Little ghost, little ghost
One I'm scared of the most
Can you scare me up a little bit of love?
I'm the only one that sees you,
And I can't do much to please you
And it's not yet time to meet the lord above
-The White Stripes
Tolly was lying on the grass, basking in the summer sun, when the moving truck pulled up. He’d been enjoying the peace and quiet, a rare reprieve from Cub Scout Joey, but when the movers started unloading boxes and stacking them on the porch, Tolly sat up and watched them with rapt attention. His whole being vibrated with excitement; he was always thrilled when new people moved into his house. The place often sat empty, sometimes for years at a time, and it was ever so lonely. Now he’d get to know a new family.
After a few moments the excitement became too great. Always a curious boy, Tolly wandered over to the truck and stuck his head inside to see what the movers had left to unload. After a moment’s polite hesitation he was in the truck snooping through boxes. He took note of the traditional furnishings but lost interest when he heard a second car pull up.
“Where do you want this, Mrs. Drake?” said one of the movers.
“Let’s stack the boxes on the porch for now and get the furniture inside first,” said a woman’s voice.
Tolly stuck his head through the side of the truck and looked down to see his new family piling out of their SUV. There was a tall woman with auburn hair in her late forties who took charge of the movers. Tolly correctly assumed she was Mrs. Drake, and that made the middle-aged man with the salt and pepper hair who stood at her side Mr. Drake. Tolly watched Mr. and Mrs. Drake with keen interest until he heard two more doors open and close.
There was a girl with auburn hair like her mother’s who Tolly judged to be about 17; she looked a few years older than him. Tolly hopped down from the truck and went around the SUV to get a look at the boy. He was so taken with the boy’s appearance that he smiled and waved. He was puzzled when the boy didn’t wave back.
“Hi, I’m Tolly,” he greeted the boy, but there was no response.
Tolly scratched his head and examined the boy closely. He moved around him like a dog sniffing a fellow dog at the park. In fact, if Tolly had a tail it would have been wagging with excited energy. The boy’s physical appearance was the problem; he was very cute with his mousy brown hair and big hazel eyes, but there was something off. His eyes were surrounded by deep dark circles, his skin was pale, and his movements seemed labored. Tolly followed the boy to a collection of boxes, until the boy reached for one and Mr. Drake stopped him.
“Here, let me get that for you, champ,” said Mr. Drake.
“Thanks, dad,” the boy coughed.
Ah ha! That’s what it is, Tolly exclaimed to himself. Ghosts don’t cough! He’s still alive! Tolly watched Mr. Drake carry the box away, and the girl walked over to her little brother.
“You’re not supposed to over exert yourself, remember,” she said.
“Gabby, I’m 15,” the boy sighed. Tolly gave an internal cheer; he was 15 too and hadn’t had a playmate in years. “I can move a stupid box on my own.”
“I know, Gavin. Just try not to get frustrated. We’re only trying to help,” said Gabby. She reached out and ruffled his hair.
“Gavin, honey,” said Mrs. Drake as she came down the porch steps. “I had the movers unload your furniture first if you want to go upstairs and get settled.”
“Ok. Thanks, mom,” said Gavin.
“Hi, Gavin! I’m Tolly.” Tolly waved excitedly, even though he knew Gavin couldn’t see him. Tolly would have to reveal himself, and as that was always a delicate thing, he’d have to observe Gavin a bit first.
Gavin walked up the stairs slowly, holding tight to the railing. His breathing was a bit labored, and he stopped once for a break. Tolly passed right through Gavin when he stopped to catch his breath; he was used to bounding up the stairs two at a time. He reached the landing at the top of the stairs and turned to watch Gavin shiver as if he’d caught a chill. It was the standard reaction people had when Tolly walked through them.
When Gavin reached the top of the stairs Tolly followed him down the hall and around the corner. They entered the last room on the left, and Tolly blurted out excitedly, “This was my room! You’ll really like it here, Gavin. You get a great breeze from the garden, and the sun’s on the other side of the house in the morning, so you can sleep in…”
Tolly hadn’t expected a response, but he took note of how quiet the room was. He turned around and found Gavin lying on the bed curled around a pillow. Tolly thought that was weird. If he’d been moving into a new house he’d have been too excited for a nap. With nothing better to do, Tolly climbed on Gavin’s desk and sat with his elbows resting on his knees and his chin resting on his folded hands.
He watched Gavin sleep for an hour, then watched as Mrs. Drake came in and sat by his side. She shook Gavin awake, then handed him some pills and a glass of water. Gavin took the medicine, and then his mom took his temperature, which she wrote down on a little notepad.
“You’re a little warm. How do you feel?” asked Mrs. Drake.
“I’m ok, mom, just a little tired,” Gavin yawned.
“Ok, sweetie. Why don’t you go back to your nap, and I’ll have the movers stack your boxes outside your door so they don’t disturb you?”
“Ok, mom. Thanks.”
“My angel,” said Mrs. Drake, and then she kissed him on the forehead.
Gavin lay back down when his mom left, and Tolly hopped off the desk. He’d watched the exchange between mother and son with concern. Tolly crossed over to the bed and sat at Gavin’s side, “What’s the matter, Gavin? Are you sick?”
Tolly put his hand to Gavin’s forehead, knowing it was a useless gesture. He placed his hand against Gavin’s forehead, but rather than pass through it, Tolly felt warmth. He looked at Gavin in awe and touched him again. Warmth radiated through Tolly’s fingertips, filling his entire being. He couldn’t believe it; he hadn’t been able to touch a mortal since he’d been one sixty years earlier. Tolly closed his eyes and reveled in the sensation until Gavin flinched. Gavin felt the touch too, the pressure of invisible fingers, and where Gavin’s skin was warm to Tolly, Tolly’s touch was cold to Gavin.
