Authors: Amanda Ashby
Tags: #Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural
YOU HAD ME AT HALO
© Amanda Ashby
I started writing this book three weeks after my dad died, and while he might not be here anymore, I’m certain, that in typical fatherly fashion, he’s up there pulling a few strings.
I would like to thank my critique partners, Pat Posner, Sara Hantz and Christina Phillips. Their knowledge of when to crack the whip and when to administer chocolate is unerring.
I would also like to say a big thank you to Jenny Bent, who is quite simply the best agent a girl could have and who is so gentle with my dreams.
To Anne Bohner and everyone at NAL, I still can’t believe how lucky I am so thank you all for your patience and hard work.
Of course, I can’t forget Penny Jordan, Susan Stephens, Amanda Grange and everyone else from my local RNA chapter in England. Not only are you all great writers, but you have the most excellent taste in pudding as well.
To Pam, who despite having a daughter who refused to get a real job, has been a great support. To Kay, who is nothing like the stepmother in this book and to Nick and Liz, for never laughing apart from when they were meant to. Also, to all my other family, friends and writing pals spread out across the world, yes, you are expected to buy it, read it and answer questions. Sorry, but that’s the rules.
Finally, to Barry, Molly and Arthur, I quite simply couldn’t have done it without you.
Gerald Francis Ashby
(1935 – 2005)
“Unbelievable.” Holly Evans shook her head as she peered down through the glass window to the scene below.
That was the problem with an open casket. It meant everyone’s last memories of her would be with a white puffy face, the wrong color lipstick and a dreadful polyester dress. They always said the camera added five pounds, but no one ever talked about how fattening embalming fluid was.
“What?” Holly kept her eyes focused on the service. “Oh, sorry. It’s just it’s hard to be quiet when I have to look at myself getting buried in that outfit. I’m only twenty-two. So much to live for, yet there I am. Dead. You know I don’t like to kick up a stink, but I most certainly didn’t die of natural causes.”
There was another angry hiss from behind her, which Holly ignored. She’d been ignoring a lot of things since she’d died two weeks ago. And it had to be said that heaven wasn’t nearly as much fun as she had been led to believe. All the rules for a start.
Where were the fluffy clouds and peeled grapes? To be honest the place looked more like Terminal Two at LAX than a celestial paradise. She pressed her nose up to the glass again. Here came the speeches.
Holly sniffed as she listened to Gemma’s glowing tribute. Of course she knew her best friend would come through for her. “And look at how everyone is crying,” she said to no one in particular. “I’m really touched. Perhaps the dress wasn’t such a bad choice after all?”
Now it was Todd’s turn to speak and if she didn’t know better, she would say his eyes looked a bit moist as well.
They had been dating almost a year and he
hadn’t even shed a tear when he broke
his leg in three places while playing football. Yet here he was crying over her.
It just made Holly feel even worse about their stupid fight. Todd had wanted to propose to her in front of everyone at the annual Baker Colwell ball, while Holly had wanted it to be a more private affair. He had refused to budge on the issue and after three days of not speaking, Holly had finally come to realize what a fool she was. If he wanted to show his love for her in front of the entire company, well it was hardly something she should argue about. Especially since she had “accidentally” found the ring at the bottom of his closet a week earlier.
It was beautiful. And so big. And if only she hadn’t died, then she would’ve been able to apologize to him before the ball and by the end of the night it would’ve been hers. It wasn’t fair. Especially when she thought of how much she’d spent on the pink bra and panties to complete her apology. Not that she had resented the cost, since it wasn’t everyday a girl got engaged. Besides, Todd had once said how gorgeous pink looked against her dusty brown curls and huge sloe-shaped eyes. Okay so he hadn’t used those words exactly, since he was more of a salesman than a poet. But Holly just knew he had been thinking it on the inside.
Still, there was no use crying over spilt milk, or diamonds as big as her knuckle. She was in heaven now and she just had to forget about how much better the death notice would’ve looked if only it said, loving fiancé, Todd Harman.
“But,” she said with one final sniff, “there’s no denying it would’ve been a beautiful wedding.”
“I told you. No talking during a funeral.”
“And I told you that since I’m only going to die once, I might as well make the most of it,” Holly retorted to the person behind her. “Besides, how often do you get all of Baker Colwell’s head office to turn up to your funeral? That includes the notoriously stuck up corporate affairs guys from fifth floor
Look, they’ve even spelt my name out in bright red roses and white carnations. What a nice gesture.”
“Miss Evans,” someone else said and Holly reluctantly spun around to where Tyrone, her first level tutor, was standing. He was tall and bald with a beaky nose, and when Holly had first arrived in heaven, she had been under the mistaken impression that he was God.
The fact that he had laughed hysterically at her mistake hadn’t made Holly warm to him much. And besides, from what she gathered, no one really got a good look at the big man, so who was to say he didn’t look like Tyrone? It was possible.
“There have been complaints.”
“Yes, Miss Evans. Complaints. About the talking. It’s got to stop.”
