The lights were on when I got home. I cringed remembering I had left the house dark, nothing lit for when Benny woke up. He was going to be in a terrible mood. I braced myself as I entered through the back door, quietly walking through the kitchen, when I heard giggling. Giggling? I rushed around the corner and into the living room. Every candle in the room was lit. Sitting in the middle of the floor, with her legs crisscrossed, was Katie. She held up two playing cards, and two more lay face down across from her, right in front of Benny. I stood in the entry with my mouth open, watching the two of them.
“Hit me!” Katie declared.
Benny flicked a card at her, and she let out a laugh as she grappled to catch it and add it to her hand. Benny’s spirit was so bright I could easily make out the outline of his body. His features and details were still blurry, but he was more solid than I’d ever seen him.
Katie laid her cards out triumphantly “Nineteen!”
Benny lifted his two cards, then bowed his head in defeat. Katie made a pleased sound and smiled at him. “Maybe next round?”
A surprised sound must have left my mouth, because Katie looked up at me, her smile widening. “Sen! You’re back!” She hopped to her feet to greet me.
“Why are you here?” I stammered, floored by the scene in front of me.
“I was at home waiting for you, and I saw the light come on. I thought you were home already, so I snuck over to see how the night went,” she explained. Benny was hovering behind her apprehensively now. She nodded in his direction “It was just Benny. But he let me in. So, I thought I’d wait for you,” she said.
I blinked at her. “Benny let you in?” How much energy had I been giving him if he could open the front door on his own?
“And you just, followed him in, and decided to play twenty-one?” Because, why not? What else would a person do?
She nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me Benny’s a ghost?”
“Because a sane person would have thought I was crazy.” I shook my head and went to put my car keys and purse down. Glad as always that Katie was so accepting, I still wasn’t sure how to process this.
Benny’s figure followed me pensively. “Don’t think I’m not mad at you.” I scowled at him.
“Oh, don’t be upset with him! He was scared. You know you forgot to leave any lights on for him,” Katie chastised. Benny made an appreciative noise.
I wrinkled my nose at her. “Don’t encourage him.” I catered to Benny enough without Katie fawning over him. Who ever heard of a ghost that was afraid of the dark anyway? “Besides, if he can open the front door himself, he can light a candle,” I added, sarcastically.
“You’re not really mad, are you?” Katie’s voice suddenly held alarm.
I’d been snappy, but I didn’t think my tone was enough that it should have scared her. I was upset with Benny, and confused at how trusting she had been, but I wasn’t really angry. I smiled at her gently. I wanted her to be more careful than this, but I would have said almost anything to wash away the anxiety pouring from her. “No, not really. This is kind of a relief, actually.” Now, at least, I didn’t have to keep shooing her out of the house before dark.
Katie sat on the sofa, smiling happily. It was then I noticed the living room wasn’t brimming with her usual aura overflow. Realizing that made me turn to Benny. He’d been feeding off her all night, which is why he was able to expend energy playing a card game, and yet was a full human-like form. “What the fuck, Benny, you could have killed her!”
I rushed over to Katie and grabbed her face in my hands, inspecting her eyes and feeling for any damage in her aura. She stared back at me, wide eyed, but the power thrumming against my skin was just as strong as ever. There was no indication at all that she had spent the entire night funneling into Benny. “What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked, alarmed again by my reaction.
“Nothing,” I said with surprise. “You’re completely fine. I don’t understand.” I marveled at her for a moment then pulled away.
Benny made a noise implying he knew he wasn’t hurting her. I glared at him over my shoulder. “Sure, you did.”
He made an indignant gesture. I flared my nostrils but didn’t continue to argue. I do trust Benny, I think.
“Well, you’re here, and you seem fine. Let me get you something to eat,” I said. Then went to the kitchen and brought out slices of chocolate mousse cake from the fridge.
“Why are you always feeding me?” Katie asked, as I came back into the living room.
“Humans need to eat. So, I feed you.” Plus, I still didn’t believe she had gone completely unharmed over the evening. Food was a good way to regain energy, especially something with a high calorie content. A nice steak would have been better, but this was more convenient.
“Sure, but you seem inordinately obsessed with food.” She snickered as she took the plate.
“That’s because food is amazing. Of all the biological necessities we have, eating is the only one that’s also enjoyable.”
Katie eyed me dubiously. “I think you’re forgetting sex.”
Benny made a sound then. I think he was laughing.
“Sex is not a necessity,” I muttered around my bite of cake.
“You’re really going to try to convince a teenager of that?” she countered.
I rolled my eyes “Pretty sure you’re still breathing after sixteen years without it. Thus, it’s not a necessity.” Trying to change the subject I cocked an eyebrow at her. “So, you going to eat that, or should I just throw it away?"
She took a big bite and smiled at me sheepishly, her mouth full of chocolate.
“You know, ‘inordinately’ is kind of a big word,” I teased.
She laughed. “I’m working on my vocabulary. Was it too much?”
“No, it was seamless.” I assured her, smothering my smile.
“So…How was the date?”
I groaned and covered my face with my hand. I’d hoped I’d distracted her from asking about it.
“Wild night huh?”
I eyed her over my fingers. “Not in the way you’re thinking.”
“Well, details, details. Where did he take you?” She twirled her fork at me excitedly and took another bite. Benny also hovered expectantly. I did not plan to entertain an entire audience with this story tonight.
“We didn’t go anywhere. He made me dinner instead.”
“Really, why?” she asked.
