This is a bit of ‘The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings’ told from Blue’s point of view. Please don’t read it until you’ve finished the main book as there are many spoilers.
My ghost tour is going perfectly well tonight until the naked man happens.
I’m standing outside the Murder House rushing through my spiel when one of the old ladies in the group shrieks at the top of her voice. I must jump forty fucking feet in the air before spinning around. My nerves are always a bit on edge around this place, and I don’t even like walking past it. Therefore, when I turn to look at what the woman is staring at, I’m expecting anything.
Anything apart from the naked man.
For a moment that seems to last for a lifetime, we stare at each other, and I lick my lips. He’s tall and wide-shouldered with long legs, wavy brown hair, and a big cock. Then he seems to come to his senses and grabs a cloth to cover his dick before slamming his hand down on the light switch.
Darkness descends as does a sort of stunned silence, and then I rally. “So, that’s the Murder House,” I say loudly, struggling not to burst into laughter. “Very shocking, I guess you’d say.”
“Was that a spirit?” the old lady asks. Her voice is shaking with what I presume is excitement. I hope so because otherwise, I’m probably going to have to administer first aid. “I saw a ghost. Did you see it?”
I usher the group down the lane. “I did,” I call back. “As clear as day, but the ghost really needs to buy himself a bigger dishcloth.”
I lead them back down the lane fielding her excited questions and finish up outside College Street under a streetlight with the tale of the little girl ghost. They’re a good group tonight. Very receptive. Apart from the old lady who keeps shooting longing glances towards the Murder House as if she’s considering sprinting back and body slamming the hot naked bloke. I don’t blame her. The thought’s occurred to me too.
I wrap up my spiel and bid them goodnight, lingering to answer some of the questions the stragglers have for me. Finally, even they wander away, leaving me standing alone with the Minster a golden glow to the side of me. A flicker of movement shows in the corner of my eye, and I look up at the small window of the house. A little girl’s face appears, and I solemnly raise my hand and wave to her. She gives me a mischievous grin and vanishes.
Footsteps sound behind me and I turn and groan.
“Oh, it’s you. Well, you’re a bit fucking late for the interrupt-Blue’s-ghost-tour portion of the evening.”
Hugh sneers as he gets close and I marvel yet again on why I ever let him anywhere near me. Then I remember the fact that I’d got exceedingly drunk a couple of times last year and after a long enough time spent making out, I’d felt obliged to blow him. I also remember that he didn’t reciprocate the favour either time. I’d avoided him afterwards, and when he realised that he wasn’t getting anywhere near my arse, his quasi-charm had receded as quick as the tide.
“Still making do with your tiny groups?” he sneers.
I wink at him. “I like small things. Your penis must have sensed that. They always know who they’re safe with.”
“Grow up,” he mutters.
“I need help with that. Maybe I could borrow your box?” I shout after his retreating figure.
Ten minutes later, I push my way through the crowded pub looking for Will. He’s easy to spot as he stands about a foot above everyone else. He sees me and raises a hand, miming the word ‘pint’. I nod fervently and see his face creased in a smile as he turns back to the bar.
I exchange greetings with some of the locals and stop to talk to Fiona, a local guide who swears she has a job for me in a haunted mansion outside York. By the time I get to the bar, I’m slightly hoarse and fall on my beer happily. “God, I need this.”
My best friend smiles at me. “Tough night with the spectres, Mr Billings?”
I shake my head. “Weird night. There was a naked man on the tour.”
He blinks. “Is this part of your new business plan? If so, I have to say I’m pretty sure it’s entirely original.”
I nudge him with my elbow and smile happily when he spills his beer. “No, we were outside his house, and he walked into his kitchen naked.”
He starts to laugh, and I smile helplessly. When he’s got himself under control apart from a few stray snorts of laughter, he turns back to me. “Poor bastard. I’m amazed it’s never happened before.”
I shrug. “Most of the homeowners know their houses are on the circuit. Not sure why he didn’t.” I shoot a glance at Will. “I’ve seen him before anyway. He was drinking in here a few nights ago.”
