Trying to Live With the Dead – B.L. Brunnemer

I pulled my Dad’s old ‘89 Chevy Blazer to a stop outside my Uncle Rory’s house. I sighed and turned off the truck. New town, new house, new school and new people. It’s not like being the new girl in school is anything new. I’d been forced to go to twelve different schools in the last five years since Dad died. I found it amazing I passed anything at all. I looked back to the house. It was an old two-story craftsmen with its multiple pane windows and a new coat of sage green paint. Thanks to Uncle Rory, this year was going to be normal. No more moving, no more changing schools, no more having to work a part-time job to make sure we had enough food in the pantry. I rested my head against my seat and closed my eyes. This year was going to be normal. As if I would know what normal is. A chill ran down the back of my neck, I groaned. Come on, I just got here.

I sighed and opened my eyes. Standing at the side of the wooded road not ten feet away stood a man who looked to be in his early thirties. His eyes fixed on the lake, moving over the surface as if he was searching for something. My throat ached as I watched him. I knew before he turned to walk down the road; his throat was slashed wide open, and white bone glistened out of the gaping wound. I gritted my teeth while I fumbled for my phone in my pocket and pretended to check my messages. He came closer. Shit. My throat closed, pain radiating up to my jaw and down to my chest. I took deep breaths and pretended I couldn’t see the dead man.

As he came closer, the pain increased. My head throbbed as he walked past me. Come on, buddy, move faster. I started struggling to get air into my lungs. The pain in my head increased as his memories poured into my mind. No, nope, don’t want to know. I closed my eyes and focused on pushing them away. I knew what he wanted; I felt it. He needed to tell someone his story. And I really didn’t want to deal with this right now.

It felt like hours later when the pain finally faded and I was able to take a deep breath again. When I couldn’t feel the dead man anymore, I opened my eyes and adjusted my side mirror with my shaking hand. He was about fifteen feet down the road – it didn’t look like he noticed me. I’ve been in town not even ten minutes, and the dead were already walking by. It was a new record even for me. I don’t want to see the dead, but I didn’t get much of a choice. The Sight has been passed down through my family since the beginning; though it only affects the women. Lucky me. I closed my eyes, suddenly tired. Please just let the dead stay away tomorrow.

I don’t know who I was asking or if I’d ever get an answer. All the other answers to my request have been no. This one will probably be the same. Tucking my cell phone back into the inside pocket of my leather jacket, I slid out of the Blazer. I pulled out my duffel bag and the small box of art supplies that I had managed to collect over the years. Shutting the door with my hip, I headed for the house, ignoring the paved pathway. I was grateful to Rory for letting me stay here, but I knew he had his hands full already with my cousin Tara. I rang the bell, promising myself that I wouldn’t be a pain in the ass for him. The door opened and I looked up. Tall and fit, even I could admit my uncle was good looking.

His brown eyes had always been filled with mischief. Even though he was a police officer for the Spring Mountain Police Department, he never lost his childish streak when it came to practical jokes. Rory ran a hand over his short copper hair. He was blinking against the daylight. His blue jeans were rumpled, as was his white t-shirt. “Lexie?” Rory seemed to be waking up. “Sorry, I must have passed out.” He reached out and took the box from my hands. He gave me a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. These weren’t the best circumstance for a reunion, but it is what it is.

I gave him a small smile back as I stepped into the house. The house looked like one big room. The family room area was to my right, with a blue couch and matching armchairs. A big entertainment center filled the wall a few feet from the door. The kitchen was further in the back, to the right, in its own alcove. It was clean and full of stainless steel and had a big window above the sink. The dining area was to the left with a dark wood dining room table that could easily seat eight. It looked homey. I liked it. “Come on, honey, let’s go get your things from the car,” Rory said.

“This is everything.” I started checking out the photos on the wall to my left. They continued all the way up the stairs to the second floor. I could see Tara in most of them. It took a minute before I realized that Rory wasn’t moving. I looked back to him; he was frowning. “This is everything?” he asked with an edge of disbelief. “A duffel bag of clothes and a box of stuff? That’s everything you own?” I took a deep breath, refusing to be embarrassed. I had busted my ass for that box of stuff, not to mention my clothes. I didn’t have much, but I’d earned everything I had.

“Yeah, Rory. That’s everything,” I said honestly, trying to keep the challenge from my voice. I don’t think I managed it. Rory gave me a small grin. “Well, we’ll have to fix that,” he said turning and heading up the stairs before I could ask him what he meant. “Come on, I’ll show you your room, and then we can figure out what you need.” I followed him up the light pine staircase. It had a railing so you could look down into the living room and at the front door. There were three doors in the hallway; one on the left, one directly ahead, and an open door that looked like the bathroom. Without turning around, he pointed out the left door with his thumb.

