Just to see if her mum and dad were back, Emma pressed the doorbell. Not much to her surprise, the door flung open and she was enveloped by her mum, the scent of flowery perfume becoming so strong that Emma had to pull away.
“You scared me! I thought you had been kidnapped or something. But I can’t believe what’s happened to Aunt Maude,” Emma said quickly, stepping inside with her mum and pecking a kiss on her cheek.
Her mum nodded her head in agreement. “The doctors are completely baffled. She was about to get into her taxi, apparently, to go to the train station, but then she just fell asleep while she was still standing. Just like that.”
Emma frowned. “Weird.”
“Speaking of the train station, how come you didn’t call us when Maude didn’t come?”
Because I died.
Well, that and she had been so completely stupid that she didn’t even think about calling her parents when she’d woken up in her house.
“I left my phone here,” Emma answered truthfully, “and then I didn’t think about calling you. Opal even called me, and it didn’t cross my mind that an obvious form of contact was right in my hands.”
“Silly girl,” said her dad from the kitchen.
“Dad!” Emma said happily and hugged her dad.
“Sorry that we didn’t leave a note about leaving. At least our flights were on schedule; it would have been a disaster if they hadn’t been,” her dad said, kissing her on the forehead.
“It’s alright,” Emma forgave.
“Darlings, I’ll be right back,” her mum informed the two, before climbing upstairs. While she was gone, Emma unpacked her bag and dumped her homework on the dining table, staring at it with disdain. Stupid homework. Emma now knew that there were more important things to do when you wouldn’t live long enough to put your education to use.
Her mum came back down. But she wasn’t alone. A young man was standing behind her, a glimmer of realisation visible in his eyes, which were boring right into Emma’s. And to whom did those eyes belong?
“No,” was the first word that popped involuntarily out of Emma’s mouth. She didn’t even know what she was saying “no” too. She just knew that she didn’t approve of this situation.
“Honey, say hello to your new roommate!” her mum squealed happily.
“No!” Emma cried out in horror, this time voluntarily. There was just no way that she would live with a big-headed, arrogant idiot like him. (Although, now that she thought of it, Emma was just prejudiced against him because he was good-looking.)
This was all very surreal. Emma had come back from the dead only a day ago, and already life was starting to hate her. First it was the bad health of her Aunt Maude, and now her new roommate who was certainly going to drive her crazy.
“Ah, you must be Emma!” Joshua said graciously, as though he’d never seen Emma before. He was probably putting on an act so that Emma’s parents wouldn’t realise how much of an annoying rat he would turn out to be.
“My name is Joshua F. H. F. T. E. D. S. W. A. V. D. N. E. Y. H. Mills, but you can just call me Josh,” Josh introduced himself graciously, giving Emma one of his sickening charming smiles.
“Guh… buh… guhguhguhguhguh…” Emma articulated elegantly, staring at Josh with bewildered, wide eyes.
“I’ve heard so much about you from your mum and dad. They seem to love you a lot. I hope I won’t be too much of a burden on the Slim family,” Josh continued, steadily maddening Emma.
“Oh, you won’t be at all!” Emma’s mum said hastily. “We’re letting you be Emma’s roommate so that you can relieve some of our burden, after all!”
“Of course,” Josh grinned sweetly, bowing his head.
“Emma, why don’t you help Josh to set up his part of your room?” suggested Emma’s dad, though it was more of a command.
“Thanks again for letting me stay in your house, Mr. and Mrs. Slim,” Josh thanked politely.
“Thanks for paying,” muttered Emma’s dad with a lopsided grin. His wife stepped on his toe.
Josh scaled the unbelievably long and tall staircase of their house to reach the second storey, an incredulous Emma tagging along behind. She couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe just how bad her luck was.
Josh pushed open the door and sat down on Emma’s bed.
“Get off my bed,” Emma ordered at once. Now that she was safely away from her parents, she felt her speech and sanity come back.
“No,” Josh replied simply, no trace of the politeness from downstairs lingering. “This bed is my bed too, now, so you can’t tell me whether or not I’m allowed on it.”
“Since when are we sharing a bed?” Emma asked with disgust.
“Since never! What’s your problem? I mean that I have 50% ownership of this bed. There’s no way I’ll use it for anything more than sitting on,” Josh said clearly, slightly relieving Emma.