“W-who’s there?” Gavin asked the emptiness of the room.
Tolly scrambled away from the boy and backed into a corner. Gavin startled him, and neither boy had a clear grasp of what had happened. Gavin knew someone had touched him, but the door was closed and he was alone. Tolly knew he shouldn’t have been able to touch Gavin, and the experience left him full of questions. Eventually Gavin chalked the incident up to a figment of his imagination and went back to sleep, but Tolly continued to watch over him.
Tolly watched the family for the next few days and took note of their habits. He liked Gabby; she was bubbly and fun, and she had a cute boyfriend named Michael who she made out with in his car in the driveway. Tolly hadn’t been planning to observe the intimate moment, but when it unfolded in front of him all he could do was cover Cub Scout Joey’s eyes and dream that he was the one kissing Michael.
On Friday morning, a week after the family moved in, Tolly found himself on Mrs. Nesbit’s front porch enjoying one of her chocolate chip cookies. The old woman loved to bake, and Tolly and Cub Scout Joey were pleased to benefit when she did. Mrs. Nesbit drank coffee and Cub Scout Joey tossed his ball up in the air and caught it over and over as Tolly wiped the last of the cookie crumbs from the corner of his mouth.
“How’s the new family settling in?” asked Mrs. Nesbit.
“Ok, I guess,” said Tolly. “There’s something wrong with the boy, though.”
“What do you mean, dear?” asked Mrs. Nesbit.
“Well, he doesn’t go to school, and his mom takes him to these doctor’s appointments every other day. He sleeps a lot, and when he does move around he gets tired pretty quick,” Tolly explained.
“Maybe he’s sick,” offered Cub Scout Joey.
“I think he must be. I mean he doesn’t look well. When I first saw him I thought he was one of us.”
“Tut, tut, the poor child,” said Mrs. Nesbit.
“Yeah,” Tolly sighed. “Something weird happened the day they moved in.”
“Like what?” said Cub Scout Joey, still catching his ball. Mrs. Nesbit looked curiously over the rim of her coffee mug.
“I, well, I touched him,” said Tolly. “On his forehead.”
“That must have given him a chill,” said Mrs. Nesbit.
“No, I mean, my hand didn’t pass through him. I actually touched him. I could feel him,” Tolly explained.
Cub Scout Joey dropped his ball, and Mrs. Nesbit stopped her coffee mug in mid sip.
“But Tolly dear, that’s…”
“Impossible. I know,” Tolly finished for her.
“How did you…” Mrs. Nesbit began.
“I don’t know how I did it. He was napping and his mom came in to give him some medicine. She checked his temperature and wrote it down, and then he went back to sleep. I was curious. I knew I wouldn’t be able to feel anything, but I touched his forehead anyway, only my hand didn’t pass through him. I could actually feel him,” Tolly explained.
“Extraordinary,” Mrs. Nesbit exclaimed.
“Why do you suppose it happened?” asked Tolly.
“I have no idea, dear,” Mrs. Nesbit smiled.
“What was it like?” asked Cub Scout Joey.
The tactile sense was a strange curiosity for the ghosts on Sycamore Lane. They could touch everyday objects whenever they pleased, but none of them could ever remember touching a mortal after they’d entered the afterlife.
“It was…warm,” said Tolly. “I could feel it in the tips of my fingers, then it spread into my hand and up my arm before I pulled away.”
“My momma used to touch my forehead like that when I was sick,” Cub Scout Joey sighed.
“Yeah. Mine too,” Tolly lamented.
“Mothers have been doing that since the dawn of time, taking care of their children,” added Mrs. Nesbit.
“Yeah,” Tolly nodded and looked at his watch. “I better get going. Mrs. Drake will be bringing Gavin home from his appointment soon. Sometimes he gets sick after.”
“You’re gonna watch him barf?” Cub Scout Joey crinkled his nose.
“No, Joey,” Tolly rolled his eyes. “But if something happens, I don’t know, maybe I can get help or something.”
“Tolly, how could you…” Mrs. Nesbit started.
“Gotta run,” Tolly cut her off as he got to his feet and walked back across Sycamore Lane.
She was going to ask him how he thought he could help, and the truth was he didn’t know. Tolly’s was a caring soul; he watched families come in and out of his house, observed their lives and grew attached to them. He shared in their joys and their sorrows and always wished he could be helpful in some way, but the constraints of death made that impossible. Still, he’d touched Gavin. That was something.
Mrs. Drake’s car pulled into the driveway just as Tolly returned from Mrs. Nesbit’s. He watched her help Gavin out of his seat and then walk to the house with her arm around his waist. Tolly thought Gavin must be particularly sick that day if he needed his mom to support him. Gavin was so weak that when they got to his room his mom had to help him undress. When Mrs. Drake went back downstairs Tolly assumed his usual perch atop Gavin’s desk and watched over the boy like a nervous mother.
Tolly got very upset when Gavin’s body started to shake with sobs. Whatever Gavin’s medical problem was, it was serious, and Tolly knew Gavin was afraid. It was a fear Tolly didn’t quite understand; after all, he’d never been sick. His death was so sudden he didn’t have months of fear building inside of him. It just happened. He liked Gavin, enjoyed spending time in his room watching him read or watch TV; he was sad that Gavin was afraid.
