. Or something else. Something more subtle. I stopped backing up, shifting my weight from one foot to the other and back again, watching her, trying to keep myself from falling down.
“Eva…?” my voice came out in a squeak.
“Rowan, my friend…” She held her arm out to me.
I did not think I saw her lips move to speak. My heart was in my throat, and there was a train in my head.
“Look what he did!” she whispered, her voice distressed, hollow.
“Who?” I asked.
Her brow furrowed in frustration as she continued to look at me, claiming my mind with her image. She shook her head sadly back and forth, her hair seeming to float around her with the movement. A gray haze seemed to be spreading across the boat launch, enveloping the ground, moving toward me
The hairs on my neck stood up, the cold night air seeming to wrap itself around me, fold me into it.
“It’s not over…” her gaze direct and unflinching, shaking her head sadly, her outstretched arms retreating to cross over her heart. Then heaving a great sigh, holding me in her eyes for one last moment, she disappeared, taking the gray haze with her, but leaving the chill air behind.
I stood there in a mix of terror and uncertainty, looking for her, scanning the water’s edge, the launch. Gone.
She was gone again.
I left the launch walking backwards, unable to turn my back on the spot I’d seen her in. I looked around me at the darkness, wondering if she could still see me, and why she had come. But there were no answers there.
When I reached the road, I turned and ran home.
The house was warmly lit when I arrived, glowing invitingly. Marc’s car was in the driveway. He was sitting with my parents at the kitchen table when I walked in, the cold night air still hanging on me.
My mother pulled the cotton scarf she was wearing around her shoulders up to cover her neck, shivering.
I felt very disconnected, as if I were floating in a dream. As if Eva were still with me, or I with her. Still trembling, I tugged a chair away from the table to sit down.
“Rowan, are you okay? What’s happening?” my mother was the first to speak, leaning toward me to put her hand on my arm. “You’re cold.”
“And you’re shaking,” she said.
“I’m okay. Just chilled. I’m fine,” I said, trying my voice, which came out in a squeak. I struggled to sound convincing. But my jaw was stiff and nobody was buying it. They exchanged looks, clearly not sure what to make of my entrance.
To disguise my shaking, I got up and went to the refrigerator for a soda.
Sitting down again as gingerly as I could, I popped it open and drank some. Determined not to share what I had seen with my parents, I cleared my throat and tried to smile, tried to shake off the apparition. But the curious feeling stayed.
“Just thinking of Eva, that’s all.”
They exchanged looks again, this time a little less worriedly. Billy came in, hair spiked and dyed white, black leather biker’s jacket on. He wore a leather bracelet with chrome studs sticking out every which way. He was in a punk phase.
“Oh, hey. What’s going on in here?” he asked, looking around the room. “Where’s Kori?”
“Kori’s at the movies,” Mom said. “In fact, I need to go pick her up in a few minutes.”
“Who’d she go with?” he asked, sounding a little hurt he hadn’t been invited.
“One of the girls from her soccer team. Rhonda, I think,” Mom said.
“Travis arrives tonight,” Dad said, looking at me. Apparently oblivious to his son’s attire. “He’ll start his investigation in the morning.”
Billy went to the refrigerator. “Travis is coming tonight?” he asked, surveying the refrigerator contents.
“Yes,” Dad answered, looking at him. “Tomorrow we’re going over to the impound yard to see Eva’s car. Want to come?”
Billy took a soda off the shelf, shut the refrigerator door, and finding no empty chairs at the table, stood. “Sure,” he said, looking at the floor, his ambivalence obvious. It would be painful to look at the car and imagine Eva in it. He himself had hitched many rides to school with her in that car.
Not a joyful errand.
“Jen called for you,” Mom said to me, the weight in her voice adding significance to the message. “She wants to see you before you leave for school.”
I nodded and looked at Marc. “Do you want to go for a ride? I could use a change of scenery and Billy needs a seat.” My parents exchanged a look that suggested they had expected me to stay for a talk.
“Nope. I’m fine. No interest in hanging around here with you guys,” said Billy, leaving the kitchen. “I’m going out. I’ll see you later,” he called over his shoulder.
There was a brief silence at the table. Dad looked at my mother.
“Where is he going?”
“I’ll have her home at a reasonable hour, sir,” Marc said, lowering his voice to sound like a military officer. The joke lightened the mood at the table and my parents smiled.
“Okay,” Dad said, his blue eyes leveling on Marc’s meaningfully. “Be sure you do, young man.”
Why, I wondered, did my parents always need to know my whereabouts when my younger brother could cavalierly announce he was leaving with no further explanation? And get away with it? Unfair, I thought, annoyed. I was fuming when we left. Marc held the door for me on the way out and tried to take my hand as we walked toward the car but I didn’t want to hold hands.
“What was all of that? Why are you here?” I asked, taking out my aggravation with my parents on him.