“Then where’s your bed?” Emma asked suspiciously.
“It’s in the storage room, waiting for you to get it out,” Josh said, that same mischievous gleam lighting up his eyes.
“Me? No way,” Emma refused, laughing sourly and without mirth.
“Actually, I think you’ll find that you really want to get my bed out. Go on,” Josh commanded, nodding his head towards the door.
“No, I don’t want to get your bed out. You should ge – what are you doing! Stop being such a creep!” Emma snarled suddenly, for Josh had grabbed one of Emma’s stuffed toys and was holding a pair of scissors in the other hand.
“It’s a bit of physical exertion from you, or decapitation for this little guy. Your choice.” Josh shrugged casually.
Emma growled with anger. She still had a soft spot for her Build-A-Bears, much to her frustration, meaning that she chose to get out the bed for the stupid twit.
She marched out of her own bedroom and flung open the door to the storage room. She screamed as a shock of cold water splashed all over her body, soaking her at once. Laughter came from inside Emma’s room, confirming that it was Josh who had set this cruel booby trap.
Cursing under her breath, Emma stormed into the bathroom, locked the door (checking it twice) and took a nice, hot shower.
She really needed to calm down. It had only been five minutes since Emma had seen Josh inside her home and she was already furious. He’d successfully managed to suck up to her parents and get away with playing a prank on her. Well I’ll make sure he doesn’t get away with this, thought Emma angrily as she massaged her scalp with shampoo. She wouldn’t stand for this. She wouldn’t let Josh just waltz into her house and make her life hell, as she knew he would. She would tell her parents about Josh’s mean prank right away.
After her calming shower, Emma marched past the storage room and her bedroom without a second glance. She jogged down the carpeted stairs and approached her mum and dad, who, as usual, were watching the TV with interest.
“Hey, Mum, Dad…” Emma began from behind their couch but trailed off when she saw what on the news. It was another news channel reporting the Varsity Lakes Station shooting, again showing the faces of Mary-Jane Stanton, Pierre Dupont and Clarissa Nightly and explaining about the mysterious disappearance of the fourth victim.
“Emma, weren’t you at the station around the time that this happened?” Emma’s mum quizzed curiously, turning around to face her daughter.
“Well, I didn’t see or hear anything, so I must have left just before,” Emma lied on the spot. She hated lying; most of the time, she was terrible at it.
“Hmm,” her mum hummed, turning back to the TV. Emma breathed a small sigh of relief. Her mum wasn’t too suspicious.
“Mum, Dad, I really don’t like Josh at all,” Emma put it to them bluntly.
“Why’s that, honey?” her mum asked distractedly, concentrating more on taking in the instructions the cook was giving on TV.
“Well, he played a very nasty prank on me. He drenched me in cold water when I opened the storage room door,” Emma answered.
“Rubbish,” said her dad. “Josh is the most charming and polite fellow I’ve ever met. He’d never do something like that.”
“But he did! You can come see upstairs,” Emma pestered, shaking her dad’s arm like a five-year-old wanting ice cream.
“Fine,” her dad said grumpily and got up to follow Emma up the stairs, while her mum stayed on the couch, copying down the ingredients for a potato salad.
Emma led her father up the staircase and to the storage room, but she gasped. The floor should have been covered in water and the bucket should still have been hanging from its string tied somewhere above the door. Yet it was all gone; every piece of obvious evidence had disappeared.
“Emma, I know that you don’t like Josh very much for some reason right now, but give it time. I’m sure you’ll come to adore him. He’s a very kind and polite fellow. Don’t start making up stories to get him into trouble,” her dad scolded.
“But it’s all an act, Dad!” Emma argued desperately, hoping beyond hope that her dad would see sense. “There is no way that Josh is polite or nice or kind or whatever. If he is, he certainly isn’t to me!”
Her dad laid a hand on Emma’s shoulder. For a moment, Emma thought she had been believed, until her dad said: “Go on, Emma. Try to make friends.”
Emma groaned in frustration as her unbelieving father made his way back downstairs. Why was it that he chose to believe Josh over his own daughter? It baffled Emma. And it annoyed her immensely.
Seething, Emma calmly opened the door, disregarding the do-not-disturb sign that Josh had put on the doorknob.
