Life After Theft Page 76

Then Kimberlee asked, ’’You don\ believe in God, right?’’

I shook my head.

’’Why not?’’

’’Well, maybe there\s a god;maybe there isn\ . I just don\ know. My parents didn\ teach me to believe in God. Maybe if they had, I would.’’

’’What do you believe in?’’

’’What do you mean?’’

’’Do you believe in karma, or reincarnation, or some greater good, or something?’’

’’I don\ know. I guess I believe in karma to some degree. I believe that if you try to put something good into the world, the world will try to give something good back to you. I believe in balance.’’

’’Balance.’’ Kimberlee echoed the word almost mournfully.

’’But I believe in learning to be better, too.’’ I stared up at the dark ceiling. ’’I believe in family;I believe in relationships. I guess ultimately, I believe in people.’’

’’People like me?’’

’’People like everyone.’’

’’What about bad apples?’’

’’You\ e not a bad apple.’’

’’Let\s say Hitler.’’

I grinned. ’’Okay, he was a bad apple.’’

’’So what was waiting for him when he died?’’

I didn\ have an answer for her. Until I met Kimberlee, I\d doubted there was an afterlife at all. I believed like my mom did that you should live every moment of life to the fullest because when it was over, it was over. I chose my words carefully, trying to decide what I thought even as I said it. ’’Maybe it\s like Newton\s law: \For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.\’’

’’How do you mean?’’

’’Well, I think there have to be consequences. But that doesn\ mean I believe in hell with fiery whips or anything. I think maybe sticking around as a ghost is your punishment.’’ I rolled over to face her. ’’Maybe not even really a punishment, but a chance for you to learn without the distraction of being alive.’’ I studied her face in the darkness. ’’You have learned something, haven\ you?’’

She smiled and nodded. ’’I have.’’ But the smile slipped from her face almost as quickly as it had appeared. ’’I just worry that it isn\ enough. Do you remember what you said to me on Tuesday?’’

My lips pursed into a thin line. ’’I said a lot of things on Tuesday.’’

’’Yeah, you did. And I\m glad. I needed to hear them.’’ She flipped onto her back. ’’Before you left to screw Sera\s brains out ’’

’’Hey!’’

’’Sorry, that wasn\ the point. Before you went to make up with Sera, you told me I was still here because no one in the universe wanted me.’’

’’I shouldn\ have said that.’’

’’No, you should have, because I think maybe you were right. I\ve learned a lot of things from you, Jeff, but the things I\ve learned ’’ Her voice cracked as tears leaked into her hair and her breath came in ragged gasps. ’’They hurt, Jeff. It\s hard so damn hard to see myself for what I was. And I\m afraid ’’ She paused to take another breath before continuing in a quiet voice. ’’I\m afraid of how hard the next lesson is going to be.’’

Then I did something I\d been afraid to do since meeting her. I stretched an arm out and pushed it through her back as if she were lying against my shoulder. My arm filled with a creepy tingle and I wanted to yank it back, but as she sighed and moved her head a little closer, I forced myself to hold still.

’’I\m glad I met you,’’ I said. And I wasn\ actually sure whether or not it was a lie until I said it out loud.

’’Me too.’’

We lay there in silence for what felt like hours.

I don\ know when I finally got comfortable enough to close my eyes, but the next thing I remembered was my alarm screeching at me. I looked over, but Kimberlee had gone. I sat up and tried to stretch the kinks out of my arms. My whole spine was sore and the popping was audible as I turned this way and that.

I froze when my eyes settled on the blue flip-flops sitting on the floor at the end of the bed. ’’Kim?’’ I whispered. I was waiting for her to pop out from the closet or something. ’’Kim?’’ I called a little louder. I stretched my foot out and hesitantly poked the nearest shoe with my toe.

And felt something solid.

I leaped onto my bed and curled my feet underneath me.

’’That\s not funny,’’ I said once my breathing was under control.

I sat there for a full minute, staring at those shoes. Then carefully, I slipped off the bed and crouched beside them. I tentatively reached out a finger and touched one.

It was real.

I picked them up and studied them from every angle. Just a pair of slightly scuffed, pale blue flip-flops.

I never saw Kimberlee again.


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