Forever Closing

by Hinata Yamimoto

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/236110.html)

In retrospect, I guess it would be kind of hard to get it on when your grandmother’s ghost is watching.

The first time Ethan kissed me, it was after he’d forcefully exorcised a particularly nasty ghost from an old hospital. He doesn’t usually like to do it like that, but she had been hurting the other ghosts, and he hates seeing anything in pain. I helped him off the floor. He was shaky, but calm, and just before he bent down to close the gap between us, he glanced to the side and said, “Excuse me, but would you mind looking away for a moment?”

It was the sweetest thing I had ever heard.

Seven months later, it was starting to feel a little less sweet.

I lay on the bed, bare ass to the world, arm stretched out on the rapidly cooling spot next to me where Ethan had been. That was right before he had yelped, then bolted. I made a fist and thumped his pillow several times, and when that wasn’t enough, I stuck out both middle fingers and flipped off any ghosts remaining in the room.

I debated taking care of myself, decided I wasn’t really up for it anymore, tugged on a pair of loose sweatpants, and went off in search of my boyfriend.

He wasn’t hard to find—all I had to do was follow the sound of a polite, one-sided argument, and there he was, sitting on the couch, talking to an empty rocking chair.

“Look, Grandma, you can’t just…” He waved a hand in the air. “It wasn’t a ‘ruckus,’ we were just…”

I snagged an orange from the fruit bowl on the counter and sat down beside him. I squeezed his knee, and he gave me a sheepish look and mouthed the word ‘sorry.’

“No, I’m not going to…that’s really not…fine.” Ethan hid his eyes with his hand and said, “Mark: Grandma says you have a ‘very cute tush.'”

“Thanks, Grandma Rose,” I said, and winked at the rocking chair. It was always a good idea to make nice with the in-laws, and technically she had given us this apartment, so we owed her. As far as ghosts went, she was one of the better ones—she tended to stay by the tv so long as we kept the game show channel on, and I could usually tell where she was by following the scent of cookies and menthol cough drops.

“Grandma, I understand that you like to know what’s going on, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for some privacy when we….” Ethan began to blush, starting at the base of his neck and spreading up to the roots of his spiky black hair. His hands flapped through the air even worse; he never could keep still.

I finished peeling my orange and offered him a ‘sorry you have to talk to your grandma about your sex life’ slice in solidarity. He took it and went back to negotiating with the ghost of his grandma. I took out my laptop and went back to work on my latest client’s website. I had the feeling we weren’t going to be getting anywhere for a while.

***

Okay, here’s the thing about ghosts: they’re used to not being seen, they get bored, and they’re everywhere. Everywhere. The average house? Five or six ghosts. The room you’re sitting in? Yeah, there’s probably a ghost reading this story over your shoulder.

Hello, ghost. Stop that. That is rude.

Some of them have unfinished business they need to accomplish before they pass on. Some of them had unfinished business that they never got around to. Some of them just didn’t feel like passing on after they did finish their business. Most don’t know why they’re still here, and are just passing the time until they figure it out.

They do this by doing what probably most of us would do if we were invisible, undetectable, and unable to be held accountable. Mainly, they watch people. The more interesting the people’s activities, the better, if you know what I mean.

No really, ghost. Rude.

***

We had an appointment the next day—one of his, I had nothing until early afternoon, so we got ready together. This mainly consisted of his rolling about in bed, holding a conversation with me and whomever else was floating around, and maybe running a brush through his hair and throwing on some clean clothes.

I, on the other hand, require a button-down, tie, pair of thick-rimmed glasses, an ultra-swank fedora, and half a ton of product to transform me from an eternally baby-faced cherub to a smart, artistic-yet-sensible hipster you’d totally trust with your company’s design.

He doesn’t even need gel to keep his hair spiky. It’s really not fair.

The apartment was way uptown, so it took us about forty minutes on the subway to get there. Ethan’s knees bounced the entire time, and he kept covering his mouth with his hand and looking away.

I leaned over to him and whispered, “Care to share something with the class?”

He shook his head and grinned. “They’re trying to have a rap-off. It’s…really bad,” he whispered back.

I bumped my shoulder into his. “Well, tell me if they get any good zingers.”

The townhouse was a pretty, terraced, yellow building that looked like they had taken a normal house from the suburbs and squeezed it until it could fit in the tiny space the city allowed. We rang the doorbell, and a woman opened the door. She looked young, maybe a couple years younger than me, so I estimated she was about twenty-five. Her hair was pushed back in a big puff with a hairband, and her blouse was decorated with a string of pearls and a white stain on her shoulder. I leaned over a little and spotted a little yellow blanket hanging from the staircase railing. Of course.

“Hello!” I said, offering my hand and giving her my biggest cheery grin. “We’re with Forever Closing. We hear you’ve been having trouble with your house?”

“Ah…yes?” she said, taking my hand. I’m never what people expect. They contact a ghost investigator and expect someone who dresses in a priest’s robes, or smells like incense and peyote, or has circles under their eyes and the occasional twitch. They don’t expect clean-cut, sane and efficient me.

Ethan used to get so many more doors shut in his face before he met me.

“Great! You must be Mrs. Stone, right? I’m Mark Soderberg; we talked on the phone.” I gently pushed my way through the door. I removed my hat, as a gentleman should. She motioned us towards the couch. “This is Ethan. He’s the one who can help.”

“Maria. Nice to meet you,” the woman said.

Ethan shook her hand and said, “Nice to meet you,” but he looked at her only while they shook hands. After that, he was back to scanning the room. From the look on his face, it was a busy one.