His brow furrows and then delight crosses his face. “Really?” he says in a very animated voice. I sigh, resigned to my fate. “You mean the handsome bloke who was leaning on the bar all night?”
“Will,” I say in a warning voice which he ignores. Of course, he does.
“Surely it’s not the man who you said had very sad eyes.”
“You’ll have sad eyes in a minute when I knee you in the bollocks.”
He laughs loudly. “Blue, oh my God, you’re so fucking easy to wind up sometimes.”
“I am not,” I say crossly. “I’m very inscrutable.”
“I have no idea what that means,” he retorts. “Maybe you’re not able to take a shit.” I shoot him a repressive look, but he leans on the bar comfortably. “You’re only easy to wind up when it means something.” He frowns. “That’s why it doesn’t happen very often.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing matters to you. That’s why I liked the fact that you were eyeing that bloke up.”
“He’s very good looking.”
He shrugs. “I’ll take your word for it. I only saw his back.” He pauses contemplatively. “He had a fantastic arse, though.”
He lifts his glass, and I wait until he’s taken a sip before saying, “Gorgeous cock too.”
He chokes, and I smile maliciously. When he’s finished coughing his spleen up, I grin at him. “Lovely as this meeting is, why are we here, Will? I thought you had a date.”
“A date?” he says dismissively. “I was queued up for a shag. Not a date.”
I nod. We’re entirely in agreement on that. People like us don’t date. We haven’t got the time, the money, or the mental stamina for that.
Will leans in. “I caught Cal in your room tonight.”
I straighten up at the thought of Fay’s slimy boyfriend. “What?” I hiss.
He nods. “I chucked him out, but I thought you should know. Fay’s up to something and as normal she’s using Cal to get it.”
I sigh and stare blindly ahead. Fay. A colossal raincloud in my life at the moment, but once she’d been one of my closest friends. I met her when I got a job with Spud. I clicked with her immediately, and we’d had a lot of laughs. However, that humour had faded as time wore on and the stuff we were doing in the shop got shadier and shadier until I couldn’t turn a blind eye anymore.
Fay drew away from me and towards Cal and Spud and there was many a day that I’d walk into the shop and know they’d been discussing me. It was startlingly unpleasant, and it got even more so when I’d walked out and refused to do it anymore. Fay had taken it as a personal insult, and ever since then, my one-time friend has become my enemy.
It’s a salutary lesson in why I don’t need friends. They weigh you down and always betray you.
I look at Will. Apart from him. He’s stuck somehow, ignoring my snark or giving it back threefold. And somehow the gentle giant has wormed his way into my heart and stayed there. He’s the only one who’s never abandoned me or betrayed me, and yet I’m still prepared for the day when it will happen.
I sigh and finish my pint. Life is fucking exhausting.
The next night is cold and damp, and as I stand on the corner of College Street doing my turn, I shiver and draw my coat tighter around me. It doesn’t do much. It’s more a costume than anything, but at least it’s another layer of fabric. I eye the tear on the left sleeve with a jaundiced eye. I really can’t afford another coat. I’ll have to get the needle and thread on it later. I think of the coldness of my room at the squat and repress another shiver.
I carry on talking, spinning the tale almost by rote, and my thoughts stray longingly to the room I’d had when I worked for Spud. It had been so warm and cosy. I could still be there if I hadn’t developed a very inconvenient conscience.
Then I look up at the window and see the little girl ghost peeking out at us with a curious expression on her face, and I sigh because I could never have carried on with that no matter how low I’ve fallen since. I can’t use what I have to con people. It was my fault for getting involved in the whole shitty situation. If I hadn’t, I’d never have known what it felt like to have a place that was all mine. In a way, I suppose that’s my punishment.
I scan the crowd and for a second stumble on my words when there’s movement at the back, and I see the figure of the man from the Murder House. His coat is half on, his nutmeg-brown hair is a mess, and he has a very wry expression on his face.
