If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand

– Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “If We Were Vampires”

“I still don’t know how you manage to control the music in here.” Kyle raised an eyebrow at the bartender, who was busy selecting the perfect olive from the bunch in front of him.

“Sneaking into the back room is pretty easy for us, you know.” Gerard finally settled on one, plucking it from the glass and popping it into his mouth. “It’s not like anyone knows we’re here. Besides”—he motioned to the crowd lined up outside the door of the restaurant—”management couldn’t care less about a few unscripted song selections when they’re gearing up for the onslaught that is the dinner rush.”

“Can people see us? Sense us?” Kyle glanced around him, absentmindedly drumming on the bar as seats filled up with the usual suspects.

“Nah.” Gerard shook his head, visibly shuddering (well, to Kyle at least) as one of the bartenders reached through him to grab a handful of limes. “Though if you’re not careful, they might sit on your barstool. It’s a rather unpleasant sensation.” He nodded down toward the arm currently lodged halfway through his own mirage of a torso.

Kyle rubbed his temples. “I didn’t think it would be like this. The afterlife, or whatever. Am I — are we — ghosts? Ethereal beings?”

Gerard offered a sympathetic smile. “Nobody does. And I suppose so, technically speaking. But hey”—he motioned to the glass in his hand—”at least drinks are on the house. What are you having?”

Laughing weakly, Kyle leaned back in his barstool. “Whatever you’re pouring. Hit me with the purgatory special.” He frowned, getting a whiff of the perfume doused on the woman who had passed behind him. “Didn’t think I’d be able to smell, to be honest. Does everyone end up here, this middle ground?”

“Not everyone. Just people who need it.” Gerard grabbed a martini glass, pouring out the mixture he’d been perfecting and selecting a few more choice olives. “…and most of those people also need a martini.” He slid the concoction over to Kyle, liquid sloshing above the rim and evaporating just before coming in contact with the bar.

Incredulous, Kyle eyed the disappearing act before taking a long swig. “I don’t understand this place, even after all these weeks.”

Gerard picked up a beer beside him. “I’m still figuring out the logistics myself, to be honest. From what I can tell”—he poured out a hefty amount onto the counter, Kyle staring as it dissolved into thin air before their eyes—”the second we start interacting with something, it loses any worldly form. We can’t leave marks.”

“Huh.” Kyle then slammed his fist on the table, which didn’t make the slightest sound. “Bizarre. Also, I should warn you,” he said, fishing an olive out of his glass and tossing it into his mouth, “I’m a bit of a lightweight.”

“Oh that’s one of the perks here. You’re not alive. You can’t get drunk.” Gerard winked, raising the now half-full glass of beer.

Kyle broke out in a smile—his first in the few weeks he’d known Gerard. “Well, all right then. Cheers!” He raised his glass as well before taking another sip. “How long does it take? You know, before I get to leave.”

“I don’t know. Depends why you’re here.” Gerard paused. “What happened, exactly? I don’t like to ask right away, but I figure we’re friends now.”

Kyle eyed his companion skeptically. “I thought you were some kind of all-knowing being.”

Gerard shrugged. “Yes, but I’m also polite. Don’t like to assume I know someone the second they arrive.”

Scowling, Kyle watched the olives dance around as he swirled his drink in time with the music. “I’m just getting antsy waiting for… whatever it is I’m waiting for here. It’s been weeks now.”

Gerard stuck an obnoxiously bright green umbrella into one of the olives in Kyle’s drink. “Hate to tell you, but you’re welcome company. The last guy…” He winced, picking up a napkin off the bar. “Not the best conversation partner. Bit of a dull one.” He continued folding the napkin, producing a sort of paper crane. “And to be honest, I don’t know specifics. I just know you were stood up the night you—”

“Didn’t make it home.” Kyle’s expression darkened. “Yeah. You don’t know what happened to the other driver, do you?”

Gerard’s cheery demeanor faded abruptly, his artwork vanishing as he set it down. “He’s… let’s just say, you might be seeing him once you leave here.”

Kyle sighed. “Well, I suppose we can’t change anything now. It wasn’t my fault, you know. The accident.”

“Not my job to assign blame.” Gerard was now inspecting a glass in his hand, aggressively rubbing at a persnickety smudge. “My job—” He chuckled to himself. “I always forget, I can’t clean a human smudge — my job is to keep you company while you wait.”

Kyle rubbed his temples angrily. “Wait for what, though?”

Gerard eyed the door. “Something. Someone. Hey,” he said, nodding toward the entryway, “check out the guy who just walked in. You think I could pull off that hair?”

“A man bun?” Kyle appraised the young man, examining his expertly-tied top knot.

“That’s what the kids call it nowadays?” Gerard tilted his head, brow wrinkling with newfound concentration. “Styles have sure changed since the 90s.”

Kyle spit his drink out, mid-sip. “The 90s?! That’s how long you’ve been here? Is that how long I’m stuck in this place?”

Gerard rolled his eyes. “First of all, take a chill pill, buddy. I don’t know how long you’ll be here. Second, I’m here by choice.”

“Why — ?” Kyle was cut off.

“I want to be. My life on Earth didn’t feel particularly meaningful, but this…” He motioned to Kyle. “Being here with souls like you feels… useful.” He paused. “Maybe someday, I’ll join you on the other side once you’ve moved on.”

Kyle thought for a moment. “So… you could just quit anytime and move on for good?”

“I suppose. I’ve never asked, really.”

“Asked who?”

Gerard chuckled, pointing upwards.

Kyle’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Gerard smiled, shrugging. “You’ll see.”

The pair continued their banter, providing commentary for the evening’s guests.

“Ten bucks she gets the salmon.”

“Oof, not the garlic bread. Bad call.”

“Don’t people know never to order the second cheapest wine? Rookie move.”

The pair were too busy buried in their narration to notice the woman sliding onto the barstool next to Kyle. That is, until her bag knocked over Kyle’s martini, which proceeded to drench his entire sleeve.

Kyle was about to say something when he realized that his arm and the surrounding area on the bar wasn’t dry, but rather soaked with alcohol. He froze, considering how that could be possible.

“Crap, sorry about that.” She winced before adding, “Right, you can’t hear me.” She shook her head, laughing. “Old habits die hard.”

He was at a loss for words, his breath — or the afterlife’s equivalent — caught in his throat. The woman beside him tucked a strand of glossy black hair behind her ear, hunched over as she perused the drink menu.

Gerard was smiling rather curiously, staring at her and then over at Kyle. “Something. Someone.” He started to untie the apron he’d been sporting.

At the sound of Gerard’s voice, the woman jolted upright, clearly startled that she hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Motor skills back in action, Kyle hesitantly turned to face her.

“Actually… I can hear you.”

She stared at him in disbelief, tired eyes filled with newfound life.

“You can hear me.”

Gerard gently set the apron down on the bar, watching as it disappeared before reaching out to pat Kyle on the shoulder. “And this is where I leave you. I’ll be seeing you, pal.”