TW: referenced sexual harassment
I closed the door behind Mrs. Chaudhury with a cheery wave goodbye – then pressed my head against the wood with a deep sigh. I could feel a migraine coming on.
“What?” Johara asked peevishly. I glared at her. She flickered a little in the light, and had the decency to look a little embarrassed.
“So I’m solving a murder now?” I asked wearily, unable to keep the exhaustion out of my voice. “A murder.”
She shrugged it off. “I mean, you can talk to ghosts. You kind of have the upper hand on the police -”
“Jo, I’m seventeen.” I blew a strand of red hair out of my face – when it stubbornly refused to move, I yanked it back behind my ear instead, and glanced over my shoulder. The stairs up to our landing seemed imbued with a certain foreboding air, but that was probably just my anxiety.
Just because I could talk to the dearly reluctant departed didn’t mean it was comfortable, or that I particularly wanted to. Jo was fine. Jo was different. She was my sister, and quite aside from that, I’d known her before she died, and it made a whole world of difference. “How am I supposed to solve a murder?”
“I dunno. Ask him?” she retorted in a ‘well duh’ tone.
“Why didn’t you?” I shot back. Mostly to avoid the implied zing.
“I was explaining the whole ghost thing.” She crossed her arms and gave me an unimpressed look. “Since you didn’t.”
“Oh, would you – Argh.” I opened the door again and slipped outside, closing the door in Jo’s face with a grumble. She drifted through the wood, still wearing the same unimpressed face. So, kind of pointless, but gratifying anyway.
I checked the For Rent sign still wired to the banister, continuing to avoid the topic of ‘why I won’t talk to ghosts’. The phone number seemed right. It was big and clear. I debated putting sparkles on it. Maybe some neon lights.
“Staring at it isn’t going to get you a roommate.”
I – barely – managed to suppress the urge to roll my eyes. “What, am I going to get another lecture on how I should be a medium or… seancer or whatever you call it? It’s bad enough you roped me into this.”
“How is it a bad thing? Besides, you said yes.”
I gave the banister a sullen kick. She wasn’t wrong. I just didn’t want to talk to the guy. But rent was rent, and I’d already taken her money, and her deposit wasn’t enough to skip town with. So I was stuck.
I opened the door again, actually letting Jo through this time. It was only polite. Even if I kind of wanted to kick her teeth in.
I don’t really remember exactly how Jo died. I mean, I know how she died. Two idiot white boys stole their parent’s car and went for a cruise at night with a bottle of whiskey in the front seat. She and one of the foster kids were fooling around – or at least that’s how he put it, which means he locked her out and told her she could only come back in if she took off her shirt. She decided not to play, and crossed the road at the wrong time.
I know all that. I just don’t remember it. My memory just does a fun little skip from having a sister who breathed and blushed and got tired to living with a girl who nobody else could see and who followed me with a distracted patience. It took her a few months to wake up properly, and by then we’d both gotten used to it again. There were other things to worry about, and it’s not like I ever talked to anybody else anyway.
Gurjas Chaudhury was waiting very patiently for me – for us – once I got back up the stairs. Sort of unnervingly patiently actually, the type of quiet reserve one can only achieve once their heart stops beating. “You lied to my wife.”
Ah. “Yes.” I paused. “You’re blunt. That’s useful.”
“How old are you?”
This wasn’t going my way at all. If Jo hadn’t already been dead, I might have killed her.
“Does it matter?” I replied smoothly. “I can see you. I’d say that’s a mark in my favour.” I saved any commentary on Johara’s sudden, gleaming smile for later. I did listen to her on occasion. Sometimes.
He gave me a measured look. He looked good, as far as dead guys went. The gash in his throat had crystallized as a moment in time, and his beard covered the worst of it. But then he turned his head, and I bit my tongue to keep the horrified sound behind my lips – he’d almost been decapitated. “I suppose. What do you want to know?”
Well, he was being shockingly unhelpful. “I want to know what happened. Obviously.” My turn for the ‘well duh’, I guess.
Another measured look. How frustrating. I felt so measured he probably could have told me my weight in milligrams. “I was murdered.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. Who did it?”
“Greeneyes.” The answer came almost instantly, not that it was all that revealing. What was interesting, though, was the shocked look on his face. That clearly hadn’t been what he meant to say.