I smoothly cover up the falter and then sigh as Hugh comes into view, stalwartly carrying his box and followed by a large crowd of people. I eye the box. I’m often tempted to see how hard I could hit him with it, but I’ve resisted it so far. I’ve been on his tour. He needs all the props he can get.
He shoots me a pugnacious glance, and I straighten my shoulders and prepare for battle. But even as I’m arguing with him and savouring the victory as he walks away, I’m still aware of the bloke standing at the side of the crowd watching everything with bright eyes that betray his amusement.
He watches Hugh go with a great deal of enjoyment while I stare at him. He looks back and finds me staring. “Sorry,” he says immediately. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Obviously,” I say pertly. “Because you missed the bit where I said I wasn’t a resident charity.” I’m trying to stop smiling, but it’s difficult around him for some reason. His face is very kind. I raise my eyebrow instead.
“I think I’ve missed something,” he says slowly.
The other members of the group shift slightly, obviously enjoying the entertainment.
“You have missed something,” I say. “You’ve missed the part where you pay for the tour.”
He immediately looks mortified and starts digging in his pocket. “Oh, fuck, sorry. Of course, I’ll pay. How much is it?”
“Well, usually it’s six pounds.” He opens his wallet, and I stare at him. “But that’s for people who are on time. You, however, are late, so it’s a tenner.”
A stunned expression crosses his face, but then the big man at the back of the group huffs. “Can we get a move on? It’s fucking freezing.”
“Could you watch your language?” another man says crossly.
“I can. I just might not want to,” the big man says.
I shake my head at my sadly-not-naked-anymore man. “See what you’ve done now? This was a very well-behaved group before you turned up. You’re like a human grenade.” I turn to the group. “Okay, people. Let’s be off to our next stop on the ghost tour led by the Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings.”
“Sounds like a circus act,” the man mutters. Then he stutters to a stop. “Is your name really Blue?”
I stare at me. “Yes?”
Implicit in my voice is the warning not to take the piss. I hated my name when I was a kid, but when my mum died, I felt guilty about that. I dyed my hair as soon as I got to York to help me remember her. Luckily, it proved to be a good marketing ploy when I started the ghost tour. Now, it almost feels like I might become invisible if I didn’t have this quirky exterior.
“You’re kidding,” he says loudly. “It’s just that’s what I called you in my head.”
He immediately looks as if he wants to disappear through the floor. I, on the other hand, am vastly entertained. And I can feel my heart pick up a bit of speed at the idea that he might have noticed me before.
He babbles on about voices in his head while some of the group edges away from him as if he’s about to strip naked and start singing “Eye of the Tiger” at any second. I watch him for a long second trying not to laugh and then charitably start the tour again so he can stop talking.
I always enjoy the ghost walk and the people who come on it and listen so raptly. I even enjoy the hecklers. But tonight, aware of those brown eyes fixed on me, I find myself performing more than I’ve done since I started. I project my voice and turn so he can see my best side even while mentally deciding that I’m the biggest twat in York.
I’m touched that the group stick close to me as Hugh does his best to fuck up my night. In the end, they even start to boo him at the Devil site. That’s a relief as it lets me hide the unease that I always feel here. I can find myself tensing as we approach it, my stomach churning.
I hope desperately that she won’t be here, but of course, she is. Standing by a tree, half-lit by the dim street light, Emily waits. Ghosts usually appear to me as they seem to have died, and this one did it poorly. Her hair is loose and messy, and her clothes ripped. Liquid seeps from her empty eye sockets that nevertheless look towards me as soon as we come into sight. As if she can see me. Her clothes gape about her torso showing darkness as deep as an abyss.
Regardless of Emily’s grisly appearance, I still tip my hat imperceptibly to her because I feel an awful camaraderie with her. She was the first ghost I saw when I got to York. Aged thirteen with just a few possessions crammed into my rucksack I’d hitchhiked my way here, paying for my share of the petrol with a blow job for the middle-aged man who’d picked me up. It had been my first one, and I’d cried. He’d pretended not to notice and finished in my mouth. When I got to York, I vomited into a bush in this very narrow side street.
