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episode ten - the powerful part one

You'd think that I'd get over Haley Manning. Once upon a time, sure, we were lovers, or whatever you'd call two kids who think they're gonna end up together. And, to be honest, I pretty much still think I want that, the two of us happily ever after. But, I know she doesn't want it anymore. Or, I know that she isn't so sure about it anymore. She IS with Kyle these days, not with me. But, strong feelings have a way of sticking with us, a way of just never letting go, no matter how hard we try to force them away.

But, considering all that, considering that I was still not over Haley, it's a bit odd that I was so hesitant to tell her about Olivia Cross showing up in my room, about the possibility that Sam Carson might be hurting Jaimie, or that I was gonna have to be the one to do something about it. I could get into the specifics of my conversation with Olivia, but really, ghost or not, she didn't know much of what was going on; she just had suspicions. Maybe it was that, and the implicit possibility that I was crazy like my mother and Olivia was now just a hallucination of my own making trying to get me to listen to suspicions, if i even had any, I had about Sam Carson and those bruises that Jaimie had every once in a while, that kept me from telling Haley. I mean, wouldn't that make sense? I'm in love with you Haley, and there's a chance I could be crazy or, if not, I've been visited by the ghost of that girl we knew very briefly three years back that killed herself, so is there any chance you will dump Kyle and come back to me? I can just imagine that. Wouldn't Haley just be so eager to jump at the chance of being with me? I mean, sure she loves me and all, always has, probably always will, but so what? My dad loves my mom too, but she's still up there at Cedar Cliff. And, at thirteen, I really don't think the love between me and Haley can survive me being stuck in Cedar Cliff alongside my mother . . .

Yeah, I'm talking about love again. I can hear some of you groaning. So, I'm thirteen? So what? Does that mean I don't know what love is? What the hell do you think kids do? Sit around and not care about each other? This world would be one awful place if kids never cared about each other. Trust me, kids care about each other, kids love each other. Sure, we pretend like we don't, we act like girls are yucky, boys have cooties, but damn it, that doesn't mean we don't have real feelings underneath those exteriors. It's not like . . .

See, now I'm digressing. But, I think I warned you once that I do that. So, stop listening or suffer through it, ok.

Haley and I loved each other when we were little kids. And, we certainly still loved each other when she nearly died falling off King's Fate. That fall may have handicapped whatever we had then and aborted that promising love in our future, but there was still love left behind. We remained the best of friends. In that brief time that Olivia Cross was around, I spent more time with her than I did with Haley, but it wasn't like Haley and I stepped completely out of each other's lives or anything. And, since Olivia died, though I'd spent a lot of time looking after Jaimie, it's not like I didn't still spend a hell of a lot of time with Haley. Even after she hooked up with Kyle DeMetz and had her first "boyfriend"--our engagement to be married when we were nine obviously not mattering so much anymore--I still stuck around. Sure, a lot of the time, I just stuck around hoping against hope that Haley would see me there, her constant companion, and decide I was better than Kyle, had always been better than Kyle, and she would come back to me. But still, what do my motivations matter?

No, that's not right. Obviously, my motivations matter. I mean, that morning after Olivia showed up in my room, and I wanted so much to tell Haley all about it, I saw this look in her eyes, this beautiful smile--I think I've talked before about Haley's smile, it's ability to make the saddest of men drop down to thank God--and saw how both that look and that smile were directed at Kyle, and for a moment I wanted to tell her about the ghost and the whole situation with Jaimie and her mother's boyfriend not because I thought I might be able to use Haley's help but because I thought I could occupy her so much with worry that she wouldn't have time to look at Kyle that way, to smile at Kyle that way. Whatever that is, spite I suppose, I didn't like Kyle much as her boyfriend. There were moments, I admit, that Kyle was still my friend, but when it was Kyle and Haley, Kyle was the enemy, the competition, my nemesis. And, whether Olivia's ghost was real or all in my mind--insanity just the best of inheritances (sorry for the sarcasm, but this whole subject just bothers me to no end)--I thought I could use her to get Haley away from Kyle, at least for a while. And, the more time Haley spent with me, the more she could figure out what I still knew, that we were meant for each other.

I know, I know. We're thirteen years old. We aren't meant for anyone. Not yet anyway. But, god, can't you just think back for a moment and remember a time when love wasn't some elusive thing but something just plain magical, a remnant of a fairy tale or what have you, something that existed all around you even when it didn't?