Suddenly Gavin was on his feet and sprinting across the room to the bathroom. Tolly hopped off the desk and followed him, arriving just in time to see Gavin drop down in front of the toilet and purge. Gavin’s body shook with continued sobs as he puked his guts out. There was nothing Tolly could do but watch, so he hopped up on the vanity next to the sink.
“It’ll be okay,” Tolly sighed. “You’ll feel better soon.”
Gavin of course heard nothing. He got to his feet and ambled over to the sink. He rinsed his mouth out, washed his face, then looked in the mirror. He ran his fingers along his hollow cheeks and sighed at the image before him. Gavin started to lose his balance, and as he began to fall, acting on instinct alone, Tolly grabbed him. For the second time since his death, Tolly felt a warm body in his arms. He lowered Gavin so that he was sitting with his back against the vanity and knelt before him.
Gavin was stunned when he began to fall and something caught him. Now as he sat against the vanity looking at a tall boy with short-cropped blond hair and dressed like Wally from Leave It to Beaver, he was bewildered.
“W-who are you?” asked Gavin.
“Toseland Waverly,” Tolly smiled.
“Toseland?” Gavin’s nose crinkled.
“I know. It was a terrible name even in my day,” he smiled. “You can call me Tolly.”
“Tolly,” Gavin nodded. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here,” said Tolly.
“You’re a g-gho…” Gavin started.
“Don’t be afraid,” Tolly frowned. “I promise I won’t hurt you.”
Gavin looked at him skeptically and Tolly could sense his apprehension.
“Look, I caught you didn’t I?” said Tolly. “If I wanted to hurt you wouldn’t I have just let you hit your head?”
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” Gavin admitted. He studied Tolly’s earnest face and kind eyes and knew Tolly was telling the truth. There was nothing malevolent about Tolly’s spirit. He was a calming influence and made Gavin feel at ease. “No, I don’t think you will hurt me,” Gavin agreed, and the grin returned to Tolly’s face.
“I’m glad,” said Tolly. “I’ve been watching you since you moved in and I’ve wanted to reveal myself to you, but I didn’t want to scare you to death.”
“That’s happened before?” Gavin exclaimed. “You’ve scared people to death?”
“Golly, no,” Tolly laughed. “But people don’t always react as well as you.”
“You stopped me from falling; can you help me back to my bed?” asked Gavin, thinking he’d rather continue this conversation where he was more comfortable.
“I think so,” said Tolly. He stood up and held his hands out to Gavin. Gavin took Tolly’s hands and Tolly smiled at the warmth that radiated throughout his body. In a moment Gavin was tucked under his covers and Tolly was sitting by his side.
“So people don’t always react as well as me?” asked Gavin.
“I’ve found that it’s a harder thing for grownups to accept,” said Tolly. “They usually get scared and run away before I can explain. Little kids don’t know any better and think I’m some kind of imaginary friend or something. You and your sister are the first teenagers I can remember living here.”
“So you’ve never really had a chance to talk to anyone else that lived here?” asked Gavin.
“Well, there was a delightful man that lived here in the 70’s. He got strange when he took his medicine though,” said Tolly.
“Strange?” asked Gavin.
“He would call me ‘Dude’ and ask me for something called Funyuns,” Tolly shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, gotcha,” Gavin giggled knowingly. “How long have you been…”
“Dead?” Tolly finished for him.
“Yeah,” Gavin nodded.
“Since 1956,” said Tolly.
“How did you…”
“Oh you know, I uh, just died,” said Tolly, quickly glossing over any details.
“Ok,” said Gavin, sensing Tolly’s discomfort at the topic. “So are there others like you around here?”
“Well, I’m the only one in the house, but there’s Mrs. Nesbit across the street, she makes the best chocolate chip cookies, and then there’s Cub Scout Joey, he’s nine and tags along wherever I go, which can be annoying sometimes, but he’s normally ok and…oh yeah, there’s John at the end of the block, but we don’t go near him.”
“Why don’t you go near him?” asked Gavin.
“Mrs. Nesbit says John was messed up in the war, you know, that Vietnam?” said Tolly.
“Uh, yeah, I’ve heard of it,” Gavin smiled.
“She said that when he came home he did some bad things to boys and warned me and Cub Scout Joey to stay away from him,” Tolly explained.
“Bad things? Like what?” asked Gavin.
“I don’t know, but I was talking to him one day and he put his hand on my thigh. I didn’t like it but he wouldn’t pull it away; that’s when Mrs. Nesbit came and started hitting him with her broom and made him leave. It was after that she warned me and Cub Scout Joey about him,” Tolly explained.
“Tolly, that John, it sounds like he was going to, I don’t know, maybe rape you or something,” said Gavin.
“Don’t be silly. That kind of thing only happens to girls,” Tolly giggled.
“No, Tolly. Maybe that’s how it was when you were a kid, but it happens to boys too,” Gavin assured him.
Tolly pondered Gavin’s assertion for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing Mrs. Nesbit was there then.”
“Yeah, so uh, this Mrs. Nesbit bakes you cookies?” said Gavin.
“Best I’ve ever had,” Tolly smiled.
“I didn’t think ghosts had to eat,” said Gavin.
“We don’t have to. We get to. It’s one of the pleasures of being dead. I don’t have to eat broccoli and my mom’s runny eggs anymore. I haven’t eaten a vegetable since 1960,” Tolly smiled proudly.
“Ok,” Gavin giggled. “So you’ve been watching me since we moved in?”
