Home > Ghosted

Ghosted
Author: J.M. Darhower

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Rain fell from the overcast sky in sporadic bursts, quick manic showers followed by moments of nothingness. The weatherman on channel six had predicted a calm day, but the woman knew better. A tumultuous storm was rolling in. There was no way to avoid it.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Her heart beat frantically, blood surging through her veins, mixing with enough adrenaline to make her stomach churn. She might’ve been worried about getting sick if there had been anything left inside of her to give, but no… she was empty. Burying her mother had taken everything out of her. This, on top of that, was too much for her to bear.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Kennedy Garfield stood on the front porch of the two-story white house, staring out into the yard as thunder clapped in the distance. Lightning illuminated the darkened afternoon sky, giving her a better view of him. Her uninvited visitor stood a mere ten feet away, dressed in a designer suit that cost more than she made in a year, but yet he still somehow managed to look thrown away. His black tie hung loosely around his neck, his button down soaked and clinging to his ashen skin.

“Why are you here?” she asked, unable to handle his silence or his presence. As quickly as this storm rolled in, she needed it to go back away.

“You know why I’m here,” he said quietly, his voice shaking. Even from a distance, she could tell he’d been drinking, his eyes bloodshot and glassy.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she said. “Not now. Not like this.”

He said nothing for a long moment, running his fingers through his thick dark blond hair, the ends curling from being wet. He was drenched, although the rain had since slowed to a steady trickle. She wondered how long he’d been standing outside before she noticed him. Before she sensed him.

She imagined it had been quite awhile with the condition he was in.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The yellow cab parked along the curb blew its horn, the middle-aged driver growing impatient. Kennedy nearly laughed at the sight of it. She figured taking a cab would’ve been beneath him those days. Limos and town cars, with chauffeurs and security, were more his level.

Or so she’d heard, anyway.

He glanced back at it, his face flickering with a hidden aggression, before he turned to face her again. His expression softened when their eyes met.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I heard about your mom and I just… I wanted to be here.”

Crack. Crack. Crack.

It was the sound of her heart being torn apart once again.

“You shouldn’t have come,” she said. An assault of tears burned her eyes, but she refused to shed a single one. Not while he was there. Not while he was looking at her. So many years later and he still got under her skin. “You know that. You’re just making this all so much harder.”

“I know, but…” He paused, his blue eyes imploring. “I was hoping I could… I mean, I wondered if it would be okay if…”

“No,” she said, knowing right away what he was asking, but there was no way it would happen—not then, and certainly not with the condition he was in. He knew better than to even ask.

“But—”

“I said no.”

He sighed as the driver laid on the horn for the second time. Eyeing her warily, he took a step back, and then another, before turning to leave without saying ‘goodbye’.

They’d already said enough goodbyes to last them a lifetime.

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Kennedy stiffened as footsteps stomped through the house behind her, on a mission as they hurried her direction. The front door flung open, a tiny human tornado appearing at her side, wearing a fluffy black dress with her brunette hair in pigtails. Despite all the darkness surrounding the little girl, she was all bows and sunshine, innocence and happiness, and Kennedy would do everything in her power to keep her that way. She didn’t need to know more devastation. She was too young to endure that kind of pain.

Too young to have her heart broken by Jonathan Cunningham.

“Who was that, Mommy?” the little girl asked, watching the cab as it disappeared into the storm. “Did they come for Grandpa? Were they Nana’s friend?”

“It was no one you need to worry about, sweetheart,” Kennedy said, gazing down at a pair of twinkling blue eyes—something her sweet little girl had inherited from him. “The man was just a little lost, but I sent him back on his way.”

Chapter 1

KENNEDY

The beeping of the checkout scanner is monotonous, a dull drone I barely hear anymore, as it melds with Wilson Philips’s Hold On playing on the loudspeaker radio. The same songs, day in and day out. Same constant beeping. Same everything.

Same customers in and out of the store, buying the same things they’ve bought before.

My life has become a predictable loop, a real-life version of Groundhog Day that I have no intention of trying to change. I’m the personification of an alternate ending where Phil accepts that he’s stuck listening to Sonny & Cher every morning until the end of time.

If you’d have asked me years ago if this would be my future, I would’ve laughed in your face. Me? Kennedy Reagan Garfield? I was destined for greatness.

I’d been named after a pair of iconic presidents. My mother, the idealistic liberal, and my father, a strict conservative, never saw eye-to-eye on much… except for me. They never agreed on healthcare or taxes, but they were both convinced their little oops baby would be somebody.

And here I am—somebody, all right. Assistant Manager Somebody at Piggly Q Grocery in a ‘blink and miss it’ kind of town in upstate New York. Thirteen dollars an hour, forty-plus hours a week, with a full benefits package including (unpaid) vacation days.

Not that I’m ungrateful. I’m doing better than a lot of people. My rent is paid every month. My electricity hasn’t been cut off. I've even got overpriced cable! But deep inside, I know this isn’t the kind of greatness my parents envisioned for me.

“Assistance needed on three!”

The high-pitched voice squeals over the loudspeaker, drowning out the music. My gaze scans the register area, waiting for someone else to respond, but nobody does. It always falls to me. Shaking my head, I stroll over to lane three, to the young blonde girl running the ancient register, ringing up an older woman’s groceries.

The cashier, Bethany, looks at me, dramatically pouting as she wiggles a can of chicken noodle soup in my face. “It’s coming up a buck and a quarter but Mrs. McKleski says there’s a ninety-nine cent sign back there.”

It’s $1.25. I know it is. Even Mrs. McKleski probably knows and just wants to make a fuss about something. I smile, though, and override the register, giving it to the woman at the discount.

I step away to let Bethany finish ringing up the groceries as Mrs. McKleski asks, “How’s your father doing?”

I don’t have to look to know she’s talking to me. I start straightening up the candy rack near the register. “He’s hanging in there.”

“Thought about baking him a pie,” she says. “Does he have a favorite? Apple? Cherry? Thought it might be pumpkin, or maybe pecan.”

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate whatever you make,” I say, “but he’s more of a chocolate cream pie guy.”

“Chocolate,” she mutters. “Should’ve known.”

The radio moves on to Lisa Loeb’s Stay, and that’s about when I decide I’m done with this day. I stroll to the front corner of the store, to where Marcus, the manager, hangs out in an office tucked behind Customer Service. Marcus is tall and slim, with brown skin and black hair that’s starting to show signs of impending gray.

“I’m going home,” I tell him.

“Now?” He glances at his watch. “It’s a little early.”

“I’ll make up for it,” I say, clocking out.

Marcus doesn’t argue. He knows I’m good for it, which is why he gives me leniency.

“Actually, I know how you can make up for it,” he says. “I need an extra shift worked, if you’re willing to pull a double on Friday. Bethany asked for the day off but there’s no one to cover.”

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