“That’s Tara’s room.” He then pointed to the door at the other end of the hall. “That’s the bathroom for you and Tara.” He turned to me, his face serious. “That bathroom is for both of you. She’ll probably give you a hard time in the morning, don’t let her.” He reached the door straight across from the stairs and opened it. “And here is your room. Sorry it’s so small.” I stepped into the bedroom and smiled.

The room looked huge to me. The white walls were plain but bright, the dark wood floor was clean. Across the room and against the wall sat a twin-sized mattress on a wooden platform frame with three drawers underneath. To the left of that was a metal and wooden desk with different colored drawers. I stepped further into the room and looked at the light wooden shelves on the left wall. “It’s the biggest room I’ve had in a long time,” I told him, not bothering to keep my surprise from my voice as I went to examine the closet. There was an actual closet! Not a cabinet! I opened the door and was amazed by the room I was getting. “I was sleeping on that pullout bed from the dinette set,” I said absently. I left the closet and put my bag on the bed. When I turned around, Rory’s face was frowning again, his lips in a tight line.

“Damn it, Alexis.” He cursed, running his hand over his face before catching my eyes with his. “What your mother kept putting you through….” I swallowed hard as I looked around, trying to find any way to avoid this conversation. He stepped into the room and dropped the box onto the desk, then pulled out the chair and sat down. “Sit down, kid.” I sighed deeply. I didn’t want this conversation. I sat on the twin bed, absently noticing how soft it was. “How are the bruises?” My head jerked up.

His eyes stared into mine, demanding an answer. “Big red marks, big bruises, and soreness,” I answered lightly as I felt my collar to make sure my jacket still covered any bruises near my neck. “You know how redheads bruise, it looks worse than it is.” I didn’t want to talk about this. I just wanted to forget it ever happened and move on. By the look on Rory’s face, that wasn’t going to happen. “I talked to your mom’s doctor today,” he began. I put my hands on the bed behind me and leaned back. I instantly regretted it as pain shot through my shoulders. I sat back up, hands dangling between my thighs.

Rory waited until I stopped moving before continuing. I paid attention even though I was sure I knew what Rory was going to say. “She was way over the legal limit on alcohol. They also found cocaine in her system.” I nodded; yeah, that’s what I thought he’d say. I didn’t care. My mother had come after me. She beat the shit out of me. I was done with her. “They’re charging her,” he continued.

“They’ll send her to rehab for a couple months, then she’ll either be released until trial, or she’ll be held until trial. If she tries to come get you, she can go to hell.” His voice was hard as he looked into my eyes. My heart slammed in my chest. I dropped my gaze, fighting to keep control of myself. Rory actually cared. No one had cared in a really long time. “I’ve already got a lawyer working to get me permanent custody of you. Even if she’s acquitted, which I highly doubt will happen, my lawyer said he could tie her up in red tape long enough for you to turn eighteen.” Rory reached out and lifted my chin till I was looking him in the eye again.

“You’re never going back with her, Lexie.” I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t. No more moving, no more new schools. I was going to be able to have a normal life–well, as normal as it can be with the Sight. I didn’t know what the hell to say. “Thank you,” I managed to say, my voice choking off as my eyes filled. I bit down on the tip of my tongue to push them back; it worked. “You’re home now, Lexie,” Rory said, smiling a small smile. “You’re stuck with us.

” I snorted. It was more the other way around, but I’ll take it. Rory clapped, startling me. He stood up, rubbing his hands together. “Now, show me what you have for clothes and we’ll go shopping to fill in the gaps.” I got up, opened my bag, and began pulling out the few clothes I had. “You don’t need to buy me clothes, I’ll get a part-time job and…” I began laying out my clothes for him to see. “If you want a job, that’s fine.” His voice grew firm. “But I want you to focus on researching the Sight, finding anything you can.

” I met his eyes again; he was serious. “I’m sick of the women in our family dying from this,” he continued. “I want you to have control. Understand?” I nodded, my heart warming. Having someone who actually cared about how I was doing was new, but good. “I’ve already got some feelers out working on that,” I answered, fighting a smile. I picked up one of my shirts and went to put it on a hanger. “Don’t bother with that now, we need to head over to the school and get you registered. Hopefully, they got your records by now.” Rory was already heading back downstairs, clearly expecting me to follow.