“Yes. I was worried. You seem, well, very sick.” Tolly frowned.
“I have cancer,” Gavin sighed.
“That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Gavin nodded. “Listen, Tolly, I’d love to talk to you all day, but I’m really tired…”
“Right, of course, you need your rest,” said Tolly as he tucked the blanket under Gavin’s chin.
“Can we talk more later?” asked Gavin.
“Sure thing. Just call my name and I’ll come if I’m not here already,” said Tolly
“Cool.” Gavin smiled and drifted off to sleep.
Over the next few days Gavin and Tolly spent hours talking and getting to know each other. Gavin was enraptured by the cute blond ghost with his boy next door good looks, easy charm and hint of naivety. They were fast friends, and Gavin felt his heart flutter every time Tolly walked through a wall.
“I keep meaning to ask you; what did you get your letter in?” said Gavin one afternoon when they were sitting on his bed.
“Varsity basketball.” Tolly smiled proudly and stroked the block C on his red letterman’s jacket.
“You must have been pretty good in order to make varsity as a sophomore,” Gavin complimented.
“Well, above average,” Tolly blushed.
“Don’t be bashful. I bet…” Gavin started but was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell. “I wonder who the hell that is?”
“I’ll check,” Tolly smiled and disappeared. He returned seconds later in absolute terror and threw his arms around Gavin.
“Tolly, what’s wrong?” said Gavin, shocked at the behavior.
“Please don’t make me go, I’ll be a good boy, I promise I’ll be good, don’t make me go, please, please,” Tolly cried.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Gavin hugged Tolly and ran a soothing hand up and down his back. “What are you talking about? Who’s going to make you go?”
“The man downstairs, he has a white collar and a Bible, he’s going to make me leave, I know he’s going to make me leave, please, Gavin, I swear I’ll be good…” Tolly cried harder.
“Tolly, calm down. No one is going to hurt you,” said Gavin.
“But the man…” Tolly started.
“That’s just Father Morgan; I forgot he was coming to bless the house. Mom called him a week ago,” Gavin explained.
“H-he’s not gonna hurt me?” Tolly asked timidly.
“Tolly, you’re my friend. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you,” Gavin patted his back comfortingly.
“I saw his collar and his Bible and, oh Gavin, I’m so scared,” Tolly’s whole body shook.
“It’s alright. It’s alright,” Gavin rocked him, then there was a knock at his door.
“Gavin?” said Mrs. Drake, then she stuck her head in the door.
“Father Morgan is here to bless the house. Can you come downstairs?”
“Sure, mom. Just a sec,” said Gavin.
Mrs. Drake left the room, and Gavin turned back to his ghostly companion.
“Ok, I have to go downstairs now…”
“Don’t leave me! I’m so afraid,” Tolly interrupted.
“I was going to say, why don’t you come with me, and you’ll see there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“O-ok,” said Tolly.
Tolly followed Gavin down to the living room and hid behind him. He grabbed onto Gavin’s t-shirt and held it tight. He hunkered down behind Gavin’s back and watched the priest’s every move from over Gavin’s shoulder. Gavin felt terrible for him. He had no idea why the arrival of Father Morgan was causing Tolly so much distress, but he was determined to find out what was going on when this was over.
“Let us begin as we begin all things Holy, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Father Morgan began.
“Amen,” replied Gavin and his family as they made the sign of the cross.
“Peace be unto this house and all who dwell here,” Father Morgan began. He read a few scriptures, Luke 19:1-9, Psalm 112, and finally concluded with the actual blessing. “Lord, be close to your servants who dwell in this home and ask for your blessing. Be their shelter when they are at home, their companion when they are away, and their welcome guest when they return. And at last receive them into the dwelling place you have prepared for them in your Father's house, where you live for ever and ever. Amen.”
The family crossed themselves again, everyone shook hands with Father Morgan, and Gavin’s parents took him into the study for a glass of brandy. Gavin returned to his room with Tolly, who seemed greatly relieved.
“See? Nothing to be afraid of,” said Gavin, as they sat on his bed.
“Yeah. Sorry I acted so silly. Golly, you must think I’m a ninny,” Tolly blushed.
“Silly? Tolly, you were terrified,” said Gavin. He wasn’t going to let Tolly just brush his behavior aside. Gavin wanted answers.
“Yeah, I guess I was,” Tolly sighed.
“Tell me why. Why would an old priest scare you?”
“Well, this one time, there was a couple living here, an older couple, the O’ Rileys, husband and wife. She used to make homemade donuts, you know the kind with the chocolate on top and…”
“Yeah, Tolly, I know donuts. What happened?” said Gavin.
“Well, you know how much I love junk food, and one morning there was a donut left, and when Mr. O’ Riley left for work and Mrs. O’ Riley went to see him off, well, I took it. Mrs. O’ Riley came back to the kitchen, she saw me take a bite out of the donut, and she screamed. She was so scared, Gavin. It hurt my feelings terribly,” Tolly sighed.
“I’m sorry she hurt your feelings, Tolly, but what’s that have to do with what just happened with Father Morgan?”
“A few days after the donut incident a priest came. He started praying and calling me an unclean spirit and tried to cast me out,” Tolly shivered. “I was so scared, Gavin. My body started fading. I felt weak. I didn’t want to go to hell.”
“Well clearly you aren’t an unclean spirit, since that priest wasn’t able to drive you out, but why would you think you’d go to hell? You were just a boy when you died; you couldn’t have done anything that bad,” said Gavin.