“Would you like something to drink?” she asked, her hands flexing like she was desperate to do something with them.

“Thank you, that’d be nice.” I sat on the couch, tugging Ethan down beside me. He sat as still as he could, knees bouncing up and down.

Maria put down a tray of iced tea and glasses on the coffee table, then sat across from us. She picked up a napkin and started twisting it back and forth. I folded my hands and leaned forward. “So. You say you’ve been having trouble with things moving around?”

“I…I think so, yes.”

“And you don’t think it’s anyone else doing it when you’re not looking? No family members or children or pets?” I asked, doing my best to be as business-like and non judgemental as possible.

She shook her head. “My husband thought it was me, and I thought it was him, and…”

I laughed. “Yes, that’s usually how it goes. I imagine you had one or two arguments about it before you decided to call us, am I right?”

She smiled genuinely for the first time, and her hands momentarily stopped twisting the napkin. “You could say that.”

I rolled my eyes good naturedly. “Happens all the time. So, specifically, what seems to be the problem?”

“My son’s toys. Any time we leave him alone or go to sleep, he always has his blocks in piles around his crib.” She started twisting the napkin again, tighter and tighter. Little flecks of paper dotted the table. “Even when we go out and leave him here with my mother, there are blocks all over the floor when we get back. He’s staying with her today. I just–I can’t–”

“And you’re sure your son isn’t doing this?” I asked.

She looked down at her lap. “He’s only five months old.”

“And this has been going on for…”

“About four months now.”

I nodded professionally. “That makes sense. In most cases, ghosts don’t become active on their own–there’s usually some big event to kick it off, and a new baby in the house can definitely stir things up.” I gave Ethan a look. “You think you’ve got enough info to work on?”

“Yeah,” he said, and stood up.

I looked back at Maria. “Okay, what Ethan’s going to do is walk around, talk to whomever is here, and see if he can either get them to pass on or come to some other agreement so you won’t have any problems with the blocks again. This usually takes under an hour, depending on what the problem is. That sound good?”

I tried to be as matter-of-fact about it as possible, like a car mechanic. Look under the hood, check the spark plugs, talk to ghosts, see if we can get this engine working again. No big deal.

“O-okay,” Maria said.

“Excuse me,” Ethan said to the empty air. “Do any of you know who is moving the blocks around? I’d appreciate the help.” He paused. “Thank you, sir. I’ll go talk to him.”

“My son’s room is–” Maria started to say, but Ethan had already located the correct room and opened the door.

Ethan leaned over, hands on his knees, and smiled gently. “Hey there. My name’s Ethan. Do you mind if I come in and talk with you a little?” He must have received confirmation, because he went in and closed the door behind him.

Maria looked at me wide-eyed.

“Sorry. When there are ghosts around, he sometimes forgets about the living people in the room.” I shrugged, pulled out my laptop, and settled down on the couch. “It shouldn’t be long–it looks like he’s friendly, and kids are easier.”

“I see,” she said. I opened one of the projects I was working on and started fiddling with the code. “What do you do?”

“Hm?”

She waved at the door Ethan had gone into. “He talks to ghosts….”

“Oh! I design websites and do search engine optimization. I even designed Forever Closing’s website!” I turned my laptop so she could see what I was working on. “Someone’s got to make a regular paycheck. Half the time Ethan’s so distracted he forgets to ask for payment, and the other half, the clients stop payment on their cheques because they think we’re scamming them. Therefore, I have to work a normal job.”

She clucked her tongue. “It sounds tough.”

“Nah, not really. Though there was this client who really really wanted me to code in a cheering noise every time a customer added something to their basket… You meant Ethan, didn’t you?”

She laughed at me. It was a nice sound, almost normal. It made you forget what Ethan was doing behind the closed door.

I shrugged again and turned my laptop back towards me. “He’d do it either way. Hey, do you have wifi?”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

I fiddled around with the coding for a while. After about forty minutes I got up and poked my head in the door. Ethan was kneeling on the floor, a green plastic block in his hand. There was a large tower of blocks built next to the crib. I rapped my knuckles on the doorframe when he didn’t notice me.

“I need to get going in a few minutes or I’m going to be late. Are you almost done?”

Ethan paused in his building. “Nearly ready. Could you give us about five minutes, then both of you come in here?”

“Can do,” I said.

Ethan turned back to his tower. “Sorry, where did you say this one should go?” he asked the empty room as I shut the door.

“Five minutes,” I reported to Maria.

“And then it’ll be gone?” she asked.

“With any luck. Us being there should help.” I shut down my computer and started packing my things. “I’ve got to get going either way. Got a big meeting with a pain-in-the-neck client in an hour.”

“Oh. What are we supposed to do?”

“I don’t know. Probably just be a witness. I think it makes it easier. It’s different every time.” I finished packing up my things and slung my satchel over my shoulder.

“Ready?” I called out.

Ethan swung the door open. He looked at Maria, eyes bright. It was probably the first time he looked at her without distractions. “Could you come in?” he asked.

She walked hesitantly into the room. I followed. The tower looked complete–or, at least, it looked like all the blocks had been used.

“Maria, this is Jaime,” Ethan said, motioning to an empty space by the tower. His hand was low–I estimated the ghost to be at knee height at the most. “Jaime, this is Mrs. Stone.”

Ethan paused. Maria was silent. “Jaime says ‘hello,'” he prompted.

I poked her in the back. She jumped, and looked back at me. I nodded pointedly at the empty space and waggled my eyebrows a bit. “H-hello, Jaime,” she said. Ethan smiled at her in approval.

