Watch for me by moonligh.., p.18
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       Watch for Me by Moonlight, p.18
 

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  As Merry began to walk her bike for the last block, she suddenly caught a glimpse of Sasha, a flash of white in her old-fashioned uniform, running down the Highlands’ front steps and jumping into a car. It wasn’t exactly a wreck but was too beat-up for anyone like Sawyer Brownlee to drive. And it wasn’t Sasha’s. She kissed whoever was driving, only a shadow to Merry at that distance. Merry paused. There were too many pieces in her head. None of them seemed to fit. Was this what her sister and Drew had seen when they made their own undercover visit to the Highlands’? No, Mally said that Sasha had been driving her own car. No, a truck! She’d been driving a truck. This was Sasha’s car—Merry recognized it now—but someone else was driving. Who? It wasn’t as though Sasha and Sawyer were some big romance, but she hadn’t said anything about being close enough to somebody that she’d give him her car.

  As the car pulled past her, Merry moved behind an evergreen to watch. She saw Sasha pull off the old nurse’s hat and shake her hair loose, cuddling close to the guy who was driving. Confused, Merry pushed her bike forward, right into a tree limb. It clattered to the ground. Merry glanced around her and then righted the back and began to turn it inward, toward the dark sidewalk. When she lifted her head, she found herself looking up—at Ben.

  “I’ve seen people fall off their bikes but never fall over walking one,” he said, his arms reaching out for her. “Are you okay? ”

  “I’m fine, but Sasha ... Ben, I have to tell you something.”

  “What, baby?”

  “Do you like Sasha?” Merry asked.

  “I told you once I didn’t. Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”

  “She is giving your mom medicine she shouldn’t be having. I saw it. Your mom isn’t as weak as she seems, Ben. You know about my sister and me. Don’t ask questions. It’s something I just know.”

  “What makes you able to see things like that?”

  “A birth defect,” Merry said, with a sad smile.

  “Be serious.”

  “I am serious. It’s how I told your parents. About you and me. They believe me, Ben. They believe I know you and that I care about you.”

  “What? This is unbelievable.”

  “You remember when you said to me that night at the church, that it was a family thing? This is, too. Brynn girls have seen in their dreams back for generations. Most of the time, it’s like something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But right now, I’m grateful. It’s the road that brought me to you.” Ben held out his arms and Merry tried to lean into his embrace. “I can’t do anything for us. Not now. But it’s possible that I could help your mom. Everyone thinks of her as cranky, but I realize now she’s just ... sad. She’s not really getting sicker from her heart. It’s something else,” Meredith said. “I think Sasha is doing something to my little brother, too.”

  “That’s just insane!” Ben said. “I know my mother is sad. Lately more than ever. She keeps saying she wants ‘proof.’ She tells my dad that every day. And I believe you,” he said. “I don’t trust Sasha either. She’s phony. But my mother ... she doesn’t hear me. It’s like she’s deaf.”

  Merry pulled off her glove and put it in Ben’s palm.

  “Keep this for me,” she said. “You wanted it so much.”

  This wasn’t the time to try to explain everything that weighed heavily, unanswered, between them. Her own quandary was the same as Ben’s. She couldn’t march up to Ben’s door and tell his father that Sasha was administering the wrong medicines. She couldn’t ask her mother to make a house call on a near-total stranger—especially about Sasha, her right hand. But she could, she realized, write a note. Plenty of people didn’t bring their mail in every day. There was a good chance the Highlands’ mail was still in there. Laying her bike down on the walk in front of Ben’s house, she opened the Highlands’ mailbox. There was a stack of white envelopes. “I don’t have a pen,” she told Ben. “But I’m going to tell your parents for you.”

  “There’s one in my father’s woodshop in the garage,” he said, taking off silently at a run.

  Using her left hand for purposes of concealment, Merry—who, unlike her sister, was right-handed-wrote: PLEASE HAVE HELENE’S MEDICINES CHECKED BY HER REGULAR DOCTOR. THERE IS A DANGER. THIS IS REAL.