“I think he picked up on how anxious I am in public. He thought I might prefer to stay in.” Or, he’d had the same thought I originally did, that he’d be forced to keep a safe distance in a restaurant. That was a firm possibility.
Smiling, Katie made a cooing noise. “That’s so sweet.”
I looked away. “Maybe.”
Katie furrowed her eyebrows at my lack of enthusiasm. “I’ve had his cooking, so that couldn’t have been your problem.”
Setting my plate on the coffee table, I flopped onto my back on the sofa. “No, his cooking is definitely not an issue. You’re right, it was all very sweet. But Katie, he’s super observant. He sees how I react to people, and he’s very aware of the fact his own behavior changes around me.” I thought about his admission that he was only drinking because I was near. “Do you know if he normally drinks a lot at those parties?”
Katie shrugged. “That was the first one I’ve been to. But I’ve never seen him drink before. I’ve also never seen him tackle Ian to the ground. If that’s your influence, I have to say, I’m kind of here for it.”
I groaned, covering my face with my arm.
“If it helps, I know what you are, and I’m okay with it,” she reasoned.
“First off, are you aware of how weird you are? You were just playing card games with a poltergeist. That is not normal.” Shaking my head, I sat up again as Katie laughed and shrugged at my observations. Benny made an indignant sound behind me. “Second, every time I touch him, I drain him to the point he’s belligerent.”
“Oh my god, did something happen when you kissed? How was it?” She waived her hand dismissively. “Minus the whole draining him part.”
“We didn’t kiss. He barely touched me,” I admitted, adding, “Which, is not the point…Stay focused here, Katie.”
“Wait, you were alone with him, in his house, and he barely touched you?” Her eyes widened in surprise. “I thought you both were going to fall on each other just meeting in the coffee shop. How is that possible?”
I shifted a little under her scrutiny. “I may have run away when he tried.”
Dismayed, she yelped. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “You know the static electricity you felt when you brushed my arm?”
“When he touches me, it feels ten times more potent than that. And frankly, you’re not that far off on how much I almost pounced on him in the coffee shop. A fact that makes me very uneasy.”
She thought for a moment. “Is it normal to feel like that when you touch someone?”
“Truthfully, I don’t really know.” I was a teenager when I started pulling energy from other people. After that, I’d expended a significant amount of effort avoiding coming in contact with people, outside of my grandfather. I had not embraced the idea of my peers recognizing I was “different”. It made my experience with humans in general kind of limited at this point. Vincent was the one exception to that rule. I had felt something the first time I touched his hand, too. Although, it hadn’t come near my response to Katie, or Hunter, for that matter. He had reached over to help when he saw me fighting with my locker. Since I was still struggling with control of my aura, I overreacted at him coming near me. He’d been so amused by my response, he made himself my self-proclaimed best friend right then and there. Stubborn Vincent, who refused to stop hanging around me because I “needed an extrovert to survive high school” had, unknowingly, helped me create shields. It was easy with him now. We’d spent so much time together by this point, I could block him out without even needing to think about it. Hunter, on the other hand, seemed to have the opposite effect. The more I was around him, the harder it seemed to be.
Breaking my thought process, Katie proclaimed again, “Well, I still think you should give him a chance and see how it goes.”
“Sure. ‘Hey, I really like you, but I don’t think I’m human, hope you’re okay with that. Also, I could kill you if we aren’t careful about how much time we spend together, so we’ll have to date on a rotation.’ What part of that could possibly go poorly?” My sarcasm brought Benny’s laughter out again, like an eerie Halloween wind chime.
Katie snorted. “Based on my observations, I think he’d happily say ‘yes’ to any amount of time he could get.”
“Well, he’d be an idiot if he did.” I grumbled.
“What about the girls? Did he know anything about them?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No. He’s going to try to see if he recognizes photos of any of them. But he hadn’t heard anything about it. Maybe we’ll figure something out at the next party.”
Katie perked up excitedly. “We’re going to the next one?”
“No, you’re staying safely at home.”
She made a disappointed face. Benny made a cooing noise at her, flicking a card in her lap. She laughed. “I suppose a night of card games isn’t a bad consolation prize.”
“Do you need to be getting home?” I asked.
She shook her head. “My parents are asleep. I can stay the night, and sneak back in tomorrow, if that’s okay?” She asked that last part hesitantly. I looked over at Benny sternly. He made a harmless gesture, implying he would be good.
“Why not just tell your mom you’re here?” I asked.
“She’s weird about letting me stay with people she doesn’t know.” Katie shrugged. Considering her home life, it was a little surprising that her mom was concerned about what might happen to her while she was outside the house. She was probably safer here than there, but I guess her mom didn’t really know that.
“Alright. A sleepover it is, but I am going on record to say, I don’t like keeping things from your mom. If you’re going to keep coming over, we need to do something about that.” Katie nodded emphatically at my ruling. “There are extra blankets and pillows on a shelf in my closet, go pick out whatever you think you’d sleep most comfortable with,” I added.
She let out a giddy squeak and dashed to pick out a blanket.
We spent the rest of the night watching bad B-rated horror movies on the television with which Benny was beyond fascinated. It didn’t take long for Katie to fall asleep. I watched as Benny pulled her blanket up to tuck her in. When I got up to take myself to bed, I finally picked the playing cards up off the floor where they had left them earlier. I flipped over Benny’s cards. An ace of diamonds and a king of hearts. I smiled softly and whispered to him. “Were you letting her win all night?” He wandered off, avoiding the question. Well, what do you know? Benny has a heart.
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