I Fell in Love with a Ghostbyqhml1©
This is not a Halloween story. I just added the bit at the end in honor of the holiday. Hope you enjoy.
He just showed up one day, and the bar owner did everything but kiss his ass in front of everyone. He even set up a small table in the back near the restrooms, and no one was allowed to sit there except him.
The place had been a working class bar forever, but when the economy went bad and manufacturing dried up, all that was left were the unemployed and the retirees. The owner was just about to shut it down. He must have come up with some money, because he remodeled, brightened the place up a little, and put in a state of the art jukebox with an amazing sound system. Gradually it went from retirees to young professionals, because the drinks were reasonably priced, and the place was right on the edge of the business district. We were mostly secretaries, data geeks, and very junior management. Plus, the owner and his bartenders really kept an eye on things, diffusing trouble early on, taking keys, the owner sometimes poured one of us into a cab and paid the fare.
The man stood out, especially in a place where the clientele were usually under thirty, he was old.
Not ancient grandfather old, but old enough to have iron gray hair. It was long, I mean down past his shoulders long, falling in thick gray waves. And it wasn't dirty, it kind of shined. And he was neat, always dressed in tight blue jeans and a black t shirt that featured Harley dealerships from different states. His body was not grandpa either, he was borderline built. You could see the muscles ripple across his back and in his arms, and his stomach was tight. There was even a hint of a six pack.
I saw him smile once, surprised at his straight white teeth. He saw me looking and the smile immediately disappeared.
He would come in, talk to the bartenders for a minute, then sit down. He drank three beers in two hours on average. He always had a book or magazine in his hand. How he could read when the crowd showed up and the music started was beyond me. No one knew what he drove, he seemed to just appear, and then you'd look up and he would be gone. For a big man, I'm guessing a bit bigger than six feet and well over two hundred pounds, he moved like a ghost. I was on the back deck once and he walked right by me, and the shaky old floor never creaked or seemed to move. He was within three feet of me and gone before I even knew he was there.
Of course we were intrigued. We made up wild stories about him.
He was a hitman laying low, or an ex Navy Seal hiding from the Taliban. He was in witness protection. He was a cop, he was a mobster, and so on. We nicknamed him the Gray Ghost.
We had just about worked up the nerve to talk to him when an incident occurred that changed our minds.
Eric was big, six four and over two fifty, very little of it fat. He thought he was the meanest man in the place, the one everyone else walked around, especially if he had been drinking. And he drank a lot. The bartenders had already warned him, one more incident and he was barred permanently.
His asshole buddies, knowing how he was, waited until he was half wasted and started in on him over the Ghost.
"He's laughing at you, man. Bet he could take you down in less than a minute."
"Yeah, you can tell he's not impressed. Looks like there might be a new big dog in the pound."
Eric had heard enough. He staggered over to the table and leaned down, putting his hands on the table.
"Who the fuck are you? I hear you been talking shit about me."
He looked up, calmly, while he rolled the magazine he had been reading into a tight little cylinder.
"Who I am is none of your business. I'd have to notice you to talk about you, and frankly, you don't look interesting enough to warrant my attention. Now stagger back to your table like a good little boy, and we'll forget the whole thing."
Everyone had stopped talking. It was the first words any of us had heard him speak, and the calm tone totally belied his words. Had he really just dissed Eric?
Eric was confused for a minute, trying to process his words through his drunken brain. When he finally filtered it through he turned bright red.
"Asshole! I'm gonna fuc..."
That was all he got out before the Ghost poked him in the eye with the magazine, and didn't do it gently. Eric roared and staggered back, holding his eye.
"I'm gonna kill you!", he screamed.
The Ghost stood in one fluid movement and poked him in the other eye. Temporarily blinded, Eric swung wildly.