Does that even make sense?

I'll just put it like this: I may be thirteen, but I love Haley Manning. And, if I could decide now how I want my future to go and know that it would comply with my decision, I would pick her as my wife, and we'd live happily ever after. Kyle would lose.

The thing is, when Haley saw me that morning, and I started to say something about Olivia, Haley made a face. It wasn't one of disgust; Haley never really disliked Olivia--in fact, I'm pretty sure she liked her. But, it was something bordering on disappointment or distaste. And, though I'm sure I'd noticed some sort of thing wedging itself between me and Haley besides her thing with Kyle, and though I'd probably recognized that all my time with Jaimie, not to mention how often I spoke of Olivia (sometimes so much that you'd think the two of us had been friends for years not just those few weeks), was a big part of it, for the first time I could really see it clearly. Well, I saw two things clearly. First, Haley obviously did not see just how stuck I was on her, on my whole love for her and the belief that we could still end up together, my wish that Kyle would just drop out of the picture. And, second, Haley, after hearing me talk and talk about Olivia for three years, and watching me look after Jaimie and spend time with a bunch of kids years younger than we were, believed that while not being stuck on her, I WAS stuck on Olivia. Girlfriend to Kyle DeMetz or not, friend to me or not, Haley was jealous of Olivia Cross. The mere mention of her name got a look like a bad aftertaste from breakfast has just taken its place in the back of her throat.

And, of course, there was that whole little bit in my head about me maybe being crazy and it not really being Olivia's ghost at all, so I said nothing more. I don't recall exactly how I steered that conversation, how I got off the subject of Olivia and onto something else, or if I was even able to do that or if the conversation just died because I was at a loss for words--chances are, it was that last one, cause I remember Haley's confused look as she walked away, her throwing up her arms like she was giving up. Whatever happened, I did NOT tell Haley that morning about Olivia being in my room the night before. And, I don't know if this makes sense or not, but if it wasn't important enough or real enough to be told right away, it just didn't seem important enough or real enough to be told at all. So, I decided to leave Haley out of it. I could always find something else later to try monopolizing her time. For now, I had something important. I probably even told myself this was a life or death situation--kinda stupid thinking that, when I didn't even know yet if Sam Carson had even touched Jaimie, let alone if he would go so far as to ever do something that might cost her her life--and as a life or death situation this was more important than my love for Haley or my battle with Kyle.

But, I still wanted to tell someone. I thought of telling one of my sisters, but found some excuse not to tell each one. Ruby, too old to believe in ghosts anyway, would think I was being childish and wouldn't even bother listening to the whole story. Evelyn was busy working to get into a real college--she was taking classes at Carlton Falls Academy, and barely affording those--so I figured she just wouldn't have the time for me. Carrie had never had the time for me, with her time divided between whoever was her boyfriend this week and shopping with her friends for the latest styles or the latest CDs or whatever else she bothered to buy--I really never took the time to care anymore about her life than she took to care about mine. Samantha would've have listened to me, and maybe would have even believed me, but I didn't want to take up her time. She had a chance to take her violin somewhere great, to get a nice music scholarship, and to do so, I figured she would need to be able to concentrate. And, last but certainly not least, Danni was only a little older than Jaimie, and just wouldn't be much help.

I suppose there's a contradiction there. On the one hand, I had decided that this was a matter of life and death, a matter of such import that it put my relationship with Haley Manning on the backburner. On the other hand, I was letting my sisters' lives take precedence over all this. I guess in a way it makes sense. I still had no way of knowing if Olivia was real or not, if she was an actual ghost or a figment of my demented mind. So, with those two options both floating around in my head--plus all the variations on both--I suppose it's not so strange that there would be other contradictory notions floating about. Was Sam Carson hurting Jaimie? If so, had I noticed the bruises and was this all my subconscious way of forcing myself into doing something about it? If not, was Olivia really a ghost coming back to get me to protect her sister like I promised I would? Did it matter if Olivia was real or not if Jaimie was indeed being abused? Was Jaimie even being abused?

That last one got me every time. Ghost or figment of my imagination, if what Olivia suspected was true, it was that that mattered above all else.