“I blame that Mrs. O’ Riley for all that unclean spirit nonsense. I wasn’t the one making all those messes; it was her husband sneaking sandwiches and not wiping the crumbs off the counter,” Tolly smiled weakly.
“Uh uh, don’t be cute. Why did you think you were going to hell?” Gavin insisted.
“Because,” Tolly sighed, “I know what the Bible says about boys like me, and then I went and, well, you know.”
“No, I don’t know, Tolly. Come on, you can tell me,” Gavin prodded.
“You really want to know?” asked Tolly, timidly.
“You’re my friend, Tolly. I don’t want you to be scared, and I want to know what happened to you,” said Gavin.
“Ok, then it’s better if I show you.”
“You can do that?” asked Gavin.
“Yes. Take my hand,” said Tolly, stretching his arm out to Gavin.
Gavin took the offered hand, and he felt his body start to fade. It was like slipping into a swimming pool, sinking into cool water. Everything went black, and then he found himself holding Tolly’s hand in the foyer. Everything was different; the furniture looked brand new, but the style was old, and Gavin realized he was in 1956, inside Tolly’s memory.
“Wow, this is like something from Harry Potter,” Gavin exclaimed.
“Was that the ghost at your old house?” Tolly asked innocently.
“No, it’s a…nevermind,” said Gavin. “What are we doing here?”
“We’re going to go into the parlor now. Once we go inside I won’t be able to talk to you. I brought you here first so I could prepare you. Are you ready?” asked Tolly.
“Yeah, I want to see,” Gavin nodded.
Tolly led Gavin down the hall and paused outside the entrance to the parlor.
“I have to go in first,” said Tolly. “When you’re ready, come in and you’ll be able to see everything.”
Gavin nodded his acceptance of the instructions, then watched Tolly disappear through the wall. He took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold and into the comfortable parlor. There was a fire burning brightly on the hearth, making the room feel warm and cozy. He found Tolly standing in the corner hugging himself as if he were standing out in a snow storm; his eyes were staring intently at the sofa.
Gavin followed Tolly’s gaze to the sofa and found it occupied by two blond boys. They were sitting on the edge of the cushions, their arms were around each other, and they were sharing a gentle kiss. When they pulled apart Gavin realized one of the boys was Tolly; the other had green eyes and a baby face. He was about the cutest guy Gavin had ever seen.
“Are you sure this is okay, Tolly? What about your parents?” said the boy.
“I told you, Danny, my mom has her church ladies group tonight, and my dad had to meet with a client after work,” Tolly explained.
“Ok then,” Danny smiled and pulled Tolly close.
The boys kissed again. It was gentle and sweet, not the more passionate making out Gavin was used to seeing on TV, but after all, this was the 1950’s. He turned to the corner and saw Tolly, the Tolly who had brought him here, still holding himself, but he reached up to brush a tear from his cheek. The boys kissed and giggled and loved each other for what felt like a long time. Gavin kept looking between the boys and Tolly standing in the corner. His head snapped around when he heard the front door open. Why didn’t Tolly and Danny hear it? Why didn’t they stop?
“What the hell is this?” exclaimed a middle aged man in a business suit. He had Tolly’s blue eyes, but there was nothing friendly about them—they smoldered with anger.
“Dad, I-I-I can explain,” Tolly stuttered.
“It’s not what it looks like, Mr. Waverly, honest,” said Danny.
Mr. Waverly seized Danny by the collar and shoved him out of the parlor and down the hall. “Get out of my house!”
“But sir…” Danny shouted to be heard.
Tolly stood frozen in fear while his father threw Danny out. Gavin could read the look on his face; he wanted to do something, but his legs didn’t want to cooperate.
Mr. Waverly slammed the door in Danny’s face, and Gavin could hear his angry footfalls as he stormed down the hall and back into the parlor, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I-I love him, dad,” Tolly insisted. “I can’t help it, I…”
Mr. Waverly didn’t want to hear it. He backhanded Tolly, his hand catching the boy’s cheek and bruising it with his wedding ring. “Don’t you ever say that again. I’ve had it with you, I don’t care what your mother says about you being sensitive; we’re sending you to military school.”
“I-I won’t go,” said Tolly, defiantly.
“What did you say to me, you little faggot?” Mr. Waverly spat.
“I love Danny. I won’t leave him.”
“We’ll see about that,” said Mr. Waverly. He took off his suit coat, threw it on a chair, and then he struck. This time his fingers were closed into a tight fist as he slugged Tolly in the stomach. The boy doubled over as the air blew from his lungs, but Mr. Waverly didn’t give him time to catch his breath. He pushed Tolly back to his feet and punched him in the face. Tolly collapsed to his knees, but he wouldn’t strike back, wouldn’t hit his father. Mr. Waverly kicked Tolly to the ground then straddled him. He punched him over and over, again and again.
“Oh my God,” Gavin exclaimed and turned to the Tolly in the corner. “He killed you? He beat you to death?”
Tolly didn’t answer. He stood in the corner still holding himself, only now he was rocking back and forth and the tears were streaming from his face. He made no attempt to hide them this time; it was as if he were paralyzed by the memory.
“You are going to military school, and you are never going to see that boy again,” Mr. Waverly panted when he finished beating his son.
Gavin watched Mr. Waverly get up and leave. He raced over to Tolly’s body and was surprised to find him still breathing. He dropped to his knees and tried to touch him but found that the memory of Tolly was as translucent as a dream. Tolly remained in the corner, still watching his body. The beaten Tolly started to stir, and Gavin stepped away from him. He was horrified by the damage done to Tolly’s face. His eyes were both blackened and started to swell; his lips were cracked and bloody. His checks were bruised; he looked like he’d been in a horrible accident.
