Debut YA author K. C. Tansley (who’s already been around the adult publishing block as Kourtney Heinz) is getting great reviews on her supernatural murder mystery “The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts”–Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly both say the novel is “complex,” and PW adds that it’s a “neat spin on conventional ghost story motifs.” Can you say GET-IT-NOW BEACH READ?
Here she reveals to YARN a scary real-life moment in her life when her safety, and her bff relationship with her college roommate, was at stake.
By K.C. Tansley
Every friendship hinges on something. That one critical thing that makes it work. Margie’s and mine always hinged on this: I was the sidekick. She made all the major decisions. It was her world and I tagged along. At first, I liked it. I was less experienced and it was easier to just defer to her. However, one night, it put our lives at risk.
On Saturday nights at 1:00 a.m., Margie and I would be in our hottest dresses dancing to the Happy Homo House that played at Tracks because it was Gay Night. The one night that was devoted to gay men and, by extension, their straight female bffs.
Margie and I loved being able to get dressed up and go out. We would shed our jeans and T-shirts and get glammed up. For us, it was about feeling pretty and having a fun girls’ night out. We’d dance the night away without strangers trying to grind up on us. It was what we wanted—to dress how we wanted and do what we wanted and not be bothered by anyone. Sure, there were guys everywhere, but none of them tried to dance up on us. At least, that’s how it had been for the past two years. Then again, we usually went with our gay guy friends, Scott and Tom.
Tonight, however, it was just us girls. I had on my short, fitted red dress. Margie was wearing a sixties style sheath dress with swirls of green, turquoise, and white that ended a few inches above her knee.
As we came out of the ladies’ room, a forty-something guy blocked our path.
He asked, “Would you like to go to the ladies’ lounge?”
He was way too old and straight for Tracks tonight.
I had no idea what he meant. “Where?”
“The ladies’ lounge,” he repeated as he tried to put his arms around us.
Margie smiled and pulled me out of his grasp. “No thanks. We’ve got to get back to our boyfriends.”
That was one of her go-to lines when a creep came around. He disappeared. She had that effect on guys. She could wrap them around her finger or dispatch them efficiently.
As soon as he was gone, I asked, “Did he really invite us to the bathroom?”
She laughed. “I think he did.”
It made no sense to me. “But we just walked out of there. Is he stupid?”
She patted my arm. “I think he wanted to hook up or do drugs in the stalls with us.”
Either option grossed me out. “Thanks for getting rid of him.”
“No problem. What are best friends for?”
She was awesome like that. Wherever we were, she handled things. She was my best friend and my roommate. Despite our being the same age, she also acted like my older sister. Before we went out, she’d spend hours doing my hair and makeup. She’d pick out what I wore. And when we stayed in, she’d spend hours watching horror movies or giggling over rom-coms with me.
We met the first week of orientation and became inseparable. Everyone thought we’d known each other before school. We didn’t. We forged an instant and deep bond and she became one of the most important people in my life.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me back out onto the dance floor. We danced until my feet throbbed. It was 3:07 a.m. when we decided to call it a night.
I couldn’t wait to get into the cab, but it wasn’t easy to catch one in Southeast. There were four clubs in the area, and they were all surrounded by abandoned buildings. Nothing you’d want to hang around, especially not at this time of night.
Margie chatted up the bouncer while we waited for a cab to pull up. It had to be fifteen minutes before one finally arrived. My feet couldn’t take any more standing. I wanted to get out of my little dress and platform shoes and slip into my comfortable bed. To go back to being plain old Kourtney. Not Clubby Kor.
I slid into the cab, grateful to be headed home. Just twenty more minutes to go.
“Where are you going?” the cab driver asked.
Margie leaned forward to talk through the plastic divider between the front and the back seat. “We need to go to 37th and O Street, NW.”
He nodded. “That’s pretty far.”
