Nicole wasn’t very impressed with what she was seeing before her.
But then again, when it came to dates, she never was. Nobody she dated impressed her—neither men nor women. In fact, it seemed like her dating choices weren’t exactly to be trusted.
So, you may wonder why she was on this date now – with a woman called Samantha Love. At first, when she heard the name, she had to admit it sounded almost romantic. Now, she wondered why. Samantha Love? Who names themselves like that—the descendent of St Valentine? Did St Valentine ever have a descendent? Or, maybe a child of Cupid or Venus. The kind of world Nicole lived in, she wouldn’t have been surprised if the second theory turned out to be true.
“I went to watch the Winter Olympics last year and it was so exciting!” Samantha was saying. “I met a lot of sportsmen – oh, so hot…”
She went on and on, perhaps describing each of those sportsmen she supposedly met – Nicole didn’t listen. She just nodded and smiled where necessary and appropriate. She also threw in an occasional “I see” and “Oh!” to add special effects.
Finally, the shadows started growing longer in the café she sat on her date with Samantha and that prompted her to check her watch. It was six o’clock.
She cleared her throat and leaned forward. Samantha stopped talking – she had been saying something about meeting the Emperor of Japan – and looked expectantly.
‘She literally has no clue I wasn’t even listening!’ thought Nicole. ‘That’s a huge relief.’ Because, she wasn’t usually the type to not listen to people – she did. Just, not during dates. They always ended in disasters, one way or another, so she stopped listening to people on her dates.
Aloud, she said, “So, I need to leave now, I’m sorry. I need to visit my mother before sundown.”
Samantha smiled brightly. “Oh yes, sure! I need to be leaving, too!” She stood up. “It was great meeting you! I think we should see each other again!”
‘Uh-oh,’ thought Nicole, though she gave a bright smile in return. “Sure thing!” she agreed, though inwardly, she thought, ‘No way, thank you very much. We shouldn’t have met in the first place.’ She stood up, too, and moved from the table.
Nicole and Samantha walked together as far as the main road.
“So. Need a ride back home?” offered Samantha.
Nicole shook her head politely. “No, thank you. I can go on my own.”
The other woman nodded. “Great! So, I’ll text you and we can meet up again!”
What Nicole really wanted to say was, ‘No, that’s all right – I think we should call it.’ But, what she ended up saying was, “I think so, too. Perhaps next week?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she began to regret it.
This seemed to make Samantha even happier, for she suddenly hugged her. Nicole stiffened in shock.
‘O…kay!’ She tried not to panic.
Luckily for Nicole, Samantha left her in a few seconds, waved goodbye, and walked away towards left. Nicole found herself staring at her as she walked away, particularly at her gait and the way her waist moved when she walked—side-to-side with no proper rhythm, which seemed to awaken something inside of the woman that she hadn’t felt in a long time.
‘Snap out of it!’ she chided herself. ‘Stop staring at her and leave!’
“How was the date?”
Nicole looked up as she entered the cemetery. Her older sister, Andrea, stood at the grave that she came to visit, her husband, Matthew, standing beside her, his arm wrapped in hers and pulled close to him. There was no one else in the vicinity.
“I told you not to get involved in my love life,” answered Nicole, not very graciously. “I made the decision to take a break from dating. I decide when I start again.”
Andrea made a show of rolling her eyes as the younger woman approached the grave. “You said that two years ago!” she pointed out. “Timmy was a jerk and the others you’ve dated since… well, they weren’t exactly bright. I get it: you want someone who gets you. I guarantee Samantha is just the woman for you!”
Nicole frowned and folded her arms across her not-so-big chest. “I’m sorry to say that you’re wrong. Only thing she did there was talk all about herself – how she met this famous person, that famous person –”
“Well, she does do a lot of charity work.”
Nicole snorted. “Bet it’s all just for show.”
Andrea frowned in irritation. “Look, she’s my best friend – my only close friend. You better take those words back.”
“Well then, newsflash: I make bad dating choices; you make bad friendship choices.”
Nicole could tell that this made her sister furious.
But, all Andrea said was, in a calm ice-cold voice, “I hope you didn’t blow that date.”
Nicole sighed. “I would know if I were listening,” she muttered.
“So, what did you do?”
“Nothing. Look, I don’t think she’s into me, okay? In fact, I think she’s into guys.”
Andrea looked taken aback now, maybe even a little confused. “Come again?”
“She’s straight, Andrea.”
“Is that so?” The older woman didn’t sound convinced.