When I looked up, Emily was there, standing still and almost attentive. My psychic talents are somewhat erratic. When I see ghosts, their mouths open and shut so they’ve obviously got a great deal to say, but apart from odd times I can’t hear them. Nevertheless, I felt a strong wave of compassion coming from her towards me, and I knew somehow that she understood the humiliation and the secret rage that constricted my throat and made me flush bright red.
She stayed by me as I walked the streets until I found an old bookshop near the Minster which she seemed to approve of because it was there that she left me. I went in that day and looked her up in one of the old books and found that she was the last victim of the Devil of York. I also discovered that the old man who owned the shop liked to test out local food on customers and I’d vowed to come back to it again.
I do my talk, and I’m amused as always to find how rapt people are. Unsolved murders are always good for business. The gorier, the better. And I suppose the connection with Jack the Ripper doesn’t hurt either.
But still, I’m watching him, and I hesitate when the talk finishes, and he doesn’t move off immediately. The rest of the group thank me and walk away determined to get on with the rest of their evening, but he stays looking thoughtfully towards the tree where the ghost is still standing. I wonder for a second whether he can see her but then dismiss the idea. He doesn’t look nearly freaked out enough.
I hesitate. Normally, I’d walk off, but he intrigues me. “You alright?” I finally ask.
He jumps “Oh yes, I’m fine,” he says quickly.
I look at him as I button up my long overcoat. I want to keep him here. “Well, goodnight,” I finally say. “Try to join other ghost tours on time if you do it again. The other guides won’t be as pleasant or as understanding as me.”
“That was pleasant and understanding?” he says in a startled tone, and I can’t help my grin.
“Well, pleasant by my standards.” I wink at him and then reluctantly start to walk away.
“Wait,” he says loudly. “Sorry,” he says as I jump. I turn and find him watching me. There’s interest, and something else in his eyes and unbidden hope stirs. His next words squash that stone dead. “Do you fancy going somewhere?”
I shake my head sharply feeling a wave of sickness. Maybe what I once did is written into my skin like a tattoo. “Ah no, I don’t do that.” I definitely don’t do that anymore.
He immediately looks horrified. “I meant do you want to go somewhere for a drink. Sorry, that was badly worded.”
Surprise catches me and keeps me still. “An actual drink? That’s what you mean?”
“Yes,” he says a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “That is what the words ‘do you fancy a drink’ usually mean.”
I shrug. “You’d be surprised.” I eye him for a long second, excitement running through me. “You don’t look the type to pick up strange men leading ghost tours.”
“It’s my first time. Be gentle,” he says, that smile growing and pulling out a dimple on his left cheek. Then he checks. “Wait. What do men look like who pick up ghost tour leaders?”
I look him up and down very slowly and feel heat stir in the base of my stomach. It’s a strange feeling. “Not you.”
He brushes his hand through his hair, and I catch the scent of his shampoo on the air. It smells fresh and woodsy. “I don’t think this is quite going the way I meant it to. Let me start again. I’d like very much to talk to you about my house, so would you like to go for a drink?”
I shake my head. “This is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had. Why would I want to talk about your house? Is it made of gold or gingerbread?”
I suddenly realise that for the first time in my life I’m flirting because I want to. Because the man interests me and not the contents of his wallet.
“No, it’s made of bricks, and it comes with the unfortunate nickname of the Murder House.”
He says the last with a great deal of dramatic relish and I can’t help myself. I throw my head back and start to laugh loudly. It’s my real laugh. Not the one I use to make other people like me, and I chuckle until my eyes are watering.
For some reason, I don’t want to let on that I’ve recognised him. This is like the steps to a dance that I’ve seen other people perform. I never thought I’d be doing it myself. “Fucking hell, that was priceless. I can still see you standing there with a dishcloth over your goolies and a hand over your nips. If you’d had pigtails, you’d have been a dead ringer for Babs Windsor in the Carry On films.”