“Jaime says he’s been here for many years. He died in one of the neighboring houses a long time ago, when he was three years old.” He paused. “Sorry. Almost four,” he corrected.

“Oh,” Maria said, her fingers pressing against her lips.

“Jaime is very good at building towers,” Ethan continued. He looked down and to the side, putting a hand out. “Yes, super good. Careful now.” He looked back at Maria. “He said he wants to show Omar how to build a super-good tower.”

“Is that what he’s doing?” Maria asked.

Ethan knelt on the ground, looking at the tiny empty space. “Now, Jaime. Omar is too young to build towers right now. But his mommy knows what a super-good tower looks like now, so she can teach him to build it when he’s old enough.” He turned back to Maria. “Is that okay?”

She nodded.

“Do you promise to show Omar how to build super-good, super-big block towers when he gets older?” he pressed.

Maria nodded again. “Yes. Yes, I promise.” Her voice was hoarse but strong.

“Is that okay with you, Jaime?” Ethan asked.

He took a step back. I reached out and put a hand on Maria’s shoulder, both to reassure and to make sure she stayed in place. The room’s temperature rose for a moment, like a sudden splash of sunlight on a cloudy day. There was a small flash of green light, and I could almost see the outline of a smiling child’s face.

The tower fell over, raining blocks onto the ground.

“Is that it?” Maria asked.

“Jaime’s gone,” Ethan confirmed. “You shouldn’t have any trouble with the blocks anymore.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Maria said, visibly relaxing. She sagged against the door, like a marionette whose strings had gone slack.

Ethan stared at the fallen tower and the empty space on the floor. He looked up at me. His eyes were dry, his hands were still and calm. God, he was amazing. I gave him a questioning look, opening my arms in the universal ‘want a hug?’ signal. He gave me a sad smile and shook his head.

“Well, that about wraps it up here!” I said as brightly as I could. I took Maria’s hand and shook it professionally. “Very nice to do business here, hope everything stays good with you.”

“Thank you,” she said automatically.

“We’ll just take our payment and be off,” I said. Maria reached in her purse and got out her checkbook.

“Actually–” Ethan said, and I nearly groaned. “There are a few more here I’d like to speak with. No extra charge, of course,” he assured Maria.

I rolled my eyes. “Fine,” I said, placing my fedora back onto my head. “I’ve got to go. You going to be okay?”

Ethan nodded, but his eyes were already far away, focusing on all the people none of us could see.

“All right. I’ll see you back home.” I grabbed his hand and gave it a quick squeeze.

Maria finished writing the cheque and passed it to me. I leaned into her, saying in a low voice, “Make sure he doesn’t stay too long. He has a bad habit of not knowing when to stop sometimes.” I had a thought, and added, “And if you decide to stop payment on the cheque, can you please send me an angry email first? Bounced cheque fees are a bitch.”

***

Here’s another thing about ghosts: they need some sort of closure to pass over, but it’s not necessarily the same thing that made them stay in the first place. Jaime didn’t stay behind because of his deep, abiding love for block towers. He probably just missed his family or didn’t understand what death meant.

But give him a big event–for instance, a new baby in the house. Something to wake him up a little, make him active enough that he could influence the world in some way. Then give him a closure event–a connection to the world, a promise, some proof that he’s made things different than how they were before.

That’s all they really need, and Ethan is very good at giving them what they need.

***

The meeting with my client went about as well as expected, and I somehow got through most of it without going on a rant about how, no, I don’t care how fun and youthful your product is, Comic Sans is not an appropriate font type for anything outside of lemonade stands and deliberately shitty memes.

I got home before Ethan did, and I headed directly for the shower. The room was already steamy and I’d lost track of time by the time I heard the apartment door open. I heard him say hello to a few people, so I called, “I’m in the shower!” just in case he couldn’t hear over the hypothetical noise the ghosts were making.

The door to the bathroom opened. I peeked my head out from the curtain. “Everything okay?” I asked.

“I’m fine,” he said, obviously not fine. I sighed and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel off the shelf. I gave myself a really quick towel-down, tucked the wet towel around my waist, reached forward and gave Ethan a hug.

He melted against me, hugging me back, burying his face in my neck. His hands were cold on my back, but his hands were always cold, and that’s just a thing you have to get used to when you’re with Ethan. I squeezed tighter, feeling the muscles in his back start to relax. “Tough day?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he mumbled into my shoulder.

“Want to hear about my asshole client?” I asked.

“Maybe later,” he said.

“Want to hear a list of reasons why American Psycho is objectively better than Night of the Living Dead?” I asked.

“Fuck you,” he mumbled, but I could feel his smile. I turned my head and gave his cheek a quick kiss. He kissed my shoulder in return, then peppered my neck with little kisses just to hear me laugh. I ran my hands up his back and gripped them firmly in his hair, tugging his head into the right position so I could give him a proper kiss.

Kissing Ethan is wonderful. He’s just tall enough that I get a real kick pushing him around, but not so tall that my neck gets sore. It’s one of the few times he can take all of that jittery energy and zero it in on just one thing, and being under that kind of intense focus is amazing. He pressed in on me, and I pressed back, pulling harder on his hair, getting as much contact as I could. His hands drifted down my back, thumbs hooking into the top of the towel, and I shivered when he lightly scratched his nails across my waist.

I shivered again, a little harder.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, just…” I waved a hand at my towel. “Kinda cold and wet and naked here.”

“Sorry,” he said, trailing kisses from the corner of my mouth, across my jaw, to the back of my ear in a way that didn’t seem very sorry at all. “I should let you get back to your shower, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said regretfully. I shivered again, and wrapped my arms around myself. He turned and headed for the bathroom door. I could see the wet imprints on his shirt from where my hands had gripped. He paused with his hand on the doorknob.