Nicole didn’t care. She came there to see and talk to her mother and that was what she was going to do. She knelt in front of the grave and bowed her head in silent prayer. She wasn’t particularly religious, but she loved her mother when she was still alive. Every time she came to the cemetery, she hoped her mother would be listening to her.
Ten minutes later, her face tear-stained, Nicole stood up. She felt an arm around her shoulder and she relaxed into it. No matter how much they fought, Andrea would always love her unconditionally. Having almost zero social life of her own, she was glad of this.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “She… When we were leaving, she said she’d text me later and fix… fix another date. Maybe I’ll try harder then.”
Andrea kissed the top of her head. “I know you will.”
It turned out that Nicole didn’t have to wait a week to meet her date again.
She was back in the cemetery the next night, looking for a ghoul she knew was making trouble across the town—making unusually strong winds (it was summer season, when the winds weren’t so strong), uprooting random trees and electrical poles, and even scaring the wits out of poor young children by appearing in front of them. Kids below fifteen years were more likely to see spirits, even if they weren’t a mediator like Nicole was.
Nicole had magic – this she’d known for a long time. She just couldn’t understand how she could be the only one in this side-career.
“Boo!” a voice said close to her left ear.
She whipped her head around, pinching her lips so she wouldn’t scream. There, beside the tree she was hiding, stood the last person she expected to see.
“Samantha, right?” she gasped, calming down. She had been afraid it was another ghost. One angry one was enough to handle for one day, forget about two at once.
The other woman nodded and sidled to her side. “So, a little bird told me you think I’m always talking about myself.”
Nicole could feel herself blushing fiercely. “Er – I’m sorry. I’m just not into dating right now. I didn’t want to go yesterday, but Andrea said I should because you were expecting me…” She sighed. “I’m sorry.”
To her surprise, Samantha smiled, almost knowingly. “I know.”
Nicole swallowed. “You… you knew?”
Before anybody could do anything else, a strong gust of wind hit them directly in the face. Nicole almost lost her footing, if not for the hand that grabbed her just in time. She realised it was Samantha.
“The ghost’s here!” shouted the other woman. “You going to do this now or what?!”
Nicole wondered how she could see the ghost, but didn’t bother asking just then. There was always time for that later. She nodded once. Samantha let go of her, just as she raised her arms skyward.
“O, Lord of the Dead,” she chanted, “I beg thee to take the soul unclaimed and ravaging the world of the living! Please, I –”
Something strong hit her hard in her gut and she lurched forward, an incredible amount of pain raising from her stomach. Her eyesight quickly became blurry and she passed out.
It had been three years since Nicole awoke next to a person who wasn’t part of her family.
It was back in twelfth grade and she was attracted to the most popular girl in school, Kyla. They often had sleepovers, which raised in her heart hopes about dating her at some point. But then, school ended and they drifted apart, until, eventually, she felt town for good. She didn’t even leave a contact number behind.
Nicole’s heart was broken and it stayed that way, until, two years later, she met Timmy, the complete opposite of both Kyle and herself. They’d started dating pretty quickly, but it was only several months later that she had started seeing the signs and how he was really mentally abusing her. He had gradually, very subtly, began to take control of every part of her life, including her friends and family, until, in a year after she graduated college, she had no one to talk to except him. She realised this the day her mother died.
Fortunately, Andrea had been watching out for her. The moment things got out of control, she had swooped in and removed her little sister from the mess. That was when Nicole knew she’d never ever truly hate her.
It had been two years since she left Timmy. He hadn’t forced her to sleep with him yet, but he might have, if she had stayed any longer. That thought made her shudder every time.
Now, the person next to her was a woman—Samantha. And the place they were in seemed more deserted and foggier – certainly not how she remembered the cemetery being. Surely after the angry ghoul had left, things had quietened down?
‘No, there’s something wrong,’ her conscience told her. ‘This is not the cemetery – we’re somewhere else.’ She caught herself staring at Samantha’s face: eyes closed, mouth set in a relaxed expression, and her chocolate-brown hair thrown haywire on the ground she lay.
‘She’s beautiful,’ thought Nicole. She suddenly realised she had known this fact all along, but had never allowed herself to admit it.
Just then, she heard a muffled sound and got to her feet, swift as a cheetah. Her eyes darted around, surveying for any attack from anywhere.
Beside her, Samantha groaned and sat up. She shushed her urgently, before the sound became louder again and she realised it was the sound of footsteps. She instantly grew wary.
Then, from above them, came an odd battle-cry: “Cheetos!”
On instinct, Nicole grabbed her companion’s wrist and ducked both out of the way of the rocket swooping down at them. It landed at the exact spot they had been at. The thought of what might’ve happened if she hadn’t moved in time was something Nicole didn’t want to think about.