The beaten Tolly stumbled to his feet and staggered from the room. Gavin looked to the Tolly in the corner, and when he moved to follow his beaten body, Gavin followed. They followed the beaten Tolly upstairs and into his parents’ room. He sat on the bed for a moment, and Gavin heard him reach for something in the nightstand. When he stood, Gavin recognized the unmistakable shape of a pistol in beaten Tolly’s hand. They followed him downstairs and into his father’s study, where Mr. Waverly sat at his desk, an open bottle of Scotch on the blotter.
“Dad,” said beaten Tolly.
“What do you want?” Mr. Waverly growled.
“I-I won’t go,” said beaten Tolly as he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
The memory instantly dissolved and Gavin tumbled onto his bed. He instantly looked to the corner and found Tolly there sobbing. Gavin struggled to his feet and went to him. He threw his arms around his ghostly friend. Tolly held him tightly and cried until the tears stopped running down his cheeks.
“Tolly, oh God. I’m so, so sorry,” Gavin sniffled. He was horrified by what had happened to Tolly. It was a crime, a horrible, horrible crime that someone could beat their son like that and drive him to take his own life just because he’d kissed a boy.
“So now you know,” Tolly sniffled. “You know I’m going to hell, because I’m an abomination and I took my own life…”
“Tolly, shhh,” Gavin soothed him. “You’re not an abomination! I don’t want to hear you call yourself that.”
“But you saw what I did, what I am.”
“I saw you kiss a boy. So what?” said Gavin.
“The Bible says it’s wrong, and you saw what it made my dad do…” Tolly sniffled.
“Tolly, no! Fuck what the Bible says. Maybe sixty years ago that kind of thinking was ok, but it’s not now. There’s nothing wrong with being gay, and what your father did to you, he’d be put in jail for it now,” Gavin insisted.
“You don’t think I’m unclean?” Tolly wiped the tears from his eyes.
“No, Tolly. I think you’re sweet and cute and charming, and that boy, Danny, he clearly loved you. He was lucky to have you,” Gavin assured him.
“You really mean it?”
“Of course I do,” said Gavin, and then without thinking he kissed Tolly on the lips.
“What are you doing,” Tolly giggled.
“I don’t know,” said Gavin. “I mean I’ve always thought you were cute, but I never really thought about kissing you before. Did you like it?”
“It was warm,” Tolly smiled.
“Can I do it again?” Gavin asked nervously.
“You’re not scared? What if your dad comes in?” asked Tolly.
“He’d probably wonder why I was making out with the air,” Gavin giggled, reminding Tolly that Gavin was the only one that could see him.
“Oh, right,” Tolly snickered.
“And if he did see you he wouldn’t care. Tolly, my parents know I’m gay,” said Gavin.
“And they don’t care?”
“It’s a different world than when you were a kid, Tolly. Things have changed a lot.”
“Gee whiz,” Tolly exclaimed.
“How about that kiss?” asked Gavin.
“Ok,” Tolly nodded.
Gavin leaned in and put his lips to Tolly’s. He could sense Tolly’s apprehension at first, but as he enjoyed the kiss, Tolly began to relax. Gavin luxuriated in the softness of Tolly’s full lips and thought to himself, just my luck, I finally find a boyfriend and he’s been dead for sixty years.
“Golly, that kind of tickles,” Tolly giggled.
“I like it too,” Gavin smiled and kissed him again.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Gavin as they walked down the driveway. They’d waited until his mom had left for the grocery store before going outside. Gavin didn’t think she’d approve of him hanging out at the empty house across the street.
“You said you wanted to meet my friends,” Tolly reminded him.
“I do, it’s just, they’re all…”
“Ghosts?” Tolly smiled.
“Well, yeah.” Gavin nodded.
“You remember how you protected me when I was scared of that priest?” said Tolly.
“Sure, that was just the other day.”
“Well, if you get scared around my friends I’ll protect you too. But you’ve got nothing to worry about; you’ll love them,” Tolly smiled and patted his shoulder reassuringly.
“Ok,” Gavin stiffened up. “Let’s go meet your buddies.”
Gavin moved slowly and cursed his weakness. Tolly continued to smile cheerfully and put his arm around Gavin’s waist for support. They crossed the street and walked up the front steps, to find Mrs. Nesbit with a cup of coffee and Cub Scout Joey tossing a ball up in the air and catching it. Despite all the time he’d spent with Tolly and all the things Tolly had shown him, Gavin was still amazed. Mrs. Nesbit was a tiny old woman with horn rimmed glasses and her hair pulled back in a bun. She gave Gavin a welcoming smile. Cub Scout Joey was a red headed little boy in a Cub Scout uniform who didn’t smile because, Tolly had explained, he’d lost a tooth shortly before his death and was embarrassed by the gap. That didn’t stop Joey’s eyes from sparkling in wonder over the new arrival.
“I see you’ve brought a friend this morning,” said Mrs. Nesbit.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tolly smiled.
“Did he tell you his real name’s Toseland?” Cub Scout Joey giggled. The playful spirit set Gavin at ease.
“Gee whiz, Joey, cut me some slack. I didn’t pick that name,” Tolly groaned.
“He did tell me, Joey,” Gavin smiled. “But I like Tolly better.”
“It beats Tosey,” Joey snickered and went back to tossing his ball in the air.