“I could join you?” he offered.

My eyes lit up. I may have jumped up and down a few times and clapped my hands. “Oh heck yes!”

I turned around and let the towel drop, casting a sultry look over my shoulder. I wiggled my eyebrows a few times, then gratefully jumped back into the wonderfully warm spray. I sighed and closed my eyes as I leaned back into it, letting the warm water slide through my hair.

I heard the curtain pull back, felt a cold breeze for a second, and when I opened my eyes, there was a naked boyfriend in my shower. He stood there awkwardly, right hand gripping his left wrist while his fingers fidgeted.

“Come here,” I said, grabbing his hips and steering him around so his back was in the spray. I figured he’d appreciate getting warmed up since he’s always a human icicle. Since he was a little taller than me, it had the nice side effect of blocking the spray from hitting my face.

I leaned up into him and kissed him again. He ran his hands down my back and gave a hum of approval at how slick and slippery the shower had made me. I returned the favor, sliding my hands up his thighs until I reached a good, nicely-shaped handhold. I gave it a complimentary squeeze, and I could feel him laugh into the kiss.

I used my grip to pull him in closer, groaning as my cock rubbed against his belly. I could feel him waking up against me. His kisses became sloppier and more desperate.

I twisted in place, leaning him against the shower wall. I placed one hand behind his head, cushioning him from the cold tile. I used the resulting leverage to slide a thigh between his legs, rubbing up and down against his cock.

He moaned and tossed his head back, baring his neck. I took that as a cue and dove in, nipping it sharply with my teeth. I slid down a little to suck on one of his nipples and got a full blast of the shower’s spray in my face.

I sputtered and wiped my eyes with my free hand. When I could see again, I looked up to find him laughing at me. “Oh, shut up,” I told him, and he pulled me in for another kiss. He gripped my hips and gave a little thrust. I thrust back at him, starting to build a rhythm, sliding over slick, wet skin.

I reached a hand between us and curled my fingers around him. I heard him gasp, panting harder, and his body arched off the wall. He reached a hand out to me, curling around my cheek and brushing a wet clump of hair out of my eyes. His gaze shifted slightly above me and to the right.

“What the holy fuck, Captain!” Ethan shouted, flailing madly. His arms flapped at his sides, one of them banging into the shower head in a way that had to hurt. He barely managed to stay upright, and almost knocked me over as well. “Get out! What are you–get out! Out! Out of the shower! Shower is off limits!”

He shoved back the shower curtain and grabbed a towel and his bathrobe as he rushed out the door, yelling all the while. “No, it’s not okay! I don’t care if you–no, Captain, this is non-negotiable!”

“So,” I said to the now-crooked shower head. “That just happened.”

I stayed in the shower until Ethan’s yelling died down and, frankly, I was getting a little pruney. When I finally shut the water off and dried myself with our last dry towel, Ethan had settled into a good sulk on the bed.

“Hey,” I said, sitting down beside him. He was in a bathrobe; I was in my pajama bottoms. I bumped one of his bare feet with my own.

“Sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay.”

“No it’s not.”

I bumped him again. “I had a pretty good idea what I was in for, dating you.”

His shoulders slumped. “Yeah, still…”

I leaned over and kissed his ear. “I don’t mind.” He gave me a look. “Okay, I mind, but I can deal.”

“You shouldn’t have to.” He looked up at the ceiling. His fingers tapped a random rhythm on the covers. “It doesn’t bother you? That they’re always watching?”

“Nah.” He looked at me in surprise, so I kissed him on the jawline, just because he was cute. “Well, the way I figure it, every time I’ve had sex, I’ve had this big ghost audience watching me, right? So what’s one more show?”

He huffed a laugh. “I guess you’ve got a point. Still, I imagine it must be nice not to actively see them watching you.”

“Mm,” I agreed, and kissed him on the jaw, the neck, pulled back his robe so I could kiss his collarbone and…now that was an interesting idea. I tugged at the fuzzy sash holding his bathrobe together. The knot fell out.

“Trust me?” I asked. He gave me a look that said that the answer to that was obvious. “Okay then. Hold still.” I pulled the sash out of the loops and held it up to his face. A moment later he caught on to what I was doing and, thankfully, his main reaction was mild amusement. I tied the sash firmly over his eyes, effectively blinding him.

“There. Voyeuristic ghosts taken care of,” I announced. He shook his head, but he was smiling and didn’t try to remove the makeshift blindfold. I leaned in to taste his smile, just keep kissing it and kissing it until he was out of breath and his fingers stilled.

I moved down and kissed his neck, feeling his pulse racing. It appeared that the blindfold had a secondary use as well. I’d definitely need to keep it in mind for the future. I bit down on the thick muscle of his neck and felt him gasp. I trailed my hands across his chest, pausing long enough to tweak one of his nipples, then reached into his warm robe and pressed hard into the muscles at the base of his back. He groaned even louder.

I wondered if I should be insulted that a little back massage got a bigger reaction than my licking his neck, but, well, he had a stressful job, so I shouldn’t blame him for being tense. I could see something else start to stand up and take attention, so I was definitely doing something right.

I shifted to straddle his lap so I could get a better angle, both hands tucking into his robe to rub at his back. I licked my way up his neck and then quickly ducked around to bite his opposite ear.

He jumped in surprise, and from that angle I could actually see the hairs at the base of his neck stand on end.

Well.

This was interesting.