I crossed the room slowly and sat down at my desk, wishing for all the world that I had a properly-intimidating swivel chair. “So, Jo, when you said you filled him in on ‘the ghost stuff’, you didn’t include -”
“-the part where we can’t lie?” she finished sweetly. “I hadn’t gotten there yet.” Have I mentioned I love my baby sister? I love my baby sister.
Gurjas shot her a deathly – haha – look, and she made a doe-eyed look of innocence back at him.
“So what were you trying to say?”
“Ghosts can’t lie?” he replied with dawning horror. It was the most emotion I’d seen him express yet.
“No. Let’s get back to the part where you were trying to.” I tapped my fingers on the wood, mostly for effect – then frowned. This really wasn’t adding up. “So you’re haunting your wife, you glared me into taking the job, got my sister to intimidate me into it – but you won’t tell me what happened.”
“I want you to bring my body home. I don’t want you trying to solve my murder.”
“Even though you just told me who did it.”
Gurjas nodded at that. I pursed my lips, then glanced over at Johara. She looked just as confused as I did, and I wondered – not for the first time in the last few minutes – what their conversation had actually entailed. “You’re a child. Let my wife bury me. The rest you should leave to adults.”
I couldn’t think of a quicker way to get me angry than that. I could taste bile in my mouth, and a hundred possible replies leapt up. Adults. Right. ‘Adults’ like the cops who had let Chandra Chaudhury stew for three days with no progress on her husband’s case. Adults like the foster families who’d let their kids use us as target practice when they weren’t using us for their own purposes. I was sure he meant well, but still.
I felt Johara’s eyes on me, and I kept my curled fist under the desk and my face in as much of a mask as I could manage it. “Sure. Yeah. I can do that.” Who the fuck is Greeneyes? I could ask him straight up, but now he knew he couldn’t lie, so he’d just purse his lips and I wouldn’t get anywhere. “Where am I going?”
“Great. The part of Ottawa that fun forgot.”
Gurjas didn’t laugh. I didn’t like him much – but I guess judging the recently murdered on their sense of humour wasn’t particularly fair, either. And Mrs. Chaudhury… I need to know.
“Fine. You stay here. Or wander off and haunt somewhere else, I don’t care. Just give me a little space.” Okay, I could probably be nicer to him, but something about him was rubbing me the wrong way. Hah. Like I didn’t know. Pretentious, obstructionist, condescending…
I stood up and headed for the stairs, taking a second to glance outside. It didn’t look too cold, and the leaves were only starting to tinge orange at the corners, but the wind was whistling through them in fits and starts. I’m sad. Why the fuck am I sad this time? Who the hell knows? My emotions did whatever they wanted. But I stood there for a little while anyway, not really thinking about anything at all, fingers resting on the loose buttons of my jacket –
-and the doorbell rang, and brought me hurtling down to earth. Ow. “Uh…” I stared down the stairs. What?
Johara sighed behind me. “Jamal. The sign.”
“The – Oh!” I hurtled down the stairs, and ripped open the door – “Hi!” I exclaimed, a little more cheerily than necessary. Then I straightened up, glancing up and down and finally taking him in – blond mop of neat hair, glasses, dweeby grin… and plaid. God, why did it have to be plaid? “Er, are you here about the sign?”
“Hm? Oh. Yeah! Er, you’re looking for a roommate, right?” He waffled around for a bit, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
I stared down at the sign. For Rent. It looked pretty clear to me. Then I looked back up at him. “…Wanna start with your name?”
“Nathan. Nathan Beaufort. Er – sorry, I was expecting a man.”
Christ. “Learn to live with disappointment. You wanna see the room or not?”
“I suppose so. Er, is it alright? That I’m -”
“Male?” I interrupted flatly.
I cast a despairing glance back at Johara, who was sitting about an inch above the stairs.
“Be nice to him!” She indicated a smile with her hands. Oh great, she liked him. She always did like the pathetic ones. I looked back at him. “I’m gay. So it’s all good. Come on in.”
“Oh. Um, yes! Yeah! Sure!”
I held the door open, and couldn’t help a smirk. It only got wider as I saw Johara’s horrified look, and I let him go up the stairs in front of me, stifling a snort of laughter in my sleeve. He’d do. Especially if he could pay the rent on time. All the same, solving a murder was going to be a little harder with a roommate that twitchy.
Well, that was if he took the room. But if I’m good at anything, it’s getting well ahead of myself and falling flat on my face. Maybe this time I could skip the last bit. Just to shake things up.