“And I didn’t even tell you the best part — He said he’s getting married next month. Can you believe it?” Krystina asked, shaking her head as she finished the story.
“Wow… That’s great!” Evelyn replied instinctively, then hesitated for a moment, trying to decipher the look on Krysti’s face. “Uh, I mean… is that great?” She asked, uncertain.
Her friend laughed softly. “It is.”
“Oh… then, good for him.” Evelyn couldn’t help but laugh at herself.
She loved nights like this, when it was just the two of them.
On the nights Krystina came to see her, she usually brought Mitch or her children with her, which Evelyn loved and looked forward to. But there was always something special about the evenings when Krystina would come to see her on her own. It was so fun to catch up with one another, and it reminded Evelyn of the countless nights they’d spent together when Krystina was growing up.
Strange as it was, Krystina still felt like something of a little sister to Evelyn, though she was now nearly twice her age – physically, at least.
“Well I’m glad you two got to catch up after all this time.” Evelyn continued, returning Krystina’s smile.
“Me too.” Krystina agreed. “It’s crazy… I can’t even count the number of times he’d tried to avoid talking about marriage with me…” She shook her head. “He always thought that kind of commitment wasn’t for him… But I guess it was really me that wasn’t for him, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess so…” Evelyn replied with a shrug.
Krystina was silent for a few moments. “And, y’know… I was thinking…” She said at last. “It’s been so many years, but don’t think I ever really thanked you.”
Evelyn raised an eyebrow at her. “For what?”
“Back when I was with Silas… Y’know, when I thought he was ‘the one’? You were the one who convinced me to give him that ultimatum – the chance to walk away.” Krystina shrugged. “And who knows where I’d be today if I didn’t.”
Evelyn could still remember that conversation with Krystina like it was yesterday, though in reality, it was now more than 15 years ago. The ghost just shook her head. “I may have given you a little encouragement.” She admitted. “But you’re the one who was brave enough to actually do it.” Evelyn smiled. “That was all you.”
“Well, either way, thank you.” Her friend said, returning the smile. “Looks like it worked out pretty well in the end… For both of us.” Her smile widened a bit. “He told me a little about her, and she seems like a wonderful woman. I’m so happy for him.” Krystina said sincerely.
Evelyn bit her lip. “So… it doesn’t feel… Weird at all?” She asked softly. “I mean, I know you love Mitch more than anything, and you have an amazing family together, but…” Evelyn hesitated, leaving the thought hanging. It was almost embarrassing to even ask, but she couldn’t help wondering.
Krystina was very thoughtful for a few moments. “Maybe a tiny bit.” She said at last. “Silas was my first love, you know that. But it was such a long time ago… And being with him helped me realize that sometimes just loving someone isn’t enough. The movies always say it is, but…” Krystina shrugged sadly.
“Sometimes it’s just not meant to be,” She continued, “No matter how much you love each other. But with Mitch, it was meant to be. And it sounds like for Silas, it was meant to be with this woman, too.” Krystina paused. “We both moved on… And you’re the one I have to thank for that, Ev. Who knows how many more years I would have let him string me along…” She shook her head.
Evelyn felt a strange sadness come over her, for she understood what Krystina was saying all too well. She’s right… Love isn’t always enough. She realized sadly. It was a lesson she herself had learned long ago.
“Anyway, I should probably head home.” Krystina’s tone and body language were suddenly much more relaxed than before, and Evelyn knew she was ready to leave the discussion about Silas behind her. “But it was nice to have some girl time.” She laughed softly as she rose to her feet.
Evelyn floated up from her seat as well. “It was.” She agreed. “We need to do this more often.”
Krystina nodded. “But I think next time I’ll have to bring the kids… They’re gonna be so jealous when they find out I came to see you without them.”
Evelyn just laughed. “Well, I’ll be looking forward to it.” She floated forward to embrace her friend. “Goodnight, Krysti. Thanks so much for coming… It means a lot to me.” She said sincerely.
“Anytime.” Her friend replied warmly. “See you soon, Ev.”
The ghost watched as Krystina crossed through the tiny park, around her parents’ backyard, and past the large house until she was out of sight.
She lingered in the beautiful park for a few more minutes, enjoying the beauty of the flowers in the moonlight. Then finally, sighing softly to herself, Evelyn floated back toward the house to return to her grave for the night. But as she crossed the back patio, she was surprised to find that the lights inside had been turned on. I thought Lucas and Mel went to bed. She thought curiously.