What happened next was a sight to behold. The older man swung the magazine, slapping him across the bridge of his nose. It rang out like a shot. Eric opened his mouth to scream, and he shoved the magazine down his throat, yanking it back quickly. While he stood gagging, the older man proceeded to rake the magazine back and forth across his face, the slaps echoing through the bar. Eric finally went down with a whimper.
By now the older man was breathing a little heavier. He looked over at the table of guys who had put Eric up to the confrontation.
"This dumbass isn't smart enough to do this on his own. Which one of you assholes put him up to it? I'd like a word with that individual."
He started walking across the floor, idly popping the magazine across his thigh. They all looked at Tom, the ringleader, and realizing he had been made, he turned and fled out the door, the magazine hitting him in the head before it swung closed.
The bartender was helping Eric up, telling him loudly he and all his friends were barred permanently, and not to ever come back. Ghost hadn't even stopped, calmly walking through the door and into the night.
I glanced down and saw the magazine, and picked it up. The Smithsonian, a little highbrow for this crowd.
Two weeks later I stepped out of my car. It was pouring rain, matching my mood.
"Great" I thought, "just great. I'll look like a drowned rat before I get to the door."
Suddenly It seemed to stop raining. I'd already had two beers at home, and it confused me. I looked up, seeing a large umbrella. I followed the handle down to the arm, and the arm up to the face. The Ghost!
He didn't say a word, taking my elbow gently and escorting me to the door. As I entered he actually smiled, before disappearing into the night.
My life was a mess. Kelly Pinckney, dweeb extraordinaire. Twenty five. No college degree. No great career. No lover. Well, not anymore.
I actually went to college, still needed a year to get my degree in finance. I loved numbers, loved the research I did, trying to determine the variables of the stock market in this economy. It was all just for my amusement. I had no money. Had no prospects to get any, holding an entry level position that was very little more than a glorified secretary.
My love life was now nonexistent. Had a boyfriend, was thinking long term when he surprised me by dumping me.
After I cried and whined he told me the truth.
"I don't want to hurt you any more, but the truth is you're boring, in and out of bed. You don't want to try new things. You haven't changed your hairstyle or bought different clothes since I met you. For God's sake, Kelly, you're twenty five, not fifty five. If we stay up past eleven you're nodding."
He waved my attempt to argue off.
"I'm sorry, I really am, but it's true. You have potential Kelly, but you won't do anything about it. I think there's passion in there somewhere, but you won't let it out and I've given up mining for it. Find an older guy, someone more your style, pop out a couple babies. Be a housewife. It'll suit you."
He didn't know how close to the truth he was. I DID want to be a housewife, with kids. But I wanted a loving husband, passionate, skilled, who could help me reach the sexual heights I desired.
In the end, I wanted taken care of. I know, terribly old fashioned and out of date. I wanted a man who would look out for me, make the hard decisions, surround me with love. Like I was ever gonna find someone like that.
I determined to drown my sorrows. My friends knew I had been dumped and were supportive, but I saw the looks they gave each other when they thought I wasn't looking. Loser. It may as well been tattooed on my forehead.
The jukebox started up, and my friends got asked to dance. No one asked me, I guess one look at my face told them I wasn't in a dancing mood.
I had switched to whiskey, not a good thing. I was getting maudlin, also not a good thing. I was thinking abut calling a cab, going home to my tiny apartment and cry into my pillow, knowing I was going to be alone the rest of my life, I could tell. Maybe I should get a cat. Wait, my lease wouldn't let me. I really was going to be alone. Damn, damn, damn.
I had to pee, really bad. I got up and semi staggered to the bathroom. Washing my face, decided fixing my makeup was a waste of time, and started back to my table, to finish my drink and wait on the cab, when I saw him.
The Ghost. Somehow he had slipped in and was at his table, reading a book.
I looked around the bar. The girls in their flirting clothes, the men, mostly professionals, in their conservative casual. Only two had on jeans, and they were designer, to be seen, not worn.
He had on Levi boot cuts, a pair I bet he had owned for quite a while, judging by the fade.