I leaned back into the seat, settling in for our ride. Margie didn’t. She stared at the zone map for taxis. She always worried about the cost of a taxi. She had to. She was on a mix of scholarship, government grants, loans, and work study. It was the only way her family could afford Georgetown. Every cent counted for her. Sometimes she made me subway to the club to save money. It’s why she had spent hours figuring out how the zone map worked. It was the only way to make sure we weren’t being cheated by cab drivers.
We were only a few blocks from the club when Margie spoke up. “It’s not that far with the zones. How much are you going to charge us?”
It was 3:27 a.m. We were in Southeast—the worst area of D.C., at the worst time of night. If the cab driver wanted to charge us $40, it was worth the money to arrive back at the dorm safely. I’d put it on my credit card if we had to.
“Margie…” I said softly, hoping she’d pick up on the concern in my voice.
“I charge you how much it costs,” the cab driver said. “What do you think?”
I stifled a groan. This was bad. Margie knew exactly how much it should cost, and she hated when guys talked down to her like that.
“You have to cross four zones, so it’s $9.75,” she said.
“It’s my cab. I tell you how much it costs,” he said. “You don’t tell me.”
Please don’t let her get in a fight with the cab driver. Not here and not now. “I’ll cover us,” I whispered hoping she’d back down if it wasn’t her money at stake.
She tensed. She hated taking money from me almost as much as she hated wasting her own. She asked, “How many zones are you planning to drive through to get from here to there?”
The cab driver stopped in the middle of the road and turned around to argue with her. “You telling me how to drive?”
“I’m asking how much this ride will cost. We do it every Thursday and Saturday. It’s always $9.75.”
That was a lie. In the beginning, we got overcharged. We’d paid anywhere from $12 – $20 to get home.
“You don’t want to ride in my cab, you don’t have to be in my cab. You can get out.”
“Margie, please.” I didn’t want to get thrown out of his cab five blocks from Tracks. I didn’t want to be walking by crack dens in the middle of the night wearing this tiny red dress. “I’ll get this one.”
“Kor, he’s going to overcharge us. That’s not fair.”
I didn’t care. All I wanted was to get home to our dorm room, but I couldn’t say that because it would only make things worse. We’d had this fight before and it never ended well. She’d say I wasn’t respecting her feelings and supporting her. That I didn’t understand where she was coming from. That she didn’t know how we were friends.
And I’d have to relent because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her.
But this time, I really couldn’t understand her. Was sacrificing our safety worth it? I couldn’t see her side in this. And I wanted to. Because if I could make sense of it, maybe I could figure out the right thing to say and I could smooth everything over. But I couldn’t. If I said what I really thought—that she was being ridiculous and maybe the liquor was impairing her decisions—then she’d accuse me of being insensitive and throwing my money around.
I didn’t like where that fight would lead us. We’d have to confront all our differences. And no matter how much I loved her, I didn’t think our friendship could survive that conversation. So I did everything I could to avoid it.
The situation in the cab was escalating fast. My window to fix this was closing, and my mind went blank on what to do next. I didn’t know how to deflate this situation, so I did the only thing I could think to do: I shrugged.
Margie got more vehement. “Look, it’s $9.75. That’s the fare we always pay to go home and that’s what we will pay you.”
I closed my eyes and wished this wasn’t happening.
“You want to set the fare, drive your own cab.” The cab driver stayed in the middle of the road. There was no traffic at this time of night. “Get out of my cab. Get out!”
“No wait…” I said, too late.
“Get out!” he yelled again and again. “I’m not moving until you get out of my cab.”
“Fine, we’re leaving.” Margie threw open the passenger door and stepped out.
Part of me wanted to stay in the cab, but I knew I couldn’t. You didn’t abandon your best friend, even when she was being an absolute idiot. Still, I paused for a second. It was a dangerous place for us at this time of night, especially dressed like we were.
She grabbed my hand and tugged me out of the taxi and onto the deserted street. “It’s just five blocks to the club. We can get another taxi there.”
If we made it. I didn’t say that. Because I never said those things to Margie. I’d deferred to her for too long. I couldn’t go trying to change it now. Not without serious repercussions. My world revolved around Margie. If we weren’t friends, how could we live together? Who would I have lunch and dinner with? Who would hang out with me? My life was over without Margie.