“Would you like a cookie, dear?” asked Mrs. Nesbit as she offered the tray.
“Uh, sure, thank you,” said Gavin as he took a cookie. Tolly took one too, and once he took a bite, so did Gavin. “Wow, Tolly wasn’t lying. These are good cookies!”
“Aren’t you sweet.” Mrs. Nesbit smiled. “Won’t you take a seat?”
“Thanks.” Gavin smiled back and sat down on the bench seat built into the porch railing.
“Tolly tells us you haven’t been feeling so well,” said Mrs. Nesbit.
“No, I uh, I’ve got cancer,” Gavin sighed.
“How come your hair’s not falling out?” asked Cub Scout Joey with all of a little boy’s innocence.
“Joey!” Tolly exclaimed.
“What?” Joey replied, “Isn’t that what happens when you get cancer?”
“It’s alright,” said Gavin, patting Tolly on the shoulder then turning his attention to Joey. “Your hair doesn’t fall out just because you have cancer. It falls out when you have chemotherapy, and even then, not always.”
“I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well,” said Mrs. Nesbit.
“It’s ok. I’m kind of used to it. I’ve been sick for a long time,” said Gavin. “I was diagnosed with Leukemia when I was six, fought it for years and thought it was gone, but it came back when I was thirteen.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Tolly.
“Being a sick kid isn’t fun. Talking about it isn’t much better.” Gavin offered a weak smile.
“What do you like to do when you’re feeling better?” asked Mrs. Nesbit.
“Oh, I used to be into sports, you know, swimming, soccer, that sort of thing.”
“Baseball?” asked Joey as he caught his ball again.
“Sure,” Gavin winked at the little boy.
“Our Tolly here was quite the basketball player in his day, weren’t you, dear?” Mrs. Nesbit smiled.
“I was ok.” Tolly blushed.
“Who are you?” said a voice from the sidewalk. Tolly stood up and put his hand on Gavin’s shoulder protectively. Mrs. Nesbit got to her feet too and grabbed her broom. Cub Scout Joey scrambled around her and peered from behind her skirt. “I said who are you, new boy?”
“Me?” asked Gavin, a hint of fear creeping into his voice. Whoever this new ghost was, he wasn’t like the others; his gaze made the hair on the back of Gavin’s neck stand up.
“He’s no concern of yours, John. Now get off my lawn,” said Mrs. Nezbit, raising her broom.
John licked his lips and looked at Gavin with a hunger that made his skin crawl. “You can’t watch them all the time, old lady.”
“Wanna bet?” Mrs. Nesbit glared at him.
“Hmpf,” John snorted and stalked off down the street. The four friends watched him, and no one said a word until he rounded a corner.
“That was tense,” Gavin panted. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath.
“You’ve got nothing to fear from him, child. He can’t hurt you,” said Mrs. Nesbit with some authority.
“What about me?” asked Cub Scout Joey.
“I won’t let him hurt you, my sweet boy,” Mrs. Nesbit smiled and pinched his cheek.
“I’m taking Gavin home,” said Tolly.
“It’s ok. We can stay a little longer,” said Gavin. He wasn’t about to let a creep like John run him off.
“No, we can’t; your mom will be home soon,” Tolly reminded him.
“Oh, you’re right,” Gavin sighed, then stood to leave. “It was nice meeting all of you. Thanks for the cookie.”
“You’re very welcome, dear. Come see us again sometime.” Mrs. Nesbit smiled at him.
“Thanks, I will,” Gavin assured her.
“Do you know how they died?” asked Gavin a few minutes later when Tolly helped him back into bed.
“Mrs. Nesbit and Cub Scout Joey?”
“Yeah. I’m curious,” Gavin yawned and snuggled into his pillow.
“Well, Mrs. Nesbit’s house burned down and she died in the fire, and Cub Scout Joey’s ball went in the street. He chased after it without looking and got hit by a car,” Tolly sighed.
“Poor kid. That’s so sad,” said Gavin.
“Yes,” Tolly agreed. “He was such a happy child. I was watching him play when it happened. I tried to grab him, but it was no use; my hand passed right through him.”
“Awww, at least you tried.” Gavin reached out and squeezed Tolly’s hand, then a thought struck him. “Wait a minute. If you couldn’t touch Joey, how come you can touch me?”
“I really don’t know,” Tolly admitted. “You’re the first mortal I’ve been able to touch since I died, and I have no idea why. I asked Mrs. Nesbit, and she doesn’t have a clue either.”
“I have a theory about old Mrs. Nesbit,” said Gavin.
“I don’t think she’s a ghost,” said Gavin.
“Of course she is. Her house burned down and…”
“Tolly, that’s her house across the street, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes,” Tolly agreed.
“And you died before she did, right?”
“Yes, it was several years after I died before I met Mrs. Nesbit.”
“Tolly, I don’t know how you see things, but that house across the street, it’s at least a hundred years old, and there aren’t any signs of there ever having been a fire,” said Gavin. “Do you remember there being a fire? Surely you’d have seen it.”
“Well…no. No, I don’t,” Tolly scratched his head. “But if she’s not a ghost, then what is she?”
“It’s only a theory, but I think she’s your guardian angel,” Gavin smiled.
“But…” Tolly looked confused.
“Think about it. She appeared after you died. She saved you from that John creep, and then today, when he showed up, she was ready to whip his ass with that broom. And did you hear what she said when he told her she couldn’t watch us all the time?”
“She said ‘Wanna bet,’” Tolly repeated the line.