Maybe Lucas couldn’t sleep? Evelyn wondered, almost hopeful. It would be nice to have a little extra time with him beyond their usual two or three nights a week.
She watched in anticipation as a figure slowly came into view. But she quickly realized with a twinge of disappointment that it was not Lucas, but Mel who descended the stairs. She’s probably just getting some water or something…
Evelyn gave a somewhat awkward wave, which Mel did not return, though she was looking right at her. The ghost quickly lowered her arm, embarrassed.
It was not entirely surprising – Without the map to bring them together, things between her and Melanie had settled back into much the way they’d been before. Shy smiles, uncomfortable greetings… Perhaps Melanie was not quite as cold as she once had been, but it did little to make their relationship any less awkward.
With a small sigh, Evelyn turned away, but was stopped dead in her tracks by the unexpected sound of the door creaking open behind her. Huh? She turned back toward the house, and her eyes widened at the sight of Melanie standing before her. Evelyn watched as she shivered slightly beneath her fluffy blue bathrobe.
The old woman cleared her throat nervously. “Um… Evelyn?” Melanie muttered, not quite meeting her gaze. “Do you have a minute? I… I think we need to talk.”
Melanie found it difficult to look the ghost in the eye as she waited uncertainly for her reply.
Evelyn hesitated for just a moment too long. “Sure… Of course.” She replied with false cheerfulness.
Melanie had watched as the young girl’s color shifted to an unpleasant orangey-red, and she knew all too well what that meant. But Mel could not blame her – she was sure that if she were unfortunate enough to have her feelings on display like that, she would look very much the same.
“Let’s sit down.” Melanie replied nervously, heading over to the small table behind them. Evelyn followed suit, and took the seat across from her.
Neither one spoke for several moments, and with each second that ticked by, Mel found herself feeling more and more like this whole thing was a mistake. No. She tried to tell herself. I’ve gotta do this… But every time she opened her mouth to speak, no words seemed to come out.
It was Evelyn who broke the silence at last. “So… How are you feeling?” She asked awkwardly. “I mean, Lucas told me how rough the treatments can be… But you’re in-between now, right? So… Um…. You’re doing okay?”
Her words were so forced and uncomfortable, and Melanie could not help but feel sorry for the girl. I should just get to the point, shouldn’t I? The woman took a deep breath.
“I feel fine, thank you.” She replied, trying to keep her tone casual. “But, well… That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.” Melanie admitted.
Evelyn looked at her intently. “What do you mean?” She asked nervously.
Melanie hesitated. It was so difficult to actually say the words out loud… But she had to. “I’m fine now.” She explained. “But… About two months ago, I found out I’m not responding to treatments anymore.” She said softly. “They were working great for a while, but… Not anymore. I’ve actually been getting worse after this last round. Not better.”
She was silent for a few moments, letting her words sink in. Melanie watched the ghost’s eyes widen in shock as the realization slowly dawned on her. “Oh my God…” Evelyn whispered.
“They’ve tried me twice on new meds, but…” Melanie shook her head. “This is it for me, Evelyn. I can tell. I’m supposed to go in next week and talk about more options… But they were honest with me. It’s getting to the point where it’s just not worth it anymore. All it does is make me feel awful, without helping me get better…” She sighed. “And I don’t want to live like that.”
Evelyn said nothing for a long time, and her color had shifted to a deep and mournful blue. Across from her, Melanie remained just as silent, fighting back the emotions that had begun to well up inside her. Saying the words out loud seemed to finally make it real – I’m going to die.
At last, Evelyn appeared to have found her voice. “I’m so sorry, Melanie. Really.” She shook her head. “I had no idea. I mean, Lucas never said anything…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes widened slightly.
“He doesn’t know.” Evelyn whispered as she realized the truth.
Melanie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “He doesn’t.” She confirmed. “You’re the only one who knows… For now, at least.”
“But… I don’t understand.” The ghost asked hesitantly. “I mean, why are you telling me this?”
A heavy breath escaped Melanie’s lips. “Because I need you to promise me something.”
Evelyn simply stared at her expectantly, saying nothing.
“I need you to take care of them for me.” She continued seriously. “Krysti and the kids… But especially Lucas.” Melanie’s voice was thick with emotion as she spoke her husband’s name. “I know him. This is going to destroy him…” She shook her head, blinking back tears. “And I need you to promise you’ll be there for him. He needs something to keep him going… And you’re it, Evelyn.”