  “I have to go home now,” Merry then said to Ben.

  “Not now. Come in. My father’s asleep. I’m sorry if I frightened you before.”

  “You didn’t frighten me. I wanted to lie close to you,” Merry said. “I’m not going to get that chance, though. Not in this life. We can’t. I won’t be able to walk down the aisle to you. I won’t be able to make love to you.”

  “That’s not why I love you, Merry. I can wait until you’re older.”

  If only you could. “I just never felt real love before.”

  “You love me? ” Merry asked.

  “Don’t you know?”

  “I know how I feel. You’ve never said that. You said if I said I loved you...”

  “I do love you, Merry. I want to be with you always,” Ben said.

  “I want that, too,” Merry replied, her heart literally knotting, then tearing, as though someone were wrenching it in two. What could she say? What should she do?

  “My parents think you’re the sweetest thing in the world. They talked about you all night the other night. Just like I wasn’t there.”

  Merry couldn’t breathe.

  “I’ll come in. If you’re sure we won’t wake anyone.”

  “I promise,” Ben said.

  “And I can only stay an hour,” Merry told him. “Promise.”

  “I do.” Ben put up his palm and Merry laid her small hand near his. Then they ran up the fire escape and gently opened Ben’s window.

  When Merry climbed back on her bike, her body ached with a glorious unfulfilled longing. Ben had told her what he wanted to be—a bat biologist, to help the good and helpless creatures so many feared, to restore the places they could fly free. She had told Ben every secret of her life, including every detail of “the gift” except that it included her sister. That was Mallory’s truth, and Merry had no right to share it. She had extracted his promise to meet her tomorrow after practice, outside school. The sky was gray and it was four a.m.; far more time had passed than the promised hour.

  Merry had just an hour to sleep, and then she had promised to go with her grandmother to church. When she got downstairs, her mother was just hanging up the phone.

  “That was Sasha. Her day off and poor Mrs. Highland has had a heart attack,” Campbell said. “She was rushed to the hospital this morning. Sasha decided to stay there with Mr. Highland.”

  “Is she dead? Is Mrs. Highland dead?” Merry asked.

  “No, Merry. Why so urgent?”

  “I feel very sorry for her since the thing with her son,” Merry said quickly. “I used to think that she was mean. But she helped me with some history about the Vietnam War. She’s actually very nice. I guess she has a bad reputation for not liking very many people. She was kind to me, though. Maybe I’ll go see her tomorrow.”

  “That would be very nice of you.” Campbell hugged Meredith. “You look very pretty.”

  “Don’t worry,” said Meredith, thinking how massive her mother’s regret might be if Merry chose to ... be with Ben forever. She could think it and even say it. But she couldn’t imagine choosing to cross over with Ben. “Will Mrs. Highland be okay?”

  “They got there in time to give her drugs to stop much of the damage, I think, thanks to Sasha,” Campbell said. “We have her to thank too. Think if she hadn’t been here the times Owen got sick.”

  But she never was, Merry thought. Somebody else always was. But Sasha was there first.

  THE GHOST WHO LOVED ME

  “Mal, can you skip going home with Drew tonight? Can we ask Dad to pick us up?” Merry asked after school the next day.

  “Why?” Mallory asked. The shadows were growing longer; spring was putting out its tender secrets. In just a few weeks, prom wou
ld come and a week after it, graduation. An aimless, endless summer stretched ahead. But for once, Mally knew it would indeed end. And she had long since begun guarding her every moment with Drew, even as he tried to turn his face toward college.

  “I want you to meet Ben,” Meredith asked. “I want you to see that he’s real. Even if he isn’t real, he’s human.”

  “It’s some kind of existential matter, I guess,” Mally answered. “But I’ll wait,” she said, texting Drew that she’d catch a ride home and explain later.

  “If I do anything, I want you to know why,” Meredith said softly.

  “Do anything?” Mallory asked. “When you said ‘do anything,’ for a moment, I thought you meant ... dying. Actually dying. But you didn’t.” Mallory paused. “Did you, ’Ster?”