“Come right in! Thanks for ignoring the closed door and the do-not-disturb sign; I only did that out of boredom,” said Josh sarcastically. He was on Emma’s computer, tapping away at her files.
“I own 50% of this room, remember? Oh, and please get off my computer,” Emma said coldly, closing the door again. “What are you even doing?”
“Digging up dirt on you,” Josh replied casually. “Just in case I ever need to blackmail you.”
“What, do you think I upload embarrassing pictures of myself on my computer or something?” Emma said incredulously.
“No, I was thinking more along the lines of a diary or journal…” Josh drawled lazily, opening another document.
Emma was lucky that Josh was concentrated on her computer screen, because she blushed furiously. She knew she probably looked like one very embarrassed tomato. She did have a diary on her computer, hidden somewhere beneath the mountains of files…
“Back to my original point, get off my computer. It’s not yours,” Emma snapped, sitting on her bed.
“I beg to differ-”
“You beg to be wrong,” Emma interrupted, silently applauding herself for such a creative comeback.
Josh continued as though Emma had not interrupted. “Your parents clearly stated that everything in this room is 50% mine.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Emma deadpanned.
“Nope. This computer is 50% mine. I have full access to it, and I can use up half of the capacity of this worthless thing you call a computer,” Josh smirked.
Emma felt offended on behalf of her out-of-date Sony computer.
“You’re such an annoying… twit!” Emma insulted. It was the best she could do, really, as her constant annoyance at her new roommate didn’t help her to think rationally, nor come up with good insults.
“Now now, Slime, I don’t really think it’s kind of you to speak to me with such offensive language. Be a good little slime ball and run along to get my bed,” Josh hummed, still searching through her files.
This time Emma didn’t even bother to argue; she went into the storage room (opening the door slowly in case Josh had reset his booby trap) and dragged his mattress out. She then brought it to the bedroom and dumped it messily in the middle of the floor.
“Make the bed,” Josh ordered, now looking through Emma’s old school assignments.
“Yes!” Josh said in triumph, smirking.
“You tricked me into saying yes!” Emma moaned.
“Whatever. Do it or I won’t hesitate to rip your little horse’s head off and throw its stuffing all over the room. That’s like pulling out its guts, you know. If I pull out the stuffing and it flies everywhere, and then you sleep in here, you’ll be sleeping with its guts.”
“Shut up, Josh!” Emma groaned, making Josh’s bed.
Josh left the room a while later to take a shower (they even shared the same bathroom – ew), leaving Emma free to quickly delete her computer diary after putting it on a private blog for storage. She then leisurely began to read her script. This time she actually took in the words, rather than staring blankly at the page as she had done in Drama.
All her teachers had gotten angry with her for not even attempting the homework, though with varying degrees of anger. Emma had simply sat in her seat (or the carpet, in the case of Drama) without a care in the world. This was her time to live. She wasn’t going to live long. So she decided that she wouldn’t do things like homework or lunch duty, which was an obligation for every high-achieving Grade Ten student. Too bad, Emma wasn’t going to be high-achieving anymore.
Emma did, however, find Drama interesting, and so she decided that the only homework she’d do was Drama homework.
Then again, there was the fact that Emma didn’t know how long she would live that had to be considered.
Death chose that moment to contact Emma.
He appeared in the form of a book. It caught Emma’s eye immediately; it was sitting beside her and she hadn’t noticed. But it stood out from the rest of the room because it looked… ancient, to summarise. The large, leather-bound book was dusty and the pages were of yellowish parchment. Emma opened it carefully, not wanting to destroy the fragile-looking pages of the book. She was surprised to feel that the pages were actually quite strong.
It was blank.
There was absolutely no words, no ink, nothing at all. Emma glared at the empty book. The book glared back.
She had, however, watched the Harry Potter series numerous times and decided to see what happened if she wrote in the book.
Hello? she wrote.
“Hello,” said a familiar voice in her head, making her jump rather violently. Emma looked back at her writing on the book; it was still there, written neatly up the top of the first page.
So Emma wrote, and Death responded by speaking in Emma’s mind. That was a wonderful idea. No one would ever see or hear Death’s responses, even if the person was staring straight at the book. Sadly, they would see Emma’s questions.
It is Death, right?
“Yes. Keep this book safe; it is our method of communication. Do not show it to anyone.”
“I have come to you with mission details.”
Cool! I have a question before you start, though. How long will I get to live?