“I’ve hardly said anything,” she protested. “Honestly I haven’t. It’s just that
people around here jump down your throat for even breathing...well, not that we actually breathe anymore. But still, they really should try and relax a bit. Anyway, it’s easy for them to sit there looking smug since most of them got to see the right side of seventy.”
Tyrone gave her a patient smile. “Remember, I explained these feelings are just temporary and as soon as they’re purged you’ll be left with an overwhelming sense of joy.”
Holly grunted by way of an answer, since the longer she was dead, the less joyful she was becoming. It wasn’t that she wanted to cause a fuss, but she was still grappling with what had happened.
She had her whole perfect life in front of her: a great new promotion with the eleventh-most-benefit-friendly employer in the country, a heap of friends and a potential fiancé who was drop dead gorgeous. Oh yes, she had it all to live for, all right. But around here that didn’t seem to matter.
“Look, Miss Evans. This will get easier as you go along. You just need to stick to the rules and do as you’re told.”
Holly was becoming more and more frustrated. She wasn’t usually quite so petulant, but then she wasn’t usually dead either. “What are they going to do? Kill me? Oh, wait, that’s right. I’m already dead.”
“Actually...” Tyrone cleared his throat. “I think you’ll find there are quite a few fates worse than death.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Holly was stung into replying. “I’ve got to say it’s a pretty disorganized up here. All I keep hearing is, ‘Of course you can’t see your parents yet, Miss Evans; you need to wait until you’re at Level Three for that...No, Miss Evans you can’t go and haunt someone just because they took credit for one of your ideas last month...’”
All around her she could see people catching their imaginary breath in an inward gasp.
That was another thing about this place: Everyone just seemed to sit around doing nothing. Tyrone said it was because on Level One people were still waiting for their security clearances before moving up to their higher destinies. But whatever the reason, it was pretty annoying to always have a peanut gallery of dead people listening in on what she was saying.
“I know it seems frustrating to you right now, Miss Evans, but you just need to try and be patient a bit longer,” Tyrone said in a mild voice, which reminded Holly of just how pointless it was to try and argue with him. “So please, no more talking.”
“Fine.” Holly felt the fight drain out of her as she let out a sigh and turned back to her own funeral. She would try very hard to watch the rest of it without opening her mouth, and— “Oh, gross. What’s Vince Murphy doing there? I mean, just because we both happened to go to the same school together and now work for the same firm is NO reason for him to think we’re friends. And why are all the other technicians there as well? Don’t they have anything better to do?”
Behind her Tyrone coughed and Holly lifted her hand in an apology. “Okay, sorry. I was just a bit thrown to see them...Oh, and why does Vince have all those purple flashing lights dancing around his head? I know he’s weird, but that’s just something else.”
“If you’d read your manual properly you’d know purple lights mean the body in question is about to die,” the same annoying person called out from the peanut gallery. Obviously she wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been filled with joy yet. This guy didn’t seem to be feeling the love either.
“I suppose that’s right next to the bit about no talking during a funeral,” Holly retorted.
“Actually it is. But since you were obviously too busy doing your nails instead of learning how to read before you committed suicide—”
Holly spun around and glared at the man for the first time. “
I. Did. Not. Commit. Suicide
“Of course not and I guess those pills just magically entered your system,” said the horrible man (who Holly was very glad to note was incredibly fat). “Oh yeah,” he continued with a snigger. “You’re not the only one who looks down at what’s going on. I saw the hospital report and what they said. Apparently it’s not the first time you’ve tried it either. Sounds to me like you’re not only a big mouth, you’re a—”
“Thank you, Mr. Michaels, that’s enough,” Tyrone interrupted before joining her at the window.
“I didn’t commit suicide.” Holly managed to keep her voice low. She could feel her body shaking, which was sort of weird since Tyrone had explained that once a person got to heaven, while their spirit still had the appearance of a body, it didn’t actually work like one. As in no feeding, no watering, no washing.
Holly put it down to this purging business.
“It’s no one’s job to judge here, Miss Evans.”
“Tell that to the fat guy behind me,” she muttered in a sullen voice as her fingers unconsciously made their way to the scars on her wrist.
Tyrone coughed. “Again on the not being here to judge.”
Holly bit her lip. “Okay. Sorry. He probably has a wonky metabolism or something. But…” she gulped as she stared out the window again. “Is Vince Murphy really about to die? What’s wrong with him?”
“Probably missing your smart wit.”
“Mr. Michaels,” Tyrone said in a quiet voice, which somehow sounded more like a roar than a whisper as it echoed around the large glass fronted room. “One more word and it’s another month on Level One for you.”
Serves you right
, Holly wanted to say, but she wisely kept her mouth shut. Besides, Tyrone could be sort of scary. She watched him turn back to her.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with your friend, but it’s true he’s about to die,” he said in a kinder voice. “However, Miss Evans, I have to insist there’s no more talking, because otherwise the matter will be out of my hands. Do you understand?”