"Now there's a REAL man" I thought, and before my brain knew what my body was doing I walked to his table and plopped down.
He looked over the book in surprise, before a slow smile took over his face.
"Hi. I'm Kelly."
I stuck my hand out. To my surprise he took it gently, just holding it instead of shaking it.
"Well, good evening to you, Miss Kelly."
Even his voice was sexy. A light baritone, with a hint of a Southern drawl. He still held my hand.
"And you are?" I prompted, anxious to draw him into conversation.
He started a bit.
"Please, excuse my manners. I'm..." he paused for a few seconds before grinning, his perfect white teeth shining in the dimness of the bar, "..The Ghost."
I gave my own little start. His grin got bigger.
"People talk" he said, "and the more alcohol the looser and louder the tongue. Now, Miss Kelly, what do you want?"
I looked into those warm brown eyes, and for once in my life decided to be truthful.
"I want a man. A real man." I gestured around the bar. His eyes widened, he probably didn't expect that.
"Not like these guys. Oh, they're nice enough, but they live in their own little universe. I want to meet someone who has been out in the real world. Been places, done things. Someone to show me how life really is."
I stopped suddenly, embarrassed, realizing what I had said. I looked back at my table, to see my friends staring at me, mouths open. Take that, I though, how does Miss Pitiful look now?
"An admirable ambition, Miss Kelly. But what does that have to do with me?"
He still hadn't let go of my hand, not that I minded.
"Nothing. But you're obviously older, and you're dressed for comfort, not for show. For lack of better words, you look like you've experienced life, like you don't have to prove anything to anybody. I'd just like to talk to you, if you don't mind."
He finally released my hand, and leaned back, obviously thinking. After a bit of silence while he held an internal debate, he nodded.
"All right. Please, join me." He signaled a bartender.
"Another Shiner Bock, Sam. And an Irish coffee for Miss Kelly, minus the Irish."
He looked at me.
"I believe you've consumed enough alcohol this night. If you want to talk, you should at least be able to remember it. Now, tell me about yourself."
So for the next hour and a half I spilled my guts, pretty much going back to high school. He listened attentively, asking a question now and then. When I got to the part about being dumped, he frowned.
"Did you love him?"
"I thought I did. Now, I'm not so sure. But it still hurt, mostly because of what he said, and the fact that it was the truth."
"And what do you want now?"
"To prove to myself and the world that he was wrong. I want adventure. I want to embrace life. I need a guide. Will you let me talk to you some more?"
He held out his hand.
I handed it to him. He punched his number in.
"Here. If you're serious, call me tomorrow afternoon. Now, I have to leave, and you should get back to your friends. I'm sure they have questions. My advice, say I invited you over, that I'm obviously interested in you, but stop there. Their imagination will fill in the blanks."
He stood, pulled me to my feet and into a hug.
"I'm going to kiss you now" he whispered, "half the bar is watching. Don't act surprised."
He cupped my face in his hands, lowered his mouth and gave me a slow sensuous kiss, for at least five seconds. Both of our faces were flushed, and I was a little light headed.
He grinned, gave me another small kiss on the cheek, and strode away. I watched him all the way to the door.
My friends almost dragged me back to our table.
"God Almighty, girl! What got into you? The Ghost? Is he as sexy looking up close as he is from a distance? Is he a good kisser? Never mind, I can see by the look on your face he is. Is me...."
I held up my hand.
"Slow down, Heather. He's just a man. I went to the bathroom and he struck up a conversation with me, invited me to sit. We talked, had a drink. And yes, he's a very good kisser. Years of experience, I suspect."
The girls chattered happily, and were impressed when I told them he had gotten my number and was supposed to call the next day. A lie, of course, I was supposed to call him, if I could work up the nerve. I could feel the 'L' fading from my forehead.
I only stayed a few more minutes. Now sober, I felt safe driving home. When I got outside the rain was gone, and a full moon floated serenely in the sky. I took it as a good omen.
