University of Bridgeport

“Rebecca Beckett.”

Rebecca got up from her chair and went over toward her teacher. She was giving back her final project. Rebecca handed it in over a week ago, but it was time for the final grade. Pass or fail. College sucked and art class the hardest. She thought it would be fun, but art was actually really hard. As much as people said it was in the eye of the beholder, the beholder was her teacher with criteria. She drew better than stick figures, but for anything else, it was really tough.

“It was . . . different,” her teacher settled on. “Your imagination has grown tremendously over the year. I never thought you’d do something out of real life, or something so challenging. You aced your final.”

Rebecca eagerly took her art. What did she mean by her imagination soared? She looked at the project and just about dropped it. What the hell was that? It was some dark night painting, but like twisted with stuff out of Da Vinci. It was weird. She wanted to protest about it to her teacher, but she already got her pass.

She sat back down and noticed Brady’s wink. No way. Really? She gestured to it and him. How’d he do that?

After class, they met by the locker’s nearby. “How’d you make that wicked looking thing?”

“I call it tortured love,” he joked. “We’ve got more than a few, and we’ll be getting our hands on even more soon. No worries, okay? I sacrificed one precious piece for you.”

Rebecca rewarded him with a reward and a kiss. “Thank you so much! I didn’t think I’d pass finals, and I’d still be stuck in that stupid art class. I love you, baby. Those things are going to be worth a fortune and you wasted one on me.”

“Nothing’s wasted on you,” Brady said, “as long as it’s appreciated?”

“Definitely. I’ll show you plenty of appreciation tonight.” She gestured to his project. “What about yours?”

“I did my own.” He showed it to her. “Drawing. Future. Big house, big car, and a wonderful little family in the background of it all.”

Aww. “For your final project?” She placed her hands on her heart.

“Well, I didn’t get into all of this for minor fun,” he said. He grabbed her hands. “Tonight, we are having the best dinner around. I have a surprise for you.” He touched her cheek. “Something your little freshman heart isn’t going to be able to resist.”


Peaceful Pines

“Do you want to come over tonight?” Prudence asked Bertha. “Celebrate the ending of this school year finally?”

“Yeah, I do,” Bertha said. “We’ll have fun. Only a little while longer before we. Well? Can’t do that anymore.”

“Yeah,” Prudence said. “I know it sounds weird, but, I kind of wished we could have invited Betty Juice. I just, I haven’t seen her since. You know.” She noticed Bertha’s odd look. “What?”

“She contacted me. She’s out of Peaceful Pines,” Bertha said. “I’d tell you how, but I should really keep her secret. We are all out of here soon,” she said. “My folks found a great place near my accepted college. It’s on the other side of America in California. It’s going to be a blast!”

“Yeah. I’m going to New Jersey. We’ll be pretty far apart,” Prudence said. “I’ll be sure to write.”

“Yeah, like every day, and phone calls too,” Bertha agreed. “We’ll be great. It’ll be great. New start.”

“Yeah,” Prudence repeated. “New start.”


University of Bridgeport

Brady tucked away the engagement ring in his pocket when Duncan, Finley and Carter showed up. “Hey there.”

“Brady, what the hell?” Duncan started in on him, taking a seat on his side. Finley and Carter showed up on the other sides. “Rebecca told us what you’re romantic ass just did. Giving away one of our pieces for a final?”

Finley grabbed the ring box out of his jacket. “Already spending money you don’t have for her.” He eyed him.

“Hey, I said I was only in it for Rebecca, and to get out of college for good,” Brady warned all three of them. “I love her and I don’t want to lose her. A lot can happen over the summer, I don’t want to waste it. I know she’ll stay faithful if I have a ring on her finger.”

“Estate sale is in two days. Two,” Finley warned him. “Two! If you waste too much, there’s no way you’ll be able to get much art. Don’t come crying to me if you get like one thing. That house is loaded with it.”

“They have no idea what they’ve got,” Carter added. “Look. I got the heebie jeebies once. Thought I saw something that wasn’t there. We all got reasons to wanting to get out now, but it’s useless if we don’t hit that estate sale. Delia Deetz hardly ever sold anything as much as she tried. They’ll be giving it away for pennies. To them, the couch is going to be worth more than any of it.”