  “Do you think that’s what would happen? Do you think I’d have to drink poison like Juliet? To be with Ben?”

  “It was a dagger and Meredith! This is the most bizarre discussion I’ve ever had in my life with you or anyone else. Are you actually seriously even for a second considering killing yourself to be with Ben? Did he ask you to?”

  “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I go back and forth.” She imagined the steely light that intruded between her and Ben whenever they tried to touch. What if she simply stepped through it, instead of falling back? What if she went into that bright light?

  “If you take one more step in that direction, I’m telling Mom, and she can have you hospitalized on a seventy-two-hour hold.”

  “You wouldn’t do that.” Meredith stood quietly into the hazy sun.

  “Watch me,” Mallory said.

  “If you loved someone, would you want him to pass over alone? Would you want Drew to pass over alone?”

  Mallory got up and began stretching and twisting, warming up her calves and shoulders as she did before a soccer game. “Merry, if there is an other side, do you really think he’d be the only one there? Heaven is supposed to be better. I hate to sound vulgar, but there are a lot more dead people than living people. Cute girls, too.”

  Meredith hadn’t thought of that. It wasn’t exactly soothing. But she recognized that what she felt was beyond common sense, beyond considerations of wisdom or foolishness. She didn’t want to die. She wasn’t the dying-over-a-guy type, like the little heartbroken girl in the attic. For that girl, she knew the boy who left her behind was the only one. Something had happened between them that made the future impossible.

  Meredith’s future was wide and bright, even without Ben. She relaxed. Perhaps there was an order to things.

  “When will he show up?” Mallory asked. “I’ve never met a ghost. You do accept that he’s a ghost now, right?” Merry nodded. “Does he come out in the daytime?”

  “Mallory! Most of the ghosts I’ve seen have been around in the daytime. We only prefer the night for the same reasons you and Drew prefer it. It’s private.”

  “You’d look like you were talking to yourself otherwise.”

  “How can you be so unkind?” Merry asked.

  Mallory stopped. “I’m sorry. Giggy,” she added, the twin language for “I love you.”

  “Do you think they walk around dragging chains at midnight?”

  “I have no idea. But I really am sorry.” Mally did a quick check to make sure that no one passing could hear them.

  “I’ll meet him, and then I’ll go. But as for doing anything, just rule that out, Merry. ’Ster, please. Think twice. Then think twice again.” To Merry’s surprise, Mallory’s eyes, in the fading sunlight, filled with tears. “I don’t think this situation has a lot of previous data. But I know I can’t do without you.”

  Just then, Meredith began to run. She threw open her arms and was lifted off her feet in ways that she could easily do, cheering. But not without trying. Someone had lifted Merry. It was someone that Mallory couldn’t see.

  She strived, with every filament of her ability, to do that. But the rules of “the gift” stood between her and ... and Ben, like an impenetrable shield. She could see only the future. Ben belonged to the past.

  There was no doubt anymore.

  Merry turned to her sister, her face a beacon of joy. She looked like an angel already. No, thought Mallory. No, I will not let her go—not for Ben, not for anyone.

  This ends here. Here and now.

  “Mallory,” Merry said. “This is Ben Highland.”

  Mallory didn’t know what she would say. She did know that she would, however, give Ben the grace of speaking to him, as though he were there, which she believed that he was in some way, in some sense, in some form.

  “Ben, hi. He ... he can hear me. Can’t he?” Mally asked.

  “He can hear you. He says he saw you kicking balls with Adam at the lagoon. He thought it was me. He didn’t know I was a twin before then.” At the thought of being seen by someone who wasn’t visible—and Ben could hardly be the only one around—Mallory felt a quaking in her spine.

  She gathered her nerves then and said, “Ben, I’m not only a twin. Maybe Merry has told you about us.”

  “I have,” Merry said. “About me at least.”

  “Well, what she says goes for both of us. Except that she can see the past, but I can only see the future. Which is why I can’t see you. I ... very much wish I could see my sister’s first love. I know what it’s like to feel you could fly. I felt that way once. But it had to end because life got in the way of it. Life wouldn’t allow it.”

