Jamie wasn’t avoiding his bedroom. He knew it was safe. He’d done fine keeping out whatever that ghost thing was and his mother’s additions had made it even safer. That had been obvious in the hours the ghost had spent tapping on the window and trying to scare him while Jamie attempted to sleep.
That ghost could try and mess with him, but that was all it could do. And Jamie obviously wasn’t going to let it chase him out of his own bedroom. He wasn’t avoiding it, he just wasn’t tired yet. He’d go to bed later.
Mom was still up too, sitting at the kitchen table doing some work on her laptop. She glanced into the living room, where Jamie was lying on the couch watching TV. “Jame, end of this episode, you’re going to bed,” she called over.
Jamie rolled his eyes. “Mom, it’s not even that late,” he retorted.
Mom raised an eyebrow and for a second, Jamie thought he was about to get an earful from her. But instead, she took off her glasses and set them down on the table. Then she got up and walked into the living room.
“Jamie,” she said, sitting down next to him on the couch. “You know I have no problem with you sleeping up here. But is there anything you want to talk to me about? Have there been any other problems with Roland?”
Roland, that was the ghost’s name. In his head, Jamie had just been calling him Asshole.
Jamie shrugged. “No, he’s gone.”
“Good,” Mom said. “You know, it’s okay to be nervous. These things make me nervous too. But we’re safe in here, okay? So if you want to go back to your own bed, you don’t need to worry.”
Jamie nodded, but his stomach still felt a little cold at the idea of going downstairs. Mom squeezed his shoulder, then stood back up.
“Hey, Mom?” Jamie said.
“Can you teach me how to do more? Like more magic?”
“Absolutely,” Mom replied.
She started to walk out of the room. “Mom?” he called again.
“Are you sure it’s safe?”
He felt like a little kid asking, but he couldn’t help it. Mom turned around and gave him a soft smile. “I promise.”
He nodded. “Okay.”
“End of the episode,” Mom said, then went back into the kitchen.
Even after seven years in the same apartment, Cleo was somehow still surprised when her lease agreement paperwork arrived in her mailbox in mid-July. She pulled the envelope out and tore into it before she even opened her front door. It was the same routine she went through every year. The letter was neatly folded inside, waiting for her signature. Same apartment, same length lease.
Two hundred dollars more each month in rent.
Two hundred isn’t that bad, Cleo tried to reason as she slid the key in the lock. That was doable. If she made sixty dollars per three hour delivery shift, then that was only four more shifts each month. Minus taxes, so more like five. That was an additional fifteen hours of deliveries. No big deal. And maybe she’d hear back from one of the jobs she’d applied for this week and it wouldn’t be an issue anyway.
She rolled the numbers over in her mind as she walked up the narrow stairs to her apartment. Maybe more like seven shifts, considering she had to pay for gas. And the extra gas would probably even out to about a shift’s pay. Maybe she could shave something off of her budget to balance it out a little. Netflix. She didn’t need Netflix. That would save ten dollars a month. Now she just had to figure out the additional hundred and ninety.
Why couldn’t Cleo breathe properly? Her chest was tight and cold and she couldn’t take a full breath, no matter how hard she tried. Was this how her mom felt all the time?
Her mom. She had never called Dr. Degas, Cleo was sure of it. Cleo should really take a bigger role in her mother’s health. But she barely had time to get out to her house or Edie’s as it was. And with the additional shifts she had to do now that her rent was going up, that would cut that time down even more.
Her hands were shaking and it took several tries to get the key into the lock on her apartment door. She could barely afford the gas money to get to her mom’s house as it was. Could she squeeze in another shift to make up the difference? Maybe do some deliveries in Worcester before seeing her mom or Edie? Or maybe she could just cut her grocery bill. No more takeout, that was easy enough. She could cook for herself every night.
In the few hours she had at home. And with her already tight grocery budget. Who was she kidding? She barely got takeout these days anyway.
Her front door finally swung open and the sight of her apartment, so familiar and so lived in, should have filled her with comfort. But instead she just felt even more stressed. It was a mess. The living room was scattered with laundry, and she knew the other rooms were no cleaner. She worked so hard to have this apartment and she couldn’t even keep it clean.
Shaking, Cleo reached her couch and collapsed onto it, trying to take deep breaths and slow her racing heart. It was okay, it was going to be okay. Cleo could swing another two hundred a month, that was no big deal.
Her mind was racing through her budget so quickly that she barely noticed the tears on her cheeks.