“Art is only as good as it’s buyers,” Finley agreed. “If there’s one thing I learned from my dad, it’s that. Don’t waste anymore money on Rebecca.” He slammed his hand down on the table. “And don’t bother a single piece of our art again, or you are going to regret ever joining in this venture.”

“It’s just a proposal ring,” Brady said. “One art piece and a proposal ring. Cheap one too. Once I get some real art from the estate, I’ll buy the real wedding ring.” He took his engagement ring back. “I won’t do anything else, okay? Two days. We all go back to Peaceful Pines for it.”

Two days.


Neitherworld

Lydia felt almost like a newborn baby. She used to be able to walk around the Neitherworld with no trouble at all. It wasn’t like that anymore, now that she knew she wasn’t visiting it. She was dead. She now had something she never had before as a human, her own magic, and it made her susceptible to pitfalls in the Neitherworld.

“Come on? You wanna little a bite, right?” Beetlejuice teased her. He was at the table, shaking her sandwich at her. “Make it through without falling through. You can do it, Babe.”

Concentrate on the burger. Lydia took another step forward. She had developed her skill enough that she didn’t need Beetlejuice holding onto her anymore. The couch and the bed psychologically kept her steady now. They felt solid beneath her. Floors though? She’d already fallen down twice through the floor. BJ had to quickly catch her and drag her up.

“Mmmm, it’s so yummy,” Beetlejuice encouraged her some more. “Come on. Walky walk. Can’t stay on the couch and beds forever, Lyds.”

“Why not?” She took another shaky step forward. “If we scoot them closer together, then I can just jump from one to the other.” Lydia knew that wasn’t a choice, but at the time, it sounded good. It took a little while to accept that she had died and really never could return, but she focused on the positives now to get through it.

Her Neitherworld friends. Several of them had sent flowers and sorry your dead cards and even welcoming cards. Ginger and Jacques and The Monster Down the Street all stopped by to see her at least once a day. She also didn’t have to worry about any pain anymore. Whatever she went through, it was gone now. She felt healthy and fine. Well, for being dead.

The Neitherworld was still the great place it was before too. All the wacky and insane things she used to love and enjoy were still there. But, her biggest positive was BJ. Not accustomed to working at all, or being patient with anything, he didn’t curse or get upset with her at all with slow progress. Physically or emotionally.

She missed her life. She missed her friends, and she really missed her family. She’d miss everything about Peaceful Pines and the Land of the Living. She thought she might even miss Claire Brewster a little. Just, everything. But it wasn’t over. Life was, but not her afterlife. It was just a second phase. A great phase that she got to skip to over haunting her old house for over a hundred years! That would have been boring.

Focusing on the positives, and right now the positive of a sandwich was tempting. She hadn’t eaten much over the last few days and she was finally getting an appetite back. One step. Two steps. Three steps. Almost there! Hopefully when she reached out he wasn’t like his mischievous self and move it out of her grasp.

“Now that’s progress, Lyds!” He congratulated her, juicing into a graduation uniform and standing up to give it to her like a degree. One step shorter than she planned. She was so surprised.

“Beetlejuice!” She started falling through the floor. Lydia tried to reach out and he grabbed her hand like always. He held onto her.

“Your impression of a monkey is really getting more impressive.” He put on a monkey face. “Know what I mean?”

“Pull me up,” she complained. “No joking, I’m hungry.” She was pulled back through the floor and onto a kitchen chair of his. He gave her the sandwich. Ooh. Food. Her stomach growled. Awkward timing.

“Don’t worry, Lyds, you won’t die of starvation,” he joked.

Lydia was quiet for a moment. She smiled. It was okay to joke about that kind of thing now. She needed to eject some humor in her life again. “I am going to enjoy this.” She took a bite into the burger. Yummy.

“Okay. Almost didn’t fall through. It was because of surprise.” Gears came out of BJ’s head, turning around. He was thinking about something. They went back down into his head. “Ah, fine. I won’t be too far,” he decided. “If you’re ready, there’s been someone who’s wanted to visit with you.” He glanced at her. “Mom.”