“You have two weeks to complete the mission. If you succeed, you get a few more days to finalise your goodbyes. If you fail, I will bring you, your mother and your father back to my realm.”
Emma’s pen hovered over the page. Death had basically just told her that her actions would make the difference between her parents’ life and death in half a month.
“Your mission, as you know, is to find a young man who has escaped me. He is part of a family that has cheated Death for many generations. Their incompliance to die requires me to take the lives of other people who aren’t meant to die until a time much later. This is unacceptable, but I can’t do anything. I refuse to cross the barrier between the plane of the dead and the plane of the living. That’s why I needed someone else to cross it, and that person was you.”
Why me, though?
“You were randomly chosen.”
Oh, Emma wrote, slightly disappointed.
“You, the chosen one, are to find the escapee and bring him to me either by summoning me with this book or killing him yourself. All I know is that his family is a rich one. They use methods of defying me that baffle me and would also baffle you. I will not watch over you as you seek out your prey; you may obtain assistance, but not from me. The only time I will watch the living plane will be when you summon me. Your mission begins now.”
And then Emma knew he was gone.
Emma closed her book and shoved it in the drawer containing all her underwear. Her idea of what she had to do was so vague and so full of holes that you could sail a boat through it.
The guy was part of a rich family. Ah, what grand and helpful information Emma had! Of course, she had to start somewhere.
For some reason, Emma already felt tired. She tossed her script onto her pillow and made a resolution to start thinking about planning her next move tomorrow morning. For today, however, she just wanted to sleep. Or eat. Preferably with the latter coming first.
Josh came back from his shower and Emma left immediately, half to give him privacy and half to get something to eat. She was so hungry that as soon as she got downstairs, she stuffed her mouth with whatever was in reach.
Her mother was cooking something that smelled absolutely delicious. Emma took to watching her mum perform magic. Shortly after, Josh came from upstairs, once again resuming his faux polite manner, helping “Mrs. Slim” to set the table and prepare dinner. Emma cringed. She was unsure about eating anything touched by Josh, in fear that it was poisoned or anything of the like.
The Slim family and Josh ate dinner at their usual dining table, though it was unrecognizable. Emma’s mum had given Josh many stylish decorations to put on the table to celebrate the newest occupant of their house. Given the choice, Emma would have lay down little stink bombs as the decoration.
They conversed about trivial topics the whole time. Emma chose not to take part in the conversation, instead realising the importance of gobbling up her food. She was like a ravenous monster that night. Josh was giving her looks of disdain whenever her parents weren’t looking. Her mother looked appalled and her father looked rather proud of how boyish his daughter was being.
“Emma!” snapped her mother finally. “Stop eating in that horrible way. We have a guest.”
“Oh, come on, Jenny. Emma needs to fatten herself up. She’s becoming like all other teen girls: starving herself just to ‘look nice’.”
Emma rolled her eyes at her food, attacking her mashed potato.
“Henry,” her mother retorted, “don’t be silly. Emma has to eat like a lady.”
“Emma can eat however she sees fit! I really don’t think we need to be overprotective about her eating habits.”
“Overprotective? This isn’t about being overprotective. This is about etiquette and manners, two of the most important things in society. Emma needs to learn these things if she’s to be successful.”
“You don’t etiquette and manners to be successful. You’ve got to have brains and creativity. Just like Emma does.”
Emma ate her food without listening to her parents’ argument, nor paying any attention to Josh’s scornful expression.
She didn’t bother to excuse herself when she was ready for bed. Her parents were too caught up about whether Emma should do this or Emma should do that, and Emma hardly needed to say, “Excuse me” to Josh.
Fatigue overwhelmed her as she climbed the stairs. She moaned quietly and pulled herself up with the handrail, her legs and arms protesting. She could have gone to sleep right on the staircase, really, but she preferred a nice bed.
The climb ended after what seemed like hours and Emma trudged to her room, launched herself on her bed and fell asleep as soon as her head hit the goose-feather pillow. She hadn’t even changed her clothes or brushed her teeth.
The alarm blared out a piercing recording of police sirens the next morning. Emma woke up with a forceful, loud yawn that made Josh – who was sleeping on the mattress – snort and turn over. She still felt drained. It was not a pleasant feeling, mainly because Emma didn’t know the reason for her being dog-tired.