I backed away, not touching him, but staying close enough that he could feel the breath from my lips. I trailed down his neck, over his collarbone, and hovered over his left nipple. I could see him pushing out his chest, trying to get closer. I darted in quickly and gave his right nipple a hard lick. He jumped again, hands clenching the sheets.

I moved down, breathing hot circles on his chest, his belly, passing just close enough to his erection to feel the heat of it against my cheek. I tilted around it and sucked at his inner thigh, hard enough to leave a little red mark when my lips parted.

I curved around the other way and nibbled at his hip bone, letting my hair brush lightly across his cock. His hands clenched tighter on the sheets, his breath coming unevenly.

I debated teasing him a little more, but it had been a long day and we’d been worked up for a long while now. I leaned in and slowly, slowly, closed my lips over the head of his penis. He let out a great moan as I sucked at it, pressing the flat of my tongue against his slit and enjoying the strange, salty taste. I sucked again and opened the back of my mouth, ready to go deeper.

“Oh God no!” Ethan yelled in horror, tearing away from me and diving for the sheets, impromptu blindfold falling away. Moments later, he was completely under the sheets, curled up in a little ball. I honestly don’t know how he did that without scratching himself on my teeth.

I sighed and got up, heading to the old couch. “Grandma Rose?” I asked the empty air, which seemed to smell like cookies and cough drops. “Could you do me a favor and clear everyone but Ethan out of the bedroom for a minute?”

I went back to the bedroom and sat on the bed next to the lump of sheets that was Ethan. I put my hand on what was probably his back and rubbed it. I waited until I was pretty sure the Grandma smell had left the room.

“So,” I said. “Want to talk about it?”

“Sorry.” Ethan’s voice was muffled under the sheets. “It was Mattie.”

I winced. “The ten-year-old?”

“Yup.” He sighed. “Sorry. I was really enjoying it, and then,” his voice raised in pitch, “Whatcha doin’?

I winced again.

“I’m just going to stay under here,” Ethan said wearily. “Forever.”

I patted him again and left him alone for awhile. By the time I came back, he was already asleep.

***

Here’s the thing about ghost populations.

It’s possible to convince most ghosts to move on. Ethan’s really good at that, especially with ghosts that are already ready to reach closure. It’s also possible to force a closure on a ghost that doesn’t want to pass—it’s hard and time-consuming and sometimes the high emotions involved in a closure can make a ghost actually dangerous. But it’s possible.

Theoretically, it’s possible that, with time and effort, Ethan could take an entire house filled with ghosts and make it a ghost-free zone.

For about five minutes.

Ghosts are like feral cats. If a house has the right conditions to attract ghosts and make them want to settle down, then ghosts will just naturally keep drifting there until they reach a certain population density, and there’s really no way to stop them.

Therefore, we treat them like feral cats. The wild, mean, or disruptive ones are shipped out, and we keep a small population of well-behaved, ‘neutered’ if you will, ghosts to discourage any new troublemakers from coming in.

We have half a dozen ghosts that wander in and out from time to time, but right now, our current ghost population consists of Ethan’s grandma Rose, Captain Horace, little Mathilda, Mrs. Johanssen, someone Ethan only refers to as ‘sir,’ and a little puppy named Ruggles. Yes, some animals apparently have ghosts, too. Trust me, I’ve already stopped trying to figure out the theological implications of that.

***

I woke up with Ethan wrapped around me like the heat-seeking leech he is. We were both buried under the sheets, and he had his nose pressed to my neck, his hands tucked into the band of my pants, and God damn, his feet were cold against my own. I don’t think he even does it on purpose; he just naturally zeroes in on the warmest thing in the room.

He pressed in a little closer, and I felt something warm rub against me.

Hello there. Good morning to you, too.

He rubbed against me again. That one felt a little more deliberate.

I rubbed back against him, just to test the waters, and I heard him gasp. I opened my eyes and saw that he was already looking at me, his eyes still heavy-lidded with sleep. “Morning,” I said quietly, and gave him a quick peck.

His hands closed more firmly on my hips. “Morning,” he repeated, voice rough, and he kissed me again, longer this time. I smiled into the kiss, enjoying it for what it was, lazy and sweet and full of not-quite-terrible morning breath on both our parts.

I worked my hips against him again, and I could feel him waking up, moving along with me, his kisses becoming more sloppy as our movements became more desperate. I suddenly got the wild inspiration that if we didn’t shake the sheets too much, didn’t make too much noise or do things to alert the ghosts in the apartment, we might actually be able to do things without their watching.

I ducked my head out of the sheets, just long enough to grab some lube from my side table and check the time on the clock. I had ten minutes until my alarm went off and I had to run to a morning meeting. That would be just enough time, I thought.

I tugged my pants down far enough to let my erection bob out. Ethan was already naked because, for a guy who’s perpetually freezing, he’s also good at being self-defeating (and, in this case, convenient).

I squirted out a handful of lube and wrapped my hand around both of us at once. Ethan hissed through his teeth, burying his face in my neck in an effort to keep quiet. We thrust against each other stupidly, erratically, perfectly. It was stifling and sloppy and wonderful and I was close, so close–

My cell rang.

We froze.

It was the special ring–the one for Forever Closing that meant someone was calling because they wanted Ethan to meet with a ghost. We looked at each other. His shoulders started to shake, and he made little hiccuping noises. For a moment I thought he was crying, until he got louder and I realized he was laughing, albeit a bit hysterically.

“We could let it go to voicemail?” he suggested, but I was already throwing an arm out of the sheets and grabbing my cellphone.

“Hello, Forever Closing, how can we help you?” I said crisply. The man on the other end started talking.