The ghost was clearly taken aback by her words. “I-I’ll do what I can…” She sputtered. “But…”
“Don’t let him give up.” Melanie continued, pleading. “Finding a way to bring you back… I don’t even know if you really understand just how much it means to him. But I do…” She shook her head. “I know he’s had to take a break for a while… But you’ve got to get him at it again. He needs it. Don’t let him give it all up because of me. Do you understand?”
“O-of course.” Evelyn replied. “But… Listen.” She took a slow, deep breath. “If he somehow finds a way… If he figures out the recipe for this ‘cure’, or whatever it is… He should bring you back.” The girl said seriously. “Not me.”
Melanie shook her head, almost smiling at how ridiculous Evelyn’s words sounded. “You don’t mean that.”
“But I do.” Evelyn insisted, and Mel could tell by her tone that she was sincere. “You’re the love of his life, Melanie. He can’t lose you. And you can’t lose him either. It should be you.”
“No it shouldn’t.” Mel replied kindly. “And I don’t plan on sticking around anyway.” She assured her. “Maybe it’s ending a little sooner than I’d like,” The woman shrugged. “But I’ve lived an incredible life…. I’m leaving with no regrets. And that’s good enough for me.” Melanie paused.
“And y’know, that’s something everyone should be able to say one day. Including you.” She smiled softly. “I know it’s what you’ve always wanted… And Lucas has always wanted it for you, too. So please… Make sure he gets to make it happen. Okay?”
The ghost did not immediately reply. “Okay.” She said at last. “I’ll do my best. I promise.”
Melanie smiled, relieved. “Thank you.”
The ghost bit her lip for a moment. “But… Can I ask you a question?”
Evelyn looked almost guilty as she spoke. “Why are you being like this?” She asked in little more than a whisper. “I mean, you’re being so nice about all this… I thought you hated me.”
It was Melanie’s turn to feel guilty now. After all these years, she’d never been fair to Evelyn, she knew that. But maybe this can be my chance to apologize… And help her understand. She realized.
“I never hated you.” Melanie replied softly. “And I’m sorry for making you feel that way. To tell you the truth, I always assumed you hated me.” She shook her head as she spoke. “But… I’ll be honest with you. You always made me feel, well… jealous.”
Evelyn raised an eyebrow at her. “You were jealous of me?” She asked incredulously.
Melanie shook her head again. “Maybe a little…” She admitted. “But after a while I finally started to realize that the person I was really jealous of… Was Lucas.”
The ghost hesitated before replying, as though she could not believe what she’d heard. “What? I… I don’t understand…”
Melanie closed her eyes for a moment, ready to explain everything at last. “Did you know I was married before I met him?” She asked quietly.
Evelyn nodded slowly. “Krysti told me once.”
“I was very young.” Mel continued. “But very in love too… And we were so happy together, until he passed away.” She sighed softly. “It broke my heart…”
“But then you met Lucas.” Evelyn chimed in, and Melanie could tell she was trying to help.
She nodded. “And I love him more than anything… But that pain, that heartache of losing someone you love like that… It never goes away completely. Not even when you move on.” Melanie explained.
“I know it wasn’t quite the same with you and Lucas… But even when things didn’t work out between you, he cared about you so much. You were so important to him… And for a long time he thought he’d lost you, just like I lost Christian.” She paused, fighting to hold back a few tears that suddenly threatened to fall.
“But then, after all these years… He had you back.” Mel hung her head as she spoke. “He could talk to you again, laugh with you again, tell you everything he’d always wanted to say… Do you know how much it’s killed me to see him have with you what I can never have with Christian? I would have given anything to see him again, just once… And for years, every time I looked at you, it was a reminder of him…”
She was silent for a few moments then. Evelyn was staring down at the table in front of her. “I never knew you felt that way.” The girl said softly.
Melanie sighed. “I’m sorry for how I treated you all these years. I know none of this is any excuse, but I hope I can at least help you understand. It was just so painful to see you and Lucas together… And then knowing he had the chance to give you your life back? It was all too much for me, I guess.” She said with a small shrug.
“But I tried so hard to help get you that cure, because I knew how much it meant to both of you. And I knew that, if it were Christian, I’d want Lucas to do the same and help me.” She paused. “Evelyn, I know your life got cut short, just like Christian’s did… And I really think you deserve a second chance. You both do.”