The image is a precious one. I remember sitting on the sofa with my mum watching the Carry On films. It was in one of her boyfriend’s houses. I rack my brains for his name. Rob. That was it. He’d been one of the nice ones with a gentle smile. He’d been sad to see us go. That’s probably why he sticks in the memory because most of them did cartwheels as we left. On that day, though, my mum had laughed her way through three of the silly films, her face soft and warm. It’s a rare happy memory and all the more wonderful for that.
He shakes his head, bringing me back to the present abruptly. “Thank you so very much. York is proving very good for my self-confidence.”
I laugh harder if that’s possible. “One of the old ladies still believes you’re a ghost. I saw her yesterday. She’s christened you the Naked Little Sprite.”
“That’s not very complimentary,” he sniffs. “It was a cold night, and I wasn’t expecting visitors.”
That sets me off again. I relish the feeling. I love anyone who can make me laugh. When I finally sober up, I stare at him. “I can’t believe you’re living there. What’s it like?”
“Different,” There’s something in the way he says it that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. He looks at me earnestly. “Do you have time for a drink?”
So that’s what this is. I feel my heart sinking, and where before I felt light and full of fizzing energy, now I just feel heavy and earthbound again. I consider him. I could go back to the squat. I should do that because all my senses are telling me that this one is trouble, but something still pulls me towards him.
I’m concerned by his use of the word ‘different’ too. The last person to use that word with me about the house was the bloke who fell and broke his neck. It makes my stomach clench at the thought of this man living in that house where someone died. But I don’t know why I’m so concerned. It’s not something I exactly have time for.
He waits me out patiently, his eyes earnest. In the end, I shrug. “I suppose so.”
“You’re killing me with your enthusiasm,” he says dryly.
“Better that than with my pepper spray. Okay, let’s go.”
He introduces himself as Levi, and I lead him through the narrow back streets. He follows me talking happily, and utterly unaware of the shadows moving around us. Spirits flit across his path, on old lady even gets close enough to ruffle his hair, and although he shivers and pushes it back into place, he just remarks about the wind getting up, and still, his smile stays there.
It’s a salutary lesson about the massive gulf between us that widens as the barman, Logan, mentions Fay. I glare at Logan. He’s a mate of Fay’s and funnels everything back to her.
I look at Levi. He’s paying for my drink with a warm smile on his face. I make myself notice the differences between us. He has a lovely leather wallet. His clothes are obviously expensive, and he’s already attracting sidelong looks with that combination of a tall wide-shouldered body and very distinctive vivid face.
I take a sip of my drink, forcing it down past the constriction in my throat and feeling the cough that started a few weeks ago catch at my chest. My ribs hurt from coughing all the time and my chest is tight. I know the dank atmosphere of the squat isn’t helping but I can’t do much about that.
I look at Levi again and tell myself sternly to wise up for once. Stop hoping and get on with life. But I still sit with him until his obvious reluctance to even admit the existence of ghosts forces my own point home to me.
Even if he could get over the ghost bit, he has a large house in the best part of York. How would that work? Would he roll up to pick me up from the squat for a date? Maybe he could chat with the occupants standing in the kitchen. Then perhaps we could celebrate the evening with him getting lockjaw from rusty nails.
Even as he talks, I keep opening my mouth to tell him about the previous owner. But the words die away when he dismisses the silly idea of ghosts. For some crazy reason, it’s like he’s dismissing me as foolish.
Disappointment makes me sharper than I want to be, and eventually, he leaves me alone in the small back room of the pub. Just me and Molly the serving maid. She’s been serving beer or trying to, for over a hundred years. Feels a bit like me trying to get a break in life.
I finish my drink and make my slow way out of the pub, stopping to talk to people and prolonging the moment before I have to go back to the squat. The thought of sleeping underneath my thin sleeping bag in that dank room makes me shudder, but it’s still better than being on the street and sleeping in shop doorways.