“Sounds to me like she goes to an awful lot of trouble to watch out for you and little Joey,” said Gavin.
“Maybe, but if that’s the case where was she when Joey ran out in front of that car or the night I-I…” Tolly trailed off.
“I don’t know, sweetie. It’s just a theory,” said Gavin.
“Something to think about.” Tolly nodded.
“I need to take a nap. Kiss me good night?” Gavin smiled.
“Sure,” Tolly smiled back, then leaned down and gave Gavin a gentle kiss.
Time passes quickly, more so for the dead, and before Tolly knew it a week had gone by. He was due across the street at Mrs. Nesbit’s in a moment and he sat by Gavin’s bedside, disappointed Gavin couldn’t come with him.
“I’ll be fine,” Gavin assured him.
“Are you sure you’re not just worried about that creep, John, because if he shows up I swear…” Tolly started.
“Tolly, you know I haven’t felt good all week. I just want to stay in bed,” Gavin assured him.
“I could stay with you,” said Tolly.
“No, I’m just going to sleep. Go have one of Mrs. Nesbit’s cookies for me,” Gavin smiled.
“Ok,” Tolly smiled for him. “I’ll see you when you wake up from your nap.”
Tolly leaned down and kissed Gavin then disappeared, leaving him to his rest. Gavin didn’t want to worry Tolly, but he’d felt incredibly weak the past few days, and all he wanted to do was sleep. As soon as Tolly was gone, Gavin pulled the blankets tightly around himself and closed his eyes. His eyes opened like a shot when he heard his mother scream.
Gavin scrambled out of bed and when he stood he recoiled at the sight before him. His body was lying in his bed, and his mother was cradling him in her arms.
“Oh God, oh my baby!” she wailed.
“Oh God,” Gavin began to panic, then he called out, “Tolly!”
Tolly was across the street enjoying his Friday morning cookie with his friends when he heard his name and the fear in Gavin’s voice. He dropped his cookie on the porch and raced across the street. He passed through walls and plumbing until he was at Gavin’s side.
He found Gavin looking healthier than he’d ever seen him. His eyes were clear and bright, there was color in his cheeks; it looked like the years of sickness had faded from his body. Then Tolly noticed Gavin’s mother and what she was holding.
“Oh God,” said Tolly, bringing his fingers to his lips. “It happened.”
“What happened, Tolly?” said Gavin, his voice trembling. “What happened to me?”
Tolly took Gavin’s hand and held it. The warmth was gone; he was as cold as Cub Scout Joey or Mrs. Nesbit. “Gavin, sweetheart, you’ve died.”
“No, no, no,” Gavin protested then started to cry.
“It’s alright. I’m here,” said Tolly, taking Gavin into his arms.
“I know I was sick, but I thought I had more time,” Gavin cried.
“It’s alright, Gavin. We’ll be together now,” Tolly assured him.
“What about my family, my mom and dad, what about Gabby?” said Gavin. “I never asked you about that. What happens to my family now?”
“They, well, they’ll go on,” said Tolly.
“Just like that?” Gavin spat.
“No, they will miss you for a long, long time.” Tolly sighed. “My mother cried for weeks, but it eventually stopped. She talked to me sometimes, and then one day she wasn’t here anymore and a new family moved into the house.”
“Oh God,” Gavin cried and clutched Tolly close.
“It’ll be ok,” Tolly rocked him in his arms, and then a bright white light began to glow in the corner. “No, I won’t let you take him!”
“What is it?” said Gavin as he turned to look into the light.
“It wants to take you,” Tolly trembled. “I won’t let it.”
“I think I have to go with it,” said Gavin, feeling himself drawn to the light and the warmth radiating from it. “Don’t you feel it, Tolly? It’s so warm.”
“You don’t have to go,” Tolly sniffled.
“Yes, he does,” said a woman’s voice. The boys turned toward the source and found Mrs. Nesbit smiling at them from across the room. “And you have to go with him.”
“No, I can’t,” Tolly shuddered.
“What is it?” asked Gavin.
“It is the path to the next plane of existence,” Mrs. Nesbit smiled serenely. “Cross into the light and be at peace.”
“I can’t,” Tolly trembled, “We’ll go to hell because we’re…”
“The light came for you when you died, didn’t it, Tolly?” asked Mrs. Nesbit.
“I couldn’t go into it. I was afraid,” Tolly wiped tears from his cheeks.
“You were a good and decent boy, Toseland Waverly. You’ve earned your peace. Take Gavin’s hand and find comfort together,” said Mrs. Nesbit.
“I can’t,” Tolly closed his eyes and shook his head.
“You must,” said Mrs. Nesbit, taking his hand and putting it into Gavin’s. “There is nothing to fear.”
“It’s alright, Tolly. It’s going to be ok,” said Gavin, mesmerized by the light. “Can’t you feel it?”
“I-I feel the warmth,” said Tolly.
“Come on,” Gavin smiled and took a step forward, pulling Tolly along with him.
Mrs. Nesbit watched the boys until they began to disappear into the light. “Rest well, my children.”
“Oh, Tolly. It’s so beautiful,” Gavin exclaimed.
“I love you, Gavin.”
“I love you too, Tolly.”
Mrs. Nesbit watched as the light vanished from the room and then let out a contented sigh. She left Gavin’s mother to her grief, knowing her child was in a better place.
“What happened?” asked Cub Scout Joey when Mrs. Nesbit returned to the porch.
“He’s finally at peace,” Mrs. Nesbit smiled and patted Joey on the head.