  “Don’t,” Merry warned her. “Don’t try to decide for me, Mally.”

  “Ben, my sister would give everything for you. Love makes you that way. It’s bigger than the sky. My best friend gave everything for love—for love of my friendship and for the man she loved. It ruined her life. But when they say love is blind ...” Mallory had to stop, unsure of what she really meant but sure she had to make every word count. “I don’t think they mean it makes you blind to other people’s faults. I think it means it makes you blind to everything else. Meredith has a family who loves her like your family loves you. Friends who are crazy about her. She has little brothers who need her.” Mallory took a step forward. There was a sense in the air, a difference in the quality of light she could almost see. She turned toward it and continued, “And, Ben, she has me. You don’t know what it’s like to be a twin. If you take Merry from us, if you let Merry make that choice, and it’s a horrible choice, you’ll kill half of me, too. I know. My grandmother has lived for sixty-six years without her twin sister. And she’s a happy person but not like she would have been ...”

  “Mallory, this isn’t your choice,” Merry said. “Of course, I will let her finish, Ben,” she said, as if in answer to someone else’s comment. “I’m not discounting what she says. But I have my own mind, too.” She added, “Mallory, he doesn’t know why he’s here. Or still here.”

  Then he has to, Mallory thought. He has to because this is going too far and Merry shouldn’t have to bear all the grief.

  “Just let me finish, Mer, and then you can say whatever you need to say to Ben. My grandma tells me openly that she was never the same after her twin died. If my own twin died on purpose, and I had that to live with for the rest of my own life, I don’t know if I could go on. So if you really love Merry, let her go. She can tell you why.”

  “How could you, Mallory? Now I have to say this.”

  “How could you not say it, Merry? Don’t you think he deserves that much?”

  Meredith turned to Ben—grateful to Mallory, hating Mallory. She reached up and put her hands on his shoulders. She began, “Ben, what did you do after high school?”

  “I never finished school,” Ben said, with a kind of terror in his eyes. Merry could smell under his piney-cinnamon scent the coppery tang of fear.

  “Did I want to be a solider? I only wanted to be what David was. My older brother. I wanted to be brave. I didn’t think it was fair to skip out and just go to college and write poetry.”

  “What happened to you?” Merry asked
gently.

  Ben leaned against the flagpole and looked, achingly, the way he had the moment Meredith first saw him. “I ... I went to boot camp, and I realized that I hated it. I hated all of it. I hated it to the bottom of my soul. Every minute. I could never kill anybody. But I couldn’t back out. Other guys pretended they were crazy. They took pills to make their hearts beat too fast. But I couldn’t do that. And then, and then ...”

  “You went to Southeast Asia,” said Mallory. “Tell him that.”

  “He’s remembering. You don’t have to coach him,” Merry said. It was Ben’s life. It was Ben’s death.

  He told Meredith, “We were told to find the enemy. But out in that jungle, you couldn’t see anyone. They were in the trees and hidden in the grass.” Merry stood closer as Ben sat down on the black iron fence that enclosed the school’s flagpole and capstone. Merry could feel something stirring, Ben’s warm breath against her hair. “I remember the dirt and the smoke and the heat and never being able to sleep, always being afraid. Guys went crazy. Guys shot themselves, Merry. They shot themselves in the legs so they’d be disabled and sent home. And a few, they shot themselves dead because they went crazy. And I kept swearing I would just live through it. I wouldn’t be a hero. I would just live through it. Just a year.”

  “But then ...” Merry prompted him.

  “But then, I hadn’t been there two weeks when there was a battle. We had to fight our way up a hill. It was suicide. I had a friend. From boot camp. His name was Ian. And he came from a family like mine. Who didn’t want us there. So we hung around together. We traded books. We looked out for each other because there were guys who were crazy. There were guys who would kill a kid.” Ben began to cry, and Merry tried not to notice, even as his hot tears fell somehow—marks like raindrops on the dry ground.

 
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