I woke the next morning with a slight headache, wondering if I'd dreamed last night. Checking my phone, I was relieved to see his number, under "Ghost".
I did my normal Saturday morning routine, cleaning my tiny apartment, went grocery shopping, Had my little Honda washed. Back home I stared at the clock, debating on whether to call. He seemed like a nice guy, but I didn't know him, and the little episode with Eric showed me he could be forceful if provoked.
At 12:05 I decided it was far enough past noon, and hit send. He picked up on the third ring.
"Good afternoon, Miss Kelly. How are you this fine day?"
Damn he sounded sexy. I actually stuttered a little greeting him. After that I let thirty seconds of silence go by.
"Miss Kelly? Are you still there?"
"Yes, yes, I'm here! Sorry, I just didn't know what to say. Can we meet? Talk some more? How about lunch? I'll buy. Unless of course you've already had lunch. In that case..."
He interrupted me, gently.
"Easy now. Lunch would be fine. And I'll buy, my daddy would skin me alive if he thought I'd let a woman pay. Can you be at The Bistro by one?"
The Bistro. One of the hottest restaurants in town, impossible to get into, and outrageously expensive. No way in hell we could get in on short notice, even for lunch.
"I can, but I doubt we'd get in. How about someplace else?"
"The Bistro. One. Don't be late."
He hung up.
I freaked, knowing I didn't have time to get ready, and probably wouldn't be eating there anyway. My dressiest jeans, nice top, white sandals with a two inch heel, minimal makeup. I ran out the door, and was in the parking lot by 12:55.
I didn't see him until he took my arm gently. How does he do that?
He had on black jeans, well worn black cowboy boots that were highly polished, and a peach short sleeved button up shirt. His hair was neatly woven into a braid and tied with a little leather strap. Wow.
He greeted me, guiding me along. We passed a motorcycle and I actually stopped and looked it over. I knew from watching television that it was a 'chopper'. It looked like a rolling sculpture. bright orange, yellow, and gleaming chrome. It also looked very expensive.
"Nice, isn't it" he said, with a grin.
"It's beautiful. You know, I've never ridden on a motorcycle."
"Really? I'll see if I can find someone to give you a ride."
"No, no, I'm afraid I'd be too scared to be a good passenger."
"We'll see" He said cryptically, ushering me inside.
Much to my surprise, the hostess smiled and said something in French. Some one answered her, and I looked to see who it was. Damn, he speaks French too? The hostess ignored the line, picked up a couple of menus, and led us right to a table. It was in the outside dining area, visible from the street.
He asked for water with a twist of lemon, while I got unsweetened tea. He frowned at my choice.
"What? Is it not good here?"
"I'm sure it'll be top notch. No, where I come from, tea isn't tea until it's about half sugar."
"You must be from the Deep South then. My company sent us down to Charlotte once for training. It was like drinking syrup. I wasn't keen on barbecue, but I became addicted to catfish. What does fish camp mean, any way?"
"Shame on you! You've obviously never been fed true barbecue. I'll have to make sure your education includes a taste of the real thing."
"In the old days, if you went fishing, it took coordination. You had to get a neighbor to watch your livestock, tend your crop. You were expected to return the favor when it was their turn."
"You went in a wagon to the river and usually spent a couple of days. You smoked or salted your catch for later eating. Of course, word would get out, and you'd have people stopping by at suppertime, to enjoy fresh fish before they went home. So, you camped and fished. When electricity came along and fish restaurants popped up, people called them fishcamps, after the old meaning. It was where you went when you didn't have time to fish yourself. There's your Southern history lesson for today."
He had ordered for both of us, without asking.
"I want you to taste this" he explained. "If you don't love it, you can have anything off the menu that tickles your fancy."
It was a roast beef sandwich, but not your typical roast beef sandwich. Herb roasted, hand sliced, thick chunks in a