The door was stuck again. I love my quirky little apartment, but sometimes the quirks get to you, you know? I mean, come on. Every time we get a little rain, the back door is impossible to open. And it costs a fortune to heat. And the pipes knock. And the floors creak. But I still love it. The high ceilings may make it hard to heat, but they are beautiful with their swirls of plaster. And the floors are made of wide, dark wood planks that are gorgeous. And the pipes, well, I can’t say anything good about them, but at least the water is clean.
Anyway, since my hands were full of bags of groceries, I kicked at the door until it creaked open. Hurt my toe, but at least I got in. I dumped my bags on the kitchen table. Who knew boxes of Ramen noodles and mac and cheese could be so heavy? I guess a two mile walk might have a little to do with that too. And the bag of beads and wire I’d picked up at the craft store.
I put the cold stuff in the fridge before I went to change, trying not to drip too much. After drying off, I finished unloading my bags.
“Good afternoon, Elizabeth.”
“Oh, hi, Max.” I opened the cabinet where I stowed the boxes while my roommate sat at the table. “How’s your day going?”
I could see his expression as he took in my food purchases and I knew what was coming.
“Seriously, Elizabeth. This food cannot be good for you.”
“Yeah, well, it has the advantage of being cheap.”
“But not healthy. You have no vegetables here. Nor fruit. Not even meat.”
“I can get meat at work. And fruit salad and veggies.”
“A giant fried onion is not healthy vegetables. You need to eat better, Elizabeth.”
I watched him stir a cup of coffee. “You’re one to talk. Look at you, stirring that cup. It’s not even real. It’s just something you conjured up out of ectoplasm.”
Max blinked out for a second, then returned and I knew I’d hurt him. “Oh, Max, I’m sorry.”
“It’s quite all right, my dear. I should not berate you so. It’s just that I care.”
I pulled up a chair next to him and laid my hand out where his was. All I felt was the table and a kind of chill, but that’s what you get when your roommate is a ghost. “I know, Max. I know. But this is all I can afford. The rent’s due and my car conked out again. And my paycheck is a little slim since they cut our hours. And I can’t exactly bug you for any money.”
He pointed at the bag of beads and wire. “And this is more important than food?”
“To me, it is. My jewelry business is starting to bring in a little money. And I like doing it. So, unless you have a foolproof way for me to earn more money, this is it.”
He pulled back from me. “A lady never discusses finances with a gentleman not of her family.”
I couldn’t help it. I started laughing. Max was so old fashioned. Well, I guess that goes with being born more than a hundred years ago. He winked out again but didn’t come back. Figured I must have really shocked him.
“Fine. Be mad. But unless you can come up with a way to help pay the rent, you’d better not dis my food choices.”
I hated upsetting Max. Most of the time, he was really cool. I mean, he was quiet, didn’t hog the bathroom and I never had to worry about coming home to find him with a woman. But it was also a little weird. He treated me almost like I imagine he would a daughter. Which could be problematic if I wanted to have a guy over.
But we’d reached an understanding there. Sort of. As in, I never did. Bring anyone home, that is. And I never stayed the whole night somewhere else. Funny, but I really cared what Max thought about me. So I behaved myself.
Most of the time.
But it didn’t help me pay the bills. After I finished putting away my boxes of dried soups and pastas, I sat down at the table with my checkbook and the stack of things that needed paying. I sorted them into piles: ones that could wait a while, ones that couldn’t, and ones that should have been paid last month. Unfortunately, that stack was the largest.
And my balance wouldn’t even come close to covering them.
To take my mind off them, I pulled out my box of beads. I had a couple of orders for necklaces and ankle bracelets that would bring in a little bit. At least this was something I enjoyed. Not like my job as a hostess at the steakhouse.
I put on some good music and got to work designing some new baubles. I was working on the second piece when I heard thumping from my bedroom.
“Max?” I got up and headed in there. My bedroom and the bathroom were both off limits to Max. It wasn’t like him to break the rules, even if he was mad at me.
I went in and saw him standing next to the wall where my bureau sat. As I watched, he was attempting to move my bureau, but other than rock it a little, he couldn’t budge it. “Max, what are you doing?”
He spun around. I could swear I saw him blush. I didn’t know ghosts could do that.
“I, um, apologize. But I must ask you to move this piece of furniture. Had I form, I would not suggest a lady perform such a task, but I am at a disadvantage.”
“Why should I move it?” Not that it would be that hard. But I’d have to empty all the drawers out first. It’s a pretty big piece.
“I am not at liberty to say.”
“But you want me to go to all that work anyway?”
I studied him. It’s kind of hard to get a reading on a ghost, but he looked like he really needed me to do this. I sighed, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work. Rather than empty the drawers, I just pulled them out and set them on my bed. Thirty minutes later, I had shoved the dresser three feet away from where it had been.
“There. It’s moved. Is that enough?”
“Yes. Thank you. You may leave now.”
Leave? “I don’t think so. You forget. This is my room. You’re the one not supposed to be in here.”
He kind of folded in on himself. “I know. But I am asking you to indulge me just a little longer.”
“Fine.” I caved because it was so rare for Max to ask anything of me. I got a lot from him – protection for both myself when I was here and the apartment when I was out, companionship, conversation. For an old ghost, he was pretty nice. So I left and went back to my craft.
A few minutes later, I heard a scratchy noise and looked around. A small, tin box slid across the floor. I watched it move from my bedroom door across the hall into the kitchen where it stopped by my foot.
Max appeared next to it. He was even paler than usual and I could see the chair through him. Whatever he’d been doing had taken a lot out of him.
“If they will help you, the contents of the box are yours. I pray you find them of some use.”
He winked out. “Max? Max?”
He didn’t reappear.
I picked up the box. It was about six inches square, dusty and rusty. I pried the lid open and gasped. Inside lay an assortment of jewelers wires, beads, pendants, and polished stones. All of them were in good condition. They weren’t expensive pieces, but they were better than anything I had.
I swiped at the tears on my face. “Oh, Max. Thank you.”
I might not be able to pay all the rent this month, but these pieces would help at least pay a little of it.
Maybe a lady shouldn’t discuss finances with a gentleman, but it didn’t hurt to let him know how things were once in a while.