She slammed the cab door. The taxi driver took off. The red tail lights faded into the distance. Shadows reached out from the decrepit buildings toward the sidewalk. I had no idea what lurked in them. I really didn’t want to find out. My heart raced. My thoughts sped up. I didn’t want to be here.
I was scared and angry. Scared by where we were and how we were dress and all the things that could happen to us. And angry. Angry at her for putting us in this situation and angry at me for letting it happen. Angry that I was too much of a coward to stand up to her.
“I would have covered you,” I mumbled.
“That’s not the point. He was trying to rip us off.”
“And this is better?” I asked softly.
“Don’t worry. Just keep walking, okay? No matter what. We’ll be fine. Nothing will happen.” She sounded confident and unconcerned, but Margie always acted like she was in control, even when she wasn’t. Tonight, I needed that false confidence to get me through this.
My eyes darted around, constantly searching for any threats.
I caught her doing the same thing. I think it started to sink in for her. Just how stupid this really was.
When you’re in danger, you create rings of safety. We decided that as long as we stayed in the street no one could grab us and pull us into one of the run down, boarded-up buildings. It was the only way to control the panic. There was barely any street traffic at this time of night. No one around except us. No one to hear us scream.
Our heels clacked against the tar as we made our way back to the club. Silence lingered between us.
Finally, she said, “He was cheating us.”
“I was right,” she said.
But sometimes being right wasn’t enough. Sometimes you had to look at the bigger picture. I swallowed those words. They wouldn’t help right now. All I had was Margie. I needed to stick with her. It was the only way we’d get out of this okay. Instead I said, “I’m scared.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” she promised.
She grew up in El Paso, Texas. She was the one with street smarts. I was the Connecticut suburb kid. I had to believe we could get through this together. It was the only thing that kept me putting one foot in front of the other.
We kept walking. Each block seemed to take a lifetime.
All the things that I wasn’t saying were playing through my mind. I knew I shouldn’t say it, but I had to say something. I couldn’t hold it all inside anymore. I just couldn’t.
“Why couldn’t you wait until we got back to Georgetown?” I blurted out.
She could have had a huge argument with the cab driver near campus. I’d have felt fine walking up O Street at 4:00 a.m.
She sighed. “I’m tired of men taking advantage because they can. Just because he’s a guy, he thinks he can overcharge us.”
Usually, I appreciated girl power. But she didn’t seem to get it. You could take a stupid stand or a smart stand. I would always support a smart stand. But this, this was a stupid stand. I took a deep breath and dared to say what was on my mind.
“We could have refused to pay him when we got to campus. We’d have been home safe,” I said softly.
She got quiet.
All you could hear was the clacking of our shoes. A few headlights came toward us. We moved to the side of the street, skirting the edge of the curb. Avoiding the shadows.
“Well, it’s too late now. He’s gone,” she said.
He was. But at least, I spoke up. I said what I was thinking. It was something I rarely did when I disagreed with Margie. I usually swallowed my opinions and my thoughts. I was wrong to do that. If I had said something in the cab, I could have stopped this from happening. This was as much my fault as it was hers.
I heard a noise in the shadows.
Margie glanced back. Then she grabbed my hand. “It’s only three more blocks. Let’s run.”
Hand in hand, we ran the last three blocks to the club’s entrance. Once we were under the light of the entrance, we doubled over to catch our breath.
“What was that back there?” I asked.
“I didn’t want to stick around to find out.”
And we never would. Here at the club, there were people milling about. We were safe. Relief rushed over me.
Margie must have felt it too because she started laughing. “I’m sorry. I should have thought that through more.”
“I should have said something.” And despite how hard it was for me to do it, I promised myself that I would speak up next time our safety was on the line.
“I thought you agreed with me,” she said.
I shook my head.
K.C. Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, and three quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables–spells, ghosts, time travel–and writes about them.
Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days.
“The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts” is her debut YA time-travel murder mystery novel. As Kourtney Heintz, she also writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults.