Jack Fenton was an open book, an honest man, made of good intentions and loose lips.
He hadn’t meant to spoil Maddie’s 30th birthday cruise. He hadn’t known his only daughter getting her first period was a personal matter. He hadn’t intended to ruin the surprise of a new cat to his 4-year-old son, even though his son had proven allergic and the cat had to be returned two weeks later.
Secrets, generally, were kept from Jack Fenton. He never took offense to this.
Even if no one suspected he had a jaw made of steel when it came to keeping the truly important things hidden—Jack spoiled surprises and presents, but he knew how to keep the heaviest matters under lock and key.
He was quite a good liar deep down.
Jack Fenton and his family were on the road when his kids asked him how exactly he knew billionaire Vlad Masters. Jack happily explained the connection, the friendship, and the accident that ended it.
With a tauter mouth, he maintained that he and Vlad hadn’t spoken since the day of the accident.
(Was that a lie? They hadn’t really “spoken” had they?)
Either way, Jack let the assumption hang in the air that he’d never visited Vlad in the hospital. It implied he’d bailed on his best friend immediately after injuring him, and this was intentional.
But really, what sort of friend packs up and cuts ties like that? Jack was sensitive to guilt like a gasoline-soaked tissue was sensitive to fire. He filled up the hospital waiting room with his bulk right after the accident, for endless hours. Nothing could have distracted his racing mind, not the magazines, not the drawling news, not Maddie’s paging him. He’d ended his friend’s life, and there was no distraction from that.
A quiet, blond nurse tapped him on the shoulder. Her smile was heavy and forced under the dark bags lining her eyes. She led Jack to the proper room.
When Jack was left alone in the doorway, staring into the bleach-white walls that ringed his friend, he touched the EMF meter hidden in his bulky pocket. The young man lying on the bed had bandages snaked around most of his face. Gaps were left over his nostrils; the holes over his eyes turned them into gaping shadows.
Vlad opened his eyes, and they were most certainly glowing.
"Vladdy?" Jack asked. He unsheathed the EMF meter from his pocket and swung it in the air. It crackled and blipped like a firecracker. Jack took shallower breaths in response. "Vladdy, what’d the doctors say about the ectoplasmic exposure? It’s fine, right? You’re fine."
A noise built in Vlad’s throat. It was deep, gurgled, until his body seized and a growl exploded from his mouth. Those flashing eyes. The glow on his body.
"You’re fine, Vladdy. This stuff will work its way out of your system. You’re you. You’re fine."
The eyes found Jack. Red as blood, blinking with sparks of energy like a Christmas tree might.
"I get it, V-man. You’re scared of me, yeah? Here I am, a ghost hunter. And here you are…"
His best friend sank back into the bed, energy drained. The glow on his body drew back into his flesh. His eyes shut, but it was hard to tell with the gauzy mask.
Jack touched the ectogun in his chest pocket. It felt cold, sharp and unyielding. He tested it the way he’d test a locked metal doorhandle in the dead of winter. It sapped the last of the warmth from his clammy fingers. Unfriendly and damning.
"It’ll be…fine." Jack felt certain his fingers would turn numb, wrapped around the blaster that chilled his core.
"You got no reason to fear, Vlad." Jack drew his hand away from the weapon and let his arm fall limply to his side, fingers curled inward. "You’re you. This is going to pass. I don’t have to do anything. You’re fine. This was dumb of me to come, thinking I might have to—you’re fine. You’re gonna be fine. The doctors are gonna make you fine."
Shame bubbled deep in his gut as he backed out of the room. He cast his eyes to the ground, and no nurse questioned it. They were used to the masks of grief haunting the patients’ hallway. Jack’s guilt disguised itself so easily as worry.
Jack never returned to Vlad Masters’ hospital room.
He carried an ectogun in his pocket from that day on.
But no one ever had to know about what he’d planned to do, what he almost had done, why he insisted on carrying protection every day after. Not Maddie. Not his kids.
Thinking about it put his insides in knots, because he’d been right. Vlad recovered. Vlad bounced back, made a life from himself, made a fortune. Vlad had everything he ever wanted in life, and Jack had almost taken that away.
It had been twenty years, and Jack was ready to reconnect with the friend who remembered nothing about the hospital visit. Jack took all his worry and guilt and buried it. It didn’t matter what he almost did. It didn’t matter what he thought. Ghosts and people don’t mix. He’d been a paranoid 19 year old. He’d grown since then. He wasn’t the same person anymore.
Jack took all his nagging thoughts and stomped them under his feet. He hid them away, and smiled widely to himself. He was excited; he was excited to mend old friendships, to catch up on twenty lost years, to introduce the kids to his oldest friend,
Because his best friend Vlad Masters was fine.