Bea Juice wanted to see her?


Bea Juice’s Home

She should have known it. Still, it wasn’t different before when she saw herself in the reflection of the cleanliness of the floor. Lydia didn’t stand a chance.

Beetlejuice knew it was coming too. He’d lifted her up higher away from the floor. “Really, ma!” He complained. “Newly dead comes to visit the floors can’t be so shiny she can see herself. She’ll fall right through.” He floated over to the couch and sat her down. “Tables, beds, and chairs. Mentally she’s okay with furniture itself now.” He sat her down. “Right, Lyds?”

“Have to keep the floor clean, you can’t just let it get dirty,” Bea complained as she came toward him. “You’re not cleaning yourself enough, BJ.”

“I’ve been busy, come on,” he complained. “Here. Have a nice long talk on the couch. Don’t let her get up,” BJ warned her. “If she starts to fall-”

“Goodness, Beetlejuice, who raised you?” She scolded him before she went over and started to clean on the back of his ears. “Dirty, dirty, dirty.”

“Ma! Going, going,” BJ said. “Dad wants to talk to me to.” He looked down at Lydie? “You’ll be good for a few minutes?”

Lydia nodded. She was fine on the couch. After he disappeared, Bea held her hand and drug her across the floor. It felt like wading in water.

“In here, in here. You can sit at the table,” Bea said. She started to clean the table top. “So. Death. How are you doing with that, dear?”

Brazen. Definitely BJ’s mom. “It’s going?” Lydia said. “I’m getting used to it.”

“Did you get any kind of tick?” Bea asked. “Just don’t get a cleaning tick.” She stared at the table then cleaned it again. “Beetlejuice cares for his friend, but if you get a cleaning tick like me, I don’t know if anything can save you.”

Lydia smiled, but then what she just said clicked. BJ was born the Ghost with the Most. “Were you born in the Neitherworld?”

Bea stopped cleaning and looked toward Lydia. “Well now, one subtle sentence and you picked it up. You’re a good one.” Bea took a seat. “Your skin is a little lighter, but you’re still a pretty thing. Nice to see. Eating well?” Lydia nodded. “Sleeping well?” Lydia nodded again. “Good, good. Beetlejuice is taking great risk with you not haunting for 125 years, but you used to walk around here just fine. Look at you, you’ll be fine. Your opened mine, you’ll be fine.” She patted her cheek twice. “You keep yourself fine. BJ will be there always though.”

Bea Juice was asking the basics, and telling Lydia everything she already knew.

“Death is hard,” Bea Juice then confided in her. “Hundreds of years later, I still remember it all. I went very young, too young, but the plague was rampant. There was no stopping it, period, let alone for a little one.” She looked toward her floors. “It was so dirty. Covered in bodies and blood and dirt. I just lied there, waiting for the time to come. Even as small as I was, I knew I wasn’t long for that world.”

Oh. Lydia wasn’t expecting the conversation to grow so heavy.

“The Neitherworld. It’s a second chance world,” Bea said. “I was originally not called Bea Juice, obviously.” She looked into her clean table. “It was nearly a hundred years later after reaching the Neitherworld that I found my destiny in Nat.” She smiled. “After that, it was quite easy to find my real self and what made me happy. A hundred years of lingering around, wondering why I was never just moved on like everyone else. Eventually learned.” She moved from the table. “Don’t focus on your death, focus on your afterlife. My boy was very fond of you in life.”

Lydia nodded. The conversation was nice. Not helpful, but at least she knew Bea used to be alive. “We’re best friends.”

“Of course, it’s all you could be dear. You were so young, you were alive, things were different. I had to wait a hundred years before I found my destiny,” Bea said. “You already have yours. When things get tough, and eventually they will? Just remember, you’re not alone. You’ve got my boy.”

“I know,” Lydia insisted. “He’s been really good about helping me.” She looked around. “Usually he doesn’t go very far.”