I tossed the shirt down on the bed and went to my box. I dug through it until I finally found the flash drive I kept my school records on. I tucked it into the pocket of my black leather jacket and followed. Rory was already opening the door and heading out. I hurried downstairs to walk out the door then stopped cold. Rory was standing in front of the Blazer with a strange look on his face. “Is this your dad’s old Blazer?” he asked, his voice thick as if he was holding something back. I walked over to stand next to him, looking over the old SUV. “Yeah, I’ve been trying to keep her running.” I hoped he didn’t mind, it was the only thing of Dad’s that I managed to keep Mom from selling.

He nodded, seeming to make up his mind about something. “Needs a new coat of paint,” Rory mumbled before opening the door and looking inside. “New interior, new seats.” Was he making a list? “Rory?” My voice seemed to snap his attention back to me. He gave me a sheepish grin. “Your Dad loved this thing; did you know that?” I shook my head, my heart heavy. I remembered riding around in it as a kid. The weekend camping trips he’d decide to take at the drop of a hat. “How’s it running?” he asked as he shut the door and headed back toward the driveway. “Not bad, but it shakes when you go to seventy.

” We were climbing into Rory’s newer Toyota when I added, “You’re not fixing my Blazer.” He snorted. “How about just getting the engine checked? The Blazer shaking worries me.” He pulled the truck out of the driveway and headed down the road back to town. “It could be dangerous.” He acted as if he didn’t want to mention it. But I highly doubted it. Rory had always been a charmer. Dad used to say he had a silver tongue and the charm of a devil. I sighed, giving in a little.

“Fine, just the engine, Rory. But I’m paying you back for it.” Rory snickered. He actually snickered. Spring Mountain High School was unlike any other high school I had ever seen. The single-story brick buildings were spread out. The students were traveling from building to building. The roofs had enough overhang that it created covered hallways between the buildings. I watched several other teenagers hurrying from the front of the gymnasium towards the other buildings as Rory parked the truck in a small parking lot. “Come on, let’s get your schedule set up.

” AN HOUR LATER, we were back at the truck. I was looking over my new schedule. AP World Civilization, English, Algebra 2, AP Chemistry, lunch period, then gym and Art. I hated being stuck with a gym class, but the woman in the office said the class was actually a good one. Apparently, they did yoga or something. I was too busy going over my schedule and finding the rooms on my map to notice where Rory was driving. When I finally looked up, I realized we were out of town and on the highway. “Where are we going?” “Shopping,” Rory told me smugly. I looked over at Rory and glared at him. Rory just smiled, pleased with himself.

“Lexie, this isn’t California, you need winter clothes; it’s going to snow next month,” he explained, gesturing towards the surrounding mountains. “You don’t have to go crazy, but you need at least enough to get through the week without doing laundry.” He took a deep breath then mumbled, “And then some.” I pretended to not hear that last part. I sighed deeply. I hated to admit it, but he was right. It would be nice not to have to do laundry every few days. “Fine, you win,” I said. Rory snickered again. I rolled my eyes; he was such a kid sometimes.

We drove into a larger town than Spring Mountain; Northridge, the sign said. It wasn’t long until he parked in the mall parking lot. I got out of the truck, resigned. Rory came around the front of the truck, beaming. “Come on, we’ll hit a department store or something,” he said as I followed him into one of the larger stores. I resigned myself to the inevitable as we walked past make-up and perfume counters. Between the fact that I hadn’t bought new clothes in the last year and his demand for my need of winter wear, I wasn’t really that unwilling. I just hated having to spend the money. We walked into the women’s section of the store. Rory turned around twice and scratched his head.

He gestured at the clothes. “Have at it.” I bit the corner of my bottom lip, suddenly uncomfortable. I hated feeling uncomfortable. I pushed it aside and began looking around at the racks of clothes. In no time at all, I had almost more than I could carry. I looked around for Rory, but I couldn’t find him. An older girl, around her twenties, came over. “Hi, I’m Karen, are you Lexie?” I nodded. “Your Uncle Rory asked me to help you get everything you needed, including bras and underwear.

” I bit my tongue to keep from cursing at Rory. The guy just had to keep pushing. “He said he’s going to walk around the mall and come back after a while,” Karen said. Sighing, I gave in and handed over a bunch of hangers. “Let’s get a room started for you and put this stuff inside. Then we’ll get some bras and try on everything at once. Oh, and your uncle wanted me to tell you to pick up some sheets and a comforter,” she said with a big friendly smile. In the end, Karen was a godsend. Karen helped me get the bras in the right bra size, which was way off what I had been wearing–no one ever told me bras could be comfortable. I now had more than enough clothes for school and at home.

We were just bringing out the clothes when Rory showed up outside the fitting rooms. “How’d we do?” he asked, looking at the large pile of clothes on the counter. “We did very well.

.

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