“Thank you,” Ethan whispered. I patted his head. It was still perfectly spiked, even after all that. Nothing is fair in life. Nothing.

“Yes, we do that,” I said to the man on the phone. I scootched out of bed and grabbed a notepad and pen off the side table. I started scribbling down the information. “Yes, yes, okay. Who are–huh, how about that? Tonight? Sure, sure.” I put my hand over the receiver and told Ethan, “Looks like we’re going back to your old high school tonight.”

***

It was dark when we got off the subway, and we were right on time for our 8:00 appointment. Schools are usually near a subway stop, and this one had its big, metal sign less than a block from the exit. I eyed the motto skeptically. “So…” I asked Ethan. “Were you an Exceptional Boy?” He slugged me in the shoulder.

An older man was waiting by the gate. I stuck out my hand and walked towards him. “Hello, I’m Mark Soderberg from Forever Closing. I hear–”

“Mr. Henderson!” Ethan shouted, and jogged forward. He skidded to a halt just in front of the man, fingers twitching at his sides. A moment later, Henderson opened his arms and Ethan was giving him a big hug. He jumped back. “I didn’t know it was you! How have you been? Still teaching AP?”

“I’m fine,” Henderson said. “I’m the vice principal now, so I’ve got a lot more work nowadays.”

“Really? That’s great!”

Henderson smiled affectionately and adjusted his bowtie. “And what have you been up to?”

Ethan looked shyly at the ground. “Oh, you know. Ghosts. I’ve also got this flash cartoon online about zombies. It’s not much, but it gets me some ads and merchandising, and between that and this, I’m doing pretty okay.”

“That’s wonderful,” Henderson said, and he sounded like he really meant it.

I cleared my throat. Ethan looked startled, as if he’d forgotten I was standing there. He took a step back and motioned me in. “Mark, this is Mr. Henderson, my old English teacher.”

I stuck my hand out and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you. Mark Soderberg, Ethan’s business partner.”

“Boyfriend,” Ethan blurted out, latching bravely onto my arm. I raised an eyebrow at him, trying to ignore how my heart was in my throat. “He’s, ah. Also my boyfriend.”

“That too,” I amended, and appreciated the way Ethan’s face was slowly turning red.

“Oh Ethan, I’m so happy for you,” Mr. Henderson said.

I coughed into my hand. “So, anyway. Ghosts!”

“That’s right,” Henderson said, leading us through the gates and into the building. “We’ve been having a funny problem the past few weeks. The blackboards in one of our music rooms keep getting strange writing on it. Sometimes it’s students’ names or initials, sometimes it’s strange characters from another language, sometimes it’s little pictures, like triangles and hearts. I’ve changed the lock on the door so I’m the only one with the key, and it still keeps happening. Sometimes it even happens during class, when the students aren’t looking. I was at my wits’ end and then…” He adjusted his bowtie again. “Well, then I remembered Ethan.”

Ethan stood tall. “Don’t worry, Mr. Henderson. I can take care of it.”

“I’m sure you can.” He passed Ethan a big ring of keys. “These will open any of the doors. I’ve left the music room unlocked. It’s the one at the end of the D-wing. Do you remember?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“I’ll be in my office if you need me. Good luck, you two.”

Henderson disappeared into the administration wing.

“So.” I motioned at Ethan. “Lead the way.”

He oriented himself in the front lobby, then turned and went down a hallway to the left. I followed.

“Are there a lot of ghosts here?” I asked.

“No, not really.” He scanned back and forth, but I could tell that he wasn’t focused on anything in particular. “Not many people die in schools, and I think even the tourist ghosts get tired of teenage drama after a couple of years.” He smiled. “The low ghost count was probably the thing I appreciated most about high school, now that I think about it.”

“So you’re saying that this is a good place to go if you don’t want the ghosts watching?” I asked, giving him a big cheese-eating grin. I wiggled my eyebrows at him for good measure. It took him a second to realize what I meant. I knew that because once he did, he deliberately knocked his shoulders into me, making me stumble. “Hey, it’s better than a hotel room, am I right?”

“That is true,” he admitted. Hotels rank only slightly below hospitals and former battle sites when it comes to ghost populations. Lots of people die in hotels, and there’s always a lot of interesting things for them to look at.

We came to a door with a little eighth-note symbol painted on it. “Here we go,” I said as he unlocked the door.

It was a pretty nice music room, all things considered. Piano in the corner, percussion on the other side, three rows of folding chairs in a semicircle, and a three-tiered choir stage opposite them. Much swankier than the public school I’d gone to.

Ethan walked slowly around the room, a little smile on his face.

“Spend a lot of time in here?” I asked.

He nodded. I wanted to press him on that, but he had reached the chalkboard and flipped it over.

On the chalkboard, sketched over the permanently painted music staffs, was a big picture of an umbrella. Written underneath it were the initials VD and AS, and there were hearts drawn all around it.

Ethan looked at the chalk drawings, scratching his chin. “I don’t get it,” he said.

I started snickering. I did.

Ethan rubbed at one of the chalk hearts, and jumped back from the board in surprise. “Oh! Hello there,” he said. Ghost located. “My name is Ethan. What’s yours?” He smiled at the board. “That’s nice. I have a cousin named Sarah. She’s a little younger than you. Are you the one drawing on the chalkboard?” He sat in a nearby folding chair. “No, no, of course I’m not mad. We were just wondering why you were here. I’m guessing you’re not a former student?” He laughed pleasantly, a little wrinkle of confusion on his forehead. He motioned me over.

“What’s a ‘fujoshi?'” he asked me quietly.