“I’m not done talking yet,” Bea said to her, drawing her attention back to her. “Nothing is really hitting home yet, is it dear?” She moved away from the table and went closer toward Lydia again. “When you go into the next phase, it will be because you completed your life to your full satisfaction.”

Yes. Lydia nodded.

Bea tried again. “Stop that nodding. You’re still not listening. Don’t think of the afterlife as the afterlife. Think of the Outerworld as part 1, and the Neitherworld as part 2. It doesn’t matter which part you finally find your happiness, until part 2, you’ll be complete.”

Okay. She wasn’t supposed to nod. Lydia was trying to listen. She already knew all of what she was saying.

Bea patted her hands next to her. “Destiny doesn’t always involve part 1. That’s why you have Neitherworlders born within the Neitherworld and then moving on. Destiny had nothing for them in part 1. Destiny, had nothing that involved my boy needing to be alive. Only meeting you,” she said to Lydia. “So take your time. Get used to the Neitherworld.” She turned her back and started to clean the dishes. “But I’ve been waiting hundreds of years here, so try not to have a tick like mine. It’s about the only thing that would turn BJ away, and it’s high time I get some grandkids.”

Uh? Uh? Okay. Lydia had been listening, but that last part?

“Oh please, with as hung up as destiny let him get on you, even that would probably not turn him away.” She turned back around. “Nat didn’t care. Oh, I hope he’s convincing our son to do something though. Been trying to get him to work for years, even before we knew about you, and nothing ever happened.”

“I?” Lydia tried to speak up. “I’m just friends with-”

“You were. You were alive. You weren’t from the same world, too young, different plans. Life and afterlife, it can’t blend in that way.” Bea held her finger up to her. “It’s okay. Don’t admit it out loud, it might make it harder. But, you should remember how that made you feel. Because the hardest turns are yet to be turned, but Beetlejuice is going to need you to stay strong. You can’t fully rely on his power to get through it, or you’ll sink both of you before you ever get a chance to be happy.”

Can’t fully rely on his power? Grandkids? We were the best of friends. Just friends. 

“How’s it feel when you sink through the ground with or without him? Feel it.” Bea stretched out her hand, using her magic she pulled Lydia out from the table, letting her stumble across the ground, until it became like water!

Lydia felt herself falling again, but this time, there was no familiar hand to give her a pull up. She reached upward, desperately trying to hold on. “Beetlejuice!” Gone, where was he? With his dad.

You were. You were alive. You weren’t from the same world, too young, different plans.

How long would she fall? She was in free fall, she didn’t know what to do! What to hang onto! Beeettttllleeejuuuuuiiiice!

You can’t fully rely on his power to get through it, or you’ll sink both of you before you ever get a chance to be happy.

Then, she saw it. She wanted him there so bad, even though she knew he was all the way out with his dad. His hand was there and she grabbed it, feeling it’s familiar grasp.

How’s it feel when you sink through the ground with or without him? Feel it.

“You okay, Babe?” Beetlejuice was right there for her now.

She looked up toward him. He was ranting against his mom now.

“Sorry, dear,” Bea said. “Forgot to pay attention.” She winked at Lydia. “Did you have a nice talk with your dad?”

“Eh, work,” Beetlejuice moaned. “Always focused on it. Ugh.” He smiled at Lydia. “Don’t worry, I’d never let you down, Babe. Not like I was gonna a hundred percent trust my mom. Cares more about cleaning than anything.”

“Be nice, Beetlejuice, some manners,” she warned him. “Take your nice friend home and let her get some rest. That was quite a journey down I assume, but I got distracted by my dishes.”

Lydia felt Beetlejuice’s grip stiffen around her. Not hard, just.

“Told you to watch her. Trusted you to watch her,” Beetlejuice complained to his mom. He kept it simpler than what she felt coming from him. “Come on, Babe. Let’s get out of here. Better things to do than hanging with parents all day.”

Lydia clung to him tighter than usual as he lifted her from the ground. I’m not strong enough to help myself yet, let alone Beetlejuice with anything. But? But she stared at Bea smiling at her while she cleaned a plate. But I?

But she knew that pull up from Beetlejuice, was way too warm. Way too important. Way too . . . much. For how she should feel for a friend.