“Because you start school in a week and I’m supposed to help convince you to wait a semester,” he took a breath. “Your parents are concerned that you’ll have trouble adjusting at the university.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, feeling exasperated at my mother’s interference.
“The housing office phoned today to say that they have assigned you another roommate who was waitl-isted for a double room,” he said. “I think your Mom is nervous.”
My exasperation and annoyance evaporated, leaving me deflated.
“Rowan, I want you to be there with me, but I also want what’s best for you,” he said as he opened the door of his mother’s Audi and held it open for me.
Another roommate. I hadn’t even begun to think about that. Of course, if Eva wasn’t going to attend they would fill her dormitory space. My chest started to feel heavy again. Marc started the car. I felt hot tears coming again and my breath was harder as I tried to stifle them.
But they came. Hot and in a rush, they came.
Marc was silent. He drove toward our favorite parking spot, a place in the woods near his house, while I struggled to stop crying. I took a deep breath to clear my head and shake off my feelings, and with some effort the crying finally subsided. Marc rolled the little car onto the logging path we’d driven a half dozen times. Then he turned left into a clearing, tree branches snapping against the sides of the car as we lurched and bumped into position.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said, suddenly feeling that maybe my Mom was right.
“That’s what your parents are thinking.”
He cut the engine.
We sat in silence, the car dark, the clock on the dash reminding us that time was passing. Always passing.
The moonlight on the trees around us bathed the clearing we were parked in with a silvery light. Looking out, I felt surprised at how bright the night was.
We sat silently with our thoughts.
After a while, a deer appeared at the edge of the clearing. Sensing something or someone, it looked in our direction. We both watched it, neither of us speaking. Tentatively, it stepped into the open, and foraged around in the grass for a few moments before disappearing again into the trees.
Marc rolled his window down to let some cool air in, and leaned back in his seat to face me. We listened to the crickets for a few minutes.
“Rowan, summer’s over. I’m not going to give you any advice either way. This has been sudden, and I feel like you’re shutting down. You’re not the only one, you know. Poor Rob is a shadow of himself. I went to see him this week and he couldn’t even talk about Eva, the wake, or the funeral. Nothing.”
I hadn’t thought about Rob since the wake, when he’d moved as if in a trance toward Eva in the casket. What had he been thinking? About making love to Eva? About her smile? About their last conversation?
“You haven’t really been able to talk about how you’re feeling,” Marc said, clearly trying to steer the conversation somewhere.
I interrupted him: “I saw her tonight.”
Startled, he stared.
“You saw her? Where?” He studied my face, obviously wondering if I was going crackers on him.
“At the lake. I was at the boat landing. She was there, and she spoke to me,” I started to shake again.
I tried to control it, clenching my jaw.
His mouth open, he stared at me. His expression demonstrating he didn’t believe me. But he didn’t say that.
Isn’t there some bit of folk wisdom that you never wake a sleep walker? That must’ve been his logic.
“I’m not losing my mind. It’s a ghost. Eva’s ghost. I’m sure I saw her tonight. She spoke to me,” I said, wanting to convince him that I hadn’t imagined it. That it was real. That I was not cuckoo or dreaming.
He looked doubtful.
As he considered what I had said I could see some concern start to creep into his expression through the darkness in the car. Of course he would wonder if I was all right. Seeing ghosts was unusual, to say the least. And seeing the ghost of a recently departed friend might have seemed wishful, the product of an overactive imagination, or perhaps of a mind that wasn’t coping well.
But I was not going crazy.
Over the years I had glimpsed things like this occasionally. Heard voices, had hunches, even seen at least one ghost. I hadn’t told him about the ghost, but he knew about the hunches, had seen enough that he had even come to trust them. Why was this so different, so unbelievable? Hundreds, thousands, millions of people had claimed to see ghosts. Why was I the only crazy one?
More silence as we sat looking out the front window.
“Okay,” he said. “Okay, you saw Eva. What did she—it—say?”
“She said ‘Look what he did.’”
I paused here to let the weight of the words register. Not just for his benefit, but for my own, as well. I had been contemplating the phrase since she’d uttered it, trying to understand what she meant.
He looked at me helplessly.
“I can only guess she meant that someone is responsible for the accident. But that introduces the horrible question of ‘who?’ And I have no idea who it could be…” I broke off, feeling lost and tired.
Bad enough to be without Eva, facing my freshman year of college with the wrong roommate. Worse still to be wondering if I was alienating Marc. And what did her words, “Look what he did,” mean? The problem of my father working on her car was on my mind, but I didn’t say that.
“You’re thinking of your father.”
I was stunned. “You know about that?”
He nodded. “He told me tonight before you came in.”
“Oh,” I said, nonplussed.
“He also told me about Mr. Verdano’s suit against your family,” Marc said.
I looked up at him. His expression was serious, his eyes penetrating. Sometimes it was like he could look right into me. It made me nervous.
“Rowan, everything is going to be fine. I promise.”