I had to dig my nails into my palm just to keep from laughing. I didn’t even get a chance to answer, because a moment later he was leaning back in his chair, away from the board, and asking me, “Who are Cloud and Zack?”

I patted him on the shoulder and backed away. “I think maybe I should give you two some ‘alone time’ to let her explain that,” I said, and beat a hasty retreat to the far side of the music room.

“Oh,” and, “Oh, I see,” and, “Is that so?” were all that Ethan could say for the next few minutes. I spent my time tapping out notes on the xylophone, because that is what you do when you have access to a xylophone and nobody to yell at you.

“And so, the two boys in the music class…” Ethan said, and leaned back again as the ghost apparently unleashed a torrent of feelings.

“Do you worry you might be embarrassing them?” Ethan asked, and I could actually feel the emotions of the ghost shift, like a light breeze that had been blowing around the room suddenly slowed.

Ethan laughed. “Yes, I think I know what it’s like, when two people seem perfect for each other but they never act on it.” He gave me a side glance, and I knew what he was thinking of—all that time we’d known each other, helped each other, and never managed to actually date each other. If someone had hit us a little earlier with a Clue Bat, maybe we would have spent the last two years, instead of just seven months, being cock-blocked by ghosts.

I think I had this one figured out. I think Ethan was close to being on the same page. “Hey, Ethan,” I interrupted. “I was wondering. Why did you say you spent a lot of time in here?”

Ethan blinked at me. He always did have trouble adjusting back to living people. “What do you mean?”

I tilted my head in thought. “Well, I know you can’t sing…”

“I was in the band,” he said, pointing to the right section of the band area. “The oboe.”

“I didn’t know that! You’ll have to play for me sometime!”

He ducked his head and actually blushed. Bingo. “I was pretty bad at it.”

“I’d still like to hear,” I insisted, then let it drop. “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt. You two can go back to your conversation.”

My job here was done. I just had to hope that Ethan would pick up on what I had dropped. Judging by how the energy in the room picked back up, I could tell the ghost already had.

Ethan hunched over, back turned to me, whispering intensely to the ghost. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I caught the occasional “Really?” and “You think?” and he kept glancing furtively at me over his shoulder while I pretended to not notice it.

“Okay,” Ethan said, standing up and brushing off his pants. “Okay,” he repeated, like he was psyching himself up. He looked straight at me and said, “Mark, I have something I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time now.” He made a little gesture with his right hand, which in our code translated to ‘just go with it.

I looked up from the xylophone, adjusting my glasses, making sure my big blue eyes were blinking in cute bewilderment. “Yes?”

He walked towards me. “We’ve been working together for a while now…” he said.

“Yes?” I said more softly.

“And I was wondering…” He finally reached me.

“Shh….” I placed a finger on his lips, hushing him. “I feel the same way. I always have,” I said, my eyes fluttering shut, and I tilted my head up for a kiss.

It was a beautiful first kiss, much less awkward than our previous first kiss. Ethan was hesitant at first, lips just lightly brushing mine, and I leaned in to kiss him more firmly. His hand brushed my cheek, holding me firm, and I melted into his arms. It was a picture-perfect, artfully framed, masterpiece of a first kiss.

After like thirty seconds of that I got bored so I deepened the kiss—which, as you know, is romance-novel code for ‘adding tongue.’ I felt him jump a little in surprise, but he fell back into step fast enough, and hey, it was in the name of a good show. I mean ‘cause.’ In the name of a good cause. Speaking of that, I decided it would be a good idea to grab a handful—or rather, cup his rear, because that’s the classier romance novel way of putting it. It was a little sassy, but she seemed like the sort of ghost who liked a little sass.

I debated pushing him down onto the conductor’s platform—it was raised and covered in carpet, and wouldn’t be a bad thing to defile a little. I decided against it. There are rules in these things, and I know that ‘the taller one tops’ is practically inviolable.

So I spun around and pulled him down on top of me.

Problem solved. You’re welcome.

Ethan landed with a thud, catching himself before he crushed me with his weight, just like I knew he would. He gave me an exasperated look, but I just rolled my eyes and went right back to kissing him. He didn’t seem to mind after that.

I ran my hands down his sides and tucked my thumbs into his waistband, enjoying the feel of his hot, smooth skin over his sharp hipbones. I leaned my head back and let him attack my neck, licking and biting everywhere, and it felt so wonderful I didn’t care if he left any marks. Besides, that’s one of the reasons why I have an extensive scarf collection.

He bit me sharply, and I let out a little gasp. The next time he bit me, I arched my back and let out a moan worthy of a porn star. Perhaps that was a little too much, because he broke down snickering into the crook of my neck.

“Shut up, I’m making this look good,” I whispered in his ear. He just kept laughing at me, so I wrapped a leg around his knees and pulled him in tighter, blowing into his ear all the while. I felt his breath catch as we brushed against each other, and I ground up just to make sure he would stop laughing and pay attention to the more important things at hand.

He cupped my face in his hands and kissed me deeply, intensely, pushing back down on me until I was half-dizzy on kisses. I worked a knee between his legs and pushed back up, giving him something harder to grind against. Our hips worked together, pressure building, until I was starting to think that friction burns and the mess of coming in my pants would be totally worth it.

Ethan stopped. He looked me in the eyes, deadly serious, and for a moment all I could hear was our panting breaths. “Do you…” He looked away, biting his lip, giving a tiny smile. His lips were so kiss-flushed and puffy, it was adorable. “Do you want to–”

“Yes,” I said immediately, because whatever he was asking, yes. Hell yes.