She growled into her pillow and then threw one forcefully at Josh, just for fun. He awoke with a start. Emma giggled, but the look in Josh’s eyes was close to murderous.
“Slime ball,” he croaked, for he hadn’t had time to exercise his voice.
“Pain in the butt,” Emma greeted in return, equally as croaky.
They stayed silent for a few moments to savour what little time they could have in bed before getting ready for school. Then Josh… started singing opera.
“Voice exercise 1, voice exercise 2, voice exercise 3…” Josh sang, changing between low notes and high notes. His “opera voice” boomed thunderously, making Emma exclaim in frustration. She pressed her pillow to her ears, but his voice was still easily audible.
“Shut up, Josh!” Emma yelled. “You’re such a… nuisance!”
“Vocal test 7…” Josh continued happily.
Emma exclaimed in frustration again and rolled off her bed, landing on the floor with a loud “thump” and an “oof” from Emma. She marched out of the room with a scary look in her eyes and threw another pillow as hard as she could at Josh, just for good measure. He seemed unconcerned and continued exercising his voice, irritating Emma more. She slammed the door and stomped down the corridor. She actually hummed in a deep, dangerous tone when the noises from her room stopped and she realised that he had only done that to get the room to himself. He was so good at getting a rise out of Emma that it just wasn’t fair.
Shaking her head and muttering incoherent things under her breath, Emma made her way down the stairs. It was a hard descent, just like last night, though a bit easier because she was going down this time. Her muscles ached from some unknown thing Emma must have done – perhaps it was her making Josh’s bed. No, it couldn’t be; she had made loads of beds in her lifetime and she’d never had aching muscles the next day. What was going on?
Similar to the night before, Emma snatched up all the food within her reach. Even after having twice the size of her normal breakfast, it did nothing to appease her hunger. At the dining table, Emma’s dad was peering at her over his round reading glasses and Emma’s mum was observing her above her newspaper.
“Hungry?” her mum said after a while.
Emma stuck her head in the fridge. There was nothing else suitable for breakfast, so she gave up and chugged down the carton of orange juice. It only made her stomach emit unpleasant noises of gurgling and rumbling.
Josh waltzed down the stairs and Emma took this as her cue to push past him and re-enter her room (after yet another tiring climb). She pulled out her uniform from the pile of clothes by her bed, gave it a cursory sniff and deemed it clean enough. After donning her uniform and running a brush through her wild hair, Emma shoved her books in her bag, grabbed her lines and descended the stairs.
She gave Josh a deadly glare when her parents weren’t there, simply because he was annoying.
But why did they detest each other in the first place? Emma knew why she had hated him; she had a biased view about good-looking people. The reason why he hated her was probably because all he had heard about her before becoming her roommate was that she was an outcast, a weirdo, slime, whatever.
Obviously, Josh was very worthy of disliking.
Emma sat at the table reading her Drama lines. Josh joined her soon after.
“This cereal is really nice,” Josh commented absent-mindedly, munching heartily.
“I haven’t had my morning coffee so I’m finding it difficult to search for a more colourful way to say that I don’t care,” Emma quipped.
“Emma,” her mother said warningly.
“What?” Emma asked, returning to her lines. When her mum and dad were at a safe distance in the living room, Emma turned towards Josh sharply.
“My mother and father seem to love you more than me. How do you do it?” Emma questioned angrily.
“It’s just my blatant charm and lovely manners,” Josh said, shrugging.
“Manners, my butt,” Emma scoffed. “You think it’s appropriate to win over the hearts of my parents with a fake personality?”
“I do,” Josh replied, nodding.
“And you think it’s alright to make my life hell by doing that?” Emma continued.
“Yes,” Josh answered, again nodding.
“I wonder how you comb your hair so the horns don’t show,” Emma shot.
Josh gave a kind of sly smile and pushed his bowl over the edge of the table. Emma gasped as the milk and cereal went all over her skirt and chair.
“Oh no, your uniform’s dirty!” Josh sighed sadly and melodramatically.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Emma said sarcastically.
“You’re welcome, Lieutenant Sarcasm,” Josh replied nonchalantly, twirling his spoon in his hands.
Emma shook her head. Josh was just unbelievable.
She went upstairs to get another uniform skirt. While changing in the room, she made a promise to herself that one day, while she was still living, she would get him back.