Whether Olivia was real or not--and since she had appeared just before I went to bed and had not been around when I'd woken the next morning, there was no way of knowing--she had made some good points. Jaimie had neglected to talk much about her mother's latest boyfriend. Jaimie had shrugged off some of my inquiries, as rare as they were, about what her homelife was like lately. And, Jaimie had had some unexplained bruises. The thing with that last one was, she had had plenty of explained ones as well. On more than one occasion, I'd been witness to Jaimie getting hurt like any kid might, falling off the bars for example. On more than one occasion, I'd kept her from getting hurt too badly, but she still had her fair share of cuts and scrapes and bruises. She was a kid. That just made sense. So, when some bruise would show up without a clear explanation, was it so bad that I didn't even ask about it most of the time? Was it so bad that, when I did ask and all she did was shrug or change the subject, I just let it go?

It's hard to ask that. See, if Jaimie WAS being abused, or hurt at all, how could it not be a bad thing that I hadn't noticed? I'd promised to protect her. I'd promised to take care of her. Olivia had finally given in to her sadness because she had trusted me to look after her sister in her absence. If Jaimie was being abused, I wasn't doing such a good job.

So, my plan of action was simple. I needed to figure out first and foremost if Jaimie was being abused. I would ask her straight out, and if that didn't work, I would find some way to maybe spy on her at home, or rather spy on Sam Carson, spy on what he was like around her. The next step was kinda blurry in my mind. I didn't know if I should immediately go to the police. I didn't know if maybe I should first talk to my dad and get him to talk to the police. I didn't know if I should talk to Phyllis Cross, make her see how bad her latest boyfriend was, if she'd even believe it, if she'd even care. I didn't know if I should do something about the abuse, assuming it was indeed happening, myself. I just didn't know what came after the first step of finding out if it was real. I guess on some level I hoped Olivia would have some idea of what to do. But, either because I was thinking at that particular moment that Olivia's ghost was just a figment of my imagination, or because I thought I might need someone's help either way, I did talk to someone. I talked to Saint McMasters.

Yes, I talked to Saint McMasters. Saint McMasters, the same guy that had inadvertently come between me and Haley when we were ten--isn't that a great way of totally misrepresenting what happened? He happened to be nearby at lunchtime, while I was obsessing over what unexplained injuries of Jaimie's I could remember--a strange bruise on her arm, a limp that had lasted a couple days, a lame excuse for a black eye, a puffy lip, a bruise on her thigh, another bruise on her arm, and various others--so as not to notice Kyle and Haley eating lunch together not too far off. I noticed Saint and before I really even thought about it, I went over and sat by him. And, I'm not sure how that conversation started, but inside of a minute, I was telling him about Olivia's ghost. And, even when I got into how I was afraid that maybe I was going crazy and she wasn't a real ghost, and even as I talked about spying on Sam Carson and going to the police or taking matters into my own hands if I had to, Saint just sorta looked at me. His look was hard to interpret. I couldn't tell if he thought sure enough that I was nuts, or if he thought I was making all this up and he was just waiting for the punchline, or if he believed every word. He just looked at me and looked at me. And, when I was done, he took a bite of his sandwich, looked around at the other kids eating all their lunches, then looked at me, and just asked one simple question: "What do you want me to do?"

At first, I thought his question was meant more along the lines of "so, what do you want me to do about it," like he just didn't want any part of it, whether it was all part of me going insane or me having a supernatural experience or what. But, when he then just looked at me again and waited, I knew he meant it not like that but more like "ok, how can I help?"

And, that easily, I had an ally in this thing. I never would have predicted it. I mean, Saint McMasters was connected to a very painful bit of my life, and I tried to avoid him most of the time. But, here I was, spilling out a tale that not only revealed a great deal of Olivia's personal history but also could very well have been a huge chunk of evidence that could get me locked away with my mom up at Cedar Cliff. I was putting not just Jaimie's life in Saint's hands, but also my own. The weird thing was, I trusted him with it. He'd saved Haley when I could not. Under other circumstances, he would probably save just about anyone he could, maybe even at the cost of his own life. I guess I just knew that. I knew he could be trusted. I knew he would turn out to be a good ally. Or maybe I just knew things could get very strange, that things could actually get worse than they were, and I wanted someone there to take the brunt of it so I wouldn't have to. Considering what was coming, I suppose I should hope it wasn't that last bit. I'd rather not have the guilt.