His smile brightened, and my heart did that stupid little flippy thing it always does when he’s happy.

I reached up for his belt buckle, resisting the strong urge to tickle him along the way. It didn’t take much to get him free, though it took a bit more wiggling and tugging to get my skinny jeans pulled down low enough. He eventually got them free of at least one leg, which was good enough. He even tucked his coat under my hips to keep me from getting carpet burn because he is the best boyfriend.

He leaned down to kiss me again, sliding skin over skin, and while it was wonderful, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity for something more. I reached down into the side pouch of my messenger bag and fished around until I felt a crinkly cellophane package. I pulled out the most satisfying pre-Christmas package ever: a novelty gift bag of red and green condoms with peppermint-scented lube. Ho ho ho, I’m a terrible Jew.

I put the condoms aside for now and squirted out a big dollop of lube into Ethan’s hand. He looked back and forth between himself and me, like he couldn’t figure out which one of us it was meant for, so I took the pressure off and guided his hand to me, rubbing it over my skin. He looked a little surprised, but hey, everyone deserves to top now and then, am I right?

I slid a finger around in the lube until it was nice and slick, then crooked it up into myself. That wasn’t so bad, nothing I hadn’t experimented with before. I pushed it in and out, getting used to the feel. When Ethan’s eyes started to glaze over staring at me, I figured it was time for a little more participation. I only had patience for so many audience members at a time.

I removed my finger and grabbed his hand, which was still slick with lube. I brought him back to my ass and, giving him a little nod and a little push, convinced him to slide a finger into me. He whirled it around a little, gently, like he was trying to get the lay of the land.

He caught on quick, noticing when he hit a spot that made me bite my lip and prodding it for all he was worth. He made his way up to two fingers, stretching me out and working into me with his brilliant, quiet intensity, a little frown on his forehead as he concentrated on making me go crazy in just the right way.

He was on his way to a third finger when I caught his wrist, making him look back up at my face. I wiggled my eyebrows at him. “Not that it isn’t fantastic, but don’t you want to get a little more involved in this?” I glanced over to the side. He followed my gaze to the bag of brightly colored condoms.

He blushed mighty bright for someone who was up to his knuckles in me.

I opened the wrapper on one of the condoms–a bright green one, to match his eyes. I’m romantic like that.

I slid it onto him, rubbing the outside with the leftover lube on my hands. I looked back up at him. He was staring at his penis with a very strange look on his face. I curled up and whispered in his ear, “You okay?”

He nodded and firmed his hold on my hip, setting his mouth into a determined line. I’m betting he was momentarily overwhelmed by the condom. Although we’ve certainly tried stuff before, the difference between a penis and a penis-with-condom is that a penis with a condom on it is definitely Going Places.

I pulled my knees towards my chest, giving him a better angle. I guided him towards me and, with a low groan, he sunk into me. I paused for a moment while my toes curled and my body adjusted.

“Wow,” Ethan said.

“I know, right?” I said back, and he smiled at me. “Now’s the part where you move,” I pointed out.

“Oh! Right.”

He started moving.

He was hesitant at first, not really knowing how fast to move or what angle to hit. His slippery hand kept sliding off my thigh as he tried to get a better grip, and I was no help at all, just having fun being bounced around, rolling my head, arching my back, trying to work in a few good poses and moans in case the ghost girl was still watching.

He eventually hit a good rhythm, pounding into me hard and relentlessly, and I found I didn’t have time to goof off anymore. I just locked my ankles around his back, pushed up, and tried to give as good as I was getting. I grabbed at the sides of the podium, trying to get more leverage. I wished I could kiss him, but even I wasn’t that bendy, and on second thought, I didn’t want to do anything to break his beautiful rhythm.

His breath was ragged. He clutched at my thighs, his back curved into a bow, brows frowning, all of his concentration focused inwards.

“Go ahead,” I said. “God, yes, let me see you.”

He came inside me, eyes closed, blissed out in a way I’d never seen. I grabbed his hand and closed it around me. I was so close, it only took a few pumps before I followed him.

He collapsed next to me, giving me a silly, sloppy kiss like the sex-addled person he was.

“That was…” he began.

“Awesome?” I suggested.

“Yeah. We should definitely do that again sometime,” he said sleepily.

“Any time you want.” I yawned. “So. What did she think?” I asked, giving him a cheesy grin.

“She?”

“You know.” I nodded at the chalkboard. “Did she enjoy the show? Is she still here, or has she passed on already?”

“You…” Ethan started laughing at me. Wheezing, actually. There may have been a little bit of guffawing happening as well.

“What?”

“You think I…in front of…” He looked at me in shock. “You did! You actually think we did!” Okay, that was a guffaw.

“Ethan…”

“She disappeared a few seconds after we kissed. I thought you knew that, I–” He lost his last semblance of coherence, laughing so hard he rolled off the platform and hit the ground with a quiet “ow” before resuming his laughter.

I sat up, gathering my knees to my chest and poking absentmindedly at the small stain we’d gotten on my sweater. “Sorry. I just assumed you wouldn’t have risked it otherwise, with your old teacher just down the hall.”

All the color drained out of Ethan’s face. “Oh God, Mr. Henderson! I didn’t even think about that!”

Of course. Of course Ethan hadn’t.

It was my turn to laugh. I laughed as Ethan pulled on his pants, barely remembering to remove the condom before zipping up. I laughed as Ethan wrestled me back into my clothes. I laughed and laughed and laughed, at Ethan, at the ghosts, and at what a joy it was to be alive.

***

Here’s the thing about ghosts.

Honestly, I have no idea.

Sorry.

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