Mel shook her head sadly. “I just wish there was a way I could have given it to him.”
It was a few moments before Evelyn replied. She appeared to be considering the woman’s words very carefully.
“Melanie, I… I don’t really know what to say. But…” Evelyn cleared her throat uncertainly, causing Mel to look up at her. “Well, if it helps at all…” She began, smiling slightly. “I think I met Christian once. A long time ago. And he helped me so much.”
Melanie’s eyes widened. Was she hearing things? Did she really just say that she…? “What? How?”
“I was never really sure how to bring it up before…” Evelyn explained. “But back when you were still pregnant with Krysti… I was kind of… Um… watching, I guess… seeing what you were up to…” The ghost glanced downward for a moment, embarrassed. “I hadn’t really moved on, y’know? And I was really angry…” She shook her head, as though trying to shake the memory away.
“But then I met someone, passing by on their way to… Wherever you’re supposed to go when you die.” The ghost shrugged slightly. “It was this really kind-looking guy, with glasses… And blonde hair.” Evelyn’s eyes narrowed slightly, trying to remember.
“I told him what was upsetting me, and he tried to help. He told me all about his wife – how much he loved her, and how happy he was that she’d been able to move on and start a family…” She smiled slightly as she continued. “He’d been staying behind because he was worried about her… But now that he knew she was going to be okay, he felt ready to move on. I didn’t realize until later that it was him… But it was, Melanie. He even mentioned your name.”
Oh my god… Melanie felt the sharp sting of tears in her eyes. She’d spent so many decades wondering about Christian. Where had his spirit gone? Was he happy? Did he know she was happy? Did he resent her for finding love again? And now, more than fifty years later, she finally had some answers.
“He was so happy, Melanie.” Evelyn continued. “For you. And he helped me learn how to be happy for Lucas too.” She said sincerely. “I still love him…” The ghost sounded almost guilty as she admitted it. “I think I always will.”
“But sometimes that isn’t enough.” She continued. “Sometimes it just isn’t meant to be… But Lucas was meant to be with you. Christian helped me realize that. And as soon as I did, I couldn’t be mad anymore. You’ve made him so happy. And I’m so grateful for that.”
Melanie smiled. “Thank you.” She said in a whisper. “It means so much to hear you say that…” She glanced down, almost amused as a thought crossed her mind.
“You know, Krystina’s always told me how much you helped her over the years… And I know you did the same for Lucas too… I think maybe now I understand.” Melanie looked up, meeting Evelyn’s gaze. “You’re really something special, Evelyn. And I’m glad you’ll be here to look after them when I’m gone.”
She rose to her feet wearily. “I should really get back to bed…” Melanie let out a small yawn. “But thank you, Evelyn. I really mean that.”
Evelyn smiled softly at her. “Thank you. And…” Her smile wavered slightly. “I’m sorry you have to go through all this…” She muttered somewhat awkwardly. “But now that I’ve made my promise… Will you make one for me?”
Melanie looked at her quizzically.
“Promise you’ll tell Lucas the truth. As soon as you can. Tomorrow, even.” The ghost’s voice was almost pleading. “He needs to know. You can’t keep this from him any longer.”
Evelyn was absolutely right, of course. But the thought of telling Lucas the truth was terrifying. “I know…” Melanie said softly as a few of the tears she’d been holding back rolled down her cheeks. “And I will.” She promised, wiping her eyes gently with her wrinkled hand. But how can I do it without breaking his heart?
“It’ll be okay… You’ll see.” The ghostly young woman across from her appeared to be hesitating uncertainly for a few moments. Then, before Melanie knew what was happening, Evelyn had pulled her into a gentle hug. It felt so strange – like trying to embrace a cloud of fine mist. But it was comforting too, in an odd way.
Melanie closed her eyes, trying to quell her fears about all the struggles that still lay ahead of her. She’s right… It’ll be okay… She repeated Evelyn’s words to herself uncertainly. Won’t it?
The question followed her all night as she tossed and turned between the bedsheets. It lingered in the back of her mind the next morning as she tried to quell the knots in her stomach long enough to enjoy her morning coffee. And it continued haunting her late into the afternoon as she sat beside her husband on the couch, and uttered the few simple words that would bring their entire world crashing down.