It’s as I leave that I catch a glimpse of bright red hair. My gaze sharpens. Was that Fay? I think of Logan behind the bar and unease stirs. I bet he fucking rang her and told her I was cosying up to a new bloke. She’d have loved that information. I look around wildly, but there’s no sign of Levi, and I relax slightly. I’m sure he was long gone before she got here. And it’s not likely that I’ll see him again unless he makes a habit of flashing ghost tours.
But I do see him and the next day too as if fate couldn’t even give me a couple of days to erect my defences. The best the bitch could manage was a morning.
The market is crowded, and I’ve just got myself a hot chocolate and seated myself on a bench when someone slides in opposite me. I look up and sigh. Andrew. Just great
He nods at me, a smug smile tugging at his lips. He makes sure to flex his arms, so the colourful tattoos on them move. And why is that? I think crossly. Who the fuck wears a thin t-shirt when it’s colder than the North Pole this morning?
“Blue. Haven’t seen you in a while.”
Quelle surprise, I think sourly. Maybe that’s because you have the personality of Simon Cowell while thinking that you’re Tom Hardy. I let him fuck me when I was drunk last year and needed some money for food. Meeting him when I was sober had made me mentally promise myself that I’d never do it again. I hate smug people even if they do pay promptly.
A husky laugh cuts through the noise of the crowd. It’s warm and real, and I look up instinctively, only to blanch when I see Levi looking back at me from the galette queue. For a split second, we stare at each other until I remind myself that there’s zero chance of anything happening, and that gives me the willpower to give him a cool nod.
My stomach clenches when I see the humour fall from his face. He looks embarrassed and slightly hurt, but as the girl next to him starts to talk to him, he turns a face full of kindness towards her. I dimly note that it’s Sandra, but my attention is all on him. He’s wearing jeans, a white t-shirt with a red plaid shirt over it, and an expensive-looking jacket. His hair looks like it would feel silky if I touched it.
However, most of my attention is on the colours surrounding him. I only usually see these once when I first meet someone, and then they vanish, and I just see the person. But I have to make an effort to block Levi’s colours because they’re so vivid. A gold ribbon coils and slides around him like he’s in water. It’s shot through with silver and a pink so intense that it’s blinding. I looked it up on my phone last night. The gold means that he has wisdom and inner peace. The silver indicates that he’s spiritually and physically healthy, and the pink shows that he’s a very loving and sensual person.
“Do you know him?”
I look up and see Andrew watching me intently.
“What?” I ask absentmindedly.
He jerks his head. “Him over there. The square in the coat. You’re staring at him. I’m not exactly sure why.”
He gives a deprecating laugh, and I’ve had enough.
“Probably because he’s got a much bigger brain than you and realises that it’s cold,” I say coolly. Ignoring his muttered curse, I walk over to stand next to Levi. He doesn’t notice that I’m there at first, but then Sandra greets me, and he turns to face me. There’s a new wariness in his eyes, and I wince.
I’m gobsmacked as he proceeds to call me out on my behaviour yesterday. Gobsmacked and intrigued. No one apart from Will calls me on my shit. There’s no one around who’d be bothered, and even Will has his limits. The intrigued part of me takes precedence, and I end up buying his lunch and following him to a picnic bench like I’m a dog, and he’s got some bacon.
He digs into his food and groans in pleasure. I shift awkwardly on the bench my cock twitching because I’m pretty sure that he’d make that noise if he pushed into me. I feel a flush stain my cheeks. What the fuck is wrong with me?
“Shit, this is good.” He looks up and stills. “You okay?” he asks. “You’d better eat yours before it gets cold.”
I smile wryly. “I’ve eaten worse.” He opens his mouth to ask some more of the questions that are obviously hovering on his lips, but I break in quickly. “So, why the move from London? I can tell you’re from down south.”
“London born and bred. I was left the house as I said. It came at a good time.” He puts his food down and takes a sip of water. “I was ready for a change. A long-term relationship that I’d been in was ending, and I needed to get away.”
“How long?” I ask and then stare at him when he answers. Five fucking years. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who could tolerate me for more than five minutes.
He fidgets under my gaze and then proffers his galette. “Would you like to try mine?”