“So, we meet again!”
The ghoul, the woman realised, was a man. A boy, really. But, a strong one, of that she was sure. She’d learned, albeit the very hard way, to never underestimate spirits of young people, especially teenagers: they had both physical and mental stamina to inflict more pain than she ever could.
“Stay back, Samantha!” she ordered. “I’ll take care of this!”
“No, wait!” Judging by her voice, Samantha seemed to be recovering quickly. “Let me help you!”
Nicole rolled her eyes; she didn’t have time for this. “Just do as I say!”
“Oh,” the other woman sounded bewildered. “If you say so.”
Now, the woman could concentrate safely on the ghoul. “So! Caused enough havoc on the living already?” she said, tauntingly. “Where have you brought us now? Surely this isn’t Earth?”
The boy’s face broke into a cruel smile that somehow made her heart do a little dance inside her chest. ‘This is not the time or place to fall in love!’ she chided herself.
But even she had to admit that the ghoul looked very familiar…
Suddenly, her eyes widened as she remembered.
“Timmy?!” she exclaimed. Instantly, she wished she hadn’t said it.
Dread filled her heart as images and videos of her time with her longest ex filled her mind and body, slowly consuming her soul. She found herself back in Timmy’s apartment, hunched on the sofa the moment she realised that all her old friends had deserted her. How had she let this happen? She was normally the one with many connections and acquaintances. But, seemingly overnight, nobody seemed to care about her to even message her. Only Andrea and her mother ever did and now, she found out that her mother, who had been hospitalised for cancer the previous week, just passed away.
She turned her foggy gaze towards the kitchen where she could hear Timmy making dinner for them both. She wanted more than ever to talk to him, but when she’d earlier tried to make small talk, he had brushed it aside. It wasn’t the first time he had been doing this and she didn’t dare to wonder why. Could she bring herself to ask him for comfort now?
She let her gaze wander slowly around the room, until it caught her phone lying silent on the table near her. A crazy idea formed in her mind. Should she do it…?
The scene suddenly changed and Nicole was back in her room, on her bed, her eyes stinging. She put her hands to her face and realised that she had been crying hard. She somehow knew it was because of what Timmy had done to her – and the realisation that she had just seen the cold body of her mother, who had died a couple hours ago.
‘I’m reliving this memory,’ she thought. ‘Why? I thought I’d moved on… it’d been three years, after all…’
Something glowed in front of her and she looked up. Beyond her bed, standing with a bow in a hand and a red-tipped arrow in another, stood a young boy. He wore nothing but a loincloth and a knowing smirk.
“Here you are, sad and lonely,” he said. His voice was a bit on the squeaky side, like it was on the verge of maturing. “You have two choices, dear Nicole—either admit that you want to be loved again or keep sitting here for the rest of your life.”
Nicole gulped. Two choices? Really? She couldn’t believe it. It was so easy to pick one. Were choices in life really that easy?
“I choose to sit here,” she said, her voice calm.
The boy raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”
She wanted to say “Yes”, she really did. But, something in her mind kept poking her, so that she didn’t say it. Instead, she found herself hesitating. Did she really want a lonely life? She’d love that. But then, an image began to shimmer to her right. When it solidified, she realised it was Samantha, looking around as if searching for something.
Nicole realised she was searching for her.
“She cares for you, too,” said the boy. “Surely, you don’t want to abandon her in a place she doesn’t know?”
“Where is this place?” Nicole growled.
Nicole’s stopped breathing. The Netherworld was the place for dead spirits before they went into their afterlife. Living beings couldn’t survive there! How long had she and Samantha been there—an hour? More?
“We need to leave now,” she muttered. “Tell me, Cupid, what should I do?” She paused. “You are Cupid, aren’t you?”
The young boy flashed a giant smile. “Guilty as charged! Now – as to what you can do… Well, you can make the right choice.”
“Obviously, it’s not the one I chose.”
The smile was the only answer she got.
“Great,” she muttered through her teeth. “Fine, I choose Samantha. Now, let us go!”
Cupid’s smile spread even wider. “Excellent!”
All of a sudden, the bedroom disappeared and Nicole found herself back with Samantha in the foggy corridor. The other woman’s back was to her and suddenly, she whirled around.
“Nicole!” she cried and embraced her tightly.
With a wave of relief, Nicole hugged her back. “Look, I need to tell you something.”
Samantha pulled her head back. “What?”
Without thinking further, Nicole leaned forward quickly and pressed her lips to hers. It was warm and delicious, a feeling she had missed for two years.
She pulled away. “I want to go on that date with you.”