I want to refuse, but the smell hits my stomach, and it rumbles loudly. I’m so fucking hungry. I always am in the winter. It’s so cold in the squat, and it seems to get in my bones. Food stops that feeling for a few minutes, but I haven’t eaten since yesterday. I need to conserve my money because if the weather gets worse, the ghost tour numbers will get smaller.
I take the food and try not to cram it all in my mouth in one bite. It’s delicious, but I blush as I look up at him and realise that I’ve got my elbows out like I’m going into a rugby scrum.
I quickly search for a conversation topic and find it in his ex-boyfriend. I wonder what he’s like. Probably handsome and rich. Levi would fit with someone like that.
“Why did you split up?” I ask. I wonder why he looks so confused and presume that I’ve said something wrong. “Is that too personal? I never know what’s polite or not, to be honest. I hate chit-chat. If I’m interested, I’ll ask questions. It’s the only way to get to know anything.”
He blinks. “Okay, I suppose that’s right. Erm, we broke up because I found out he was cheating with someone from his work. He’d been sleeping with him for six months by the time I found out.”
What the fuck? Who would do that to him? Why would someone look elsewhere? “That’s shit,” I say slowly. “Why?”
He shrugs. “Not much surprises me anymore. I once thought we’d be together forever. I was stupid. Relationships never last that long.”
“It’s not stupid to believe in forever.”
My words make me want to laugh loudly because it is totally fucking stupid. Nothing lasts a day with me, let alone forever. However, he’s such a shiny person that he should believe in that.
For a second, I’m startled. Then I shake my head. “No, of course not,” I scoff. “But don’t hold me up as an example of brains, for fuck’s sake.”
He shrugs. “Anyway, I probably should have seen it coming. I hadn’t given him any time for a while. I was occupied with something much more important. He got bored of waiting.”
I know what that important thing is now. I couldn’t tell before, but now I can see clearly that his mum has died.
I try not to read people. It’s horribly easy for me, and I’ve learnt to shut it off because it usually ends up giving me an awful migraine. It’s as if all of a person’s thoughts slam into my brain in one go. I’m not always successful though and now Levi’s feelings of loss and grief break over me like the sea on the sand, and already I can feel the pain starting in my temples. “You were looking after your mum, weren’t you?” I say carelessly, focusing on the pain and not my words.
He immediately jerks. “What? How do you know that?”
I stare at him. I wonder what he’d say if I told him the truth. Why, Levi, I am reading your thoughts very clearly as well as the colours around you. And even if I wasn’t doing that, I can tell by the woman standing behind you.
Her hair is a light brown and her eyes the same warm brown as his. They’re filled with sadness and another emotion more powerful than anything I’ve seen before. She almost glows with it, and I presume that this is love. It’s not an expression my mum ever wore. She always looked behind me as if worried that if we connected our gazes, she’d have to wake up to the fact that our lives were total shit. I think of her end and shudder. Maybe she did look at me at the end, and that was the result.
I realise that he’s waiting for an answer and think quickly. “You said your mum had died recently. I took two and two and made four.”
He looks like he wants to argue and who can blame him? It’s blatantly a lie.
However, instead of calling me out on it, he puts his food down. “It was a very bad time,” he says quietly, and there’s a simple starkness to his words.
I mutter platitudes, and when he looks even more upset, I cover his hand with mine and then go still. A warm thrumming seems to start under my palm. It feels good and real. And deep inside me, a voice says mine. I pull my hand away abruptly.
He clears his throat. “It was a while ago now. We all move on.”
“Do we,” I say, staring past him at the ghost of his mum and the multitude of spirits who flit about the market, the living and the dead moving together and ignoring each other. “I’m not so sure.”
He stands up muttering that he has to go, and I nod, watching him walk away from me as the headache worsens and sparks dance across my vision. But I know now that this isn’t the last time that I’ll see him. I’m going to seek him out. That’s as obvious to me as the fact that it’ll end badly. But something tells me that I have to help him. Maybe it’s my conscience. Perhaps it’s something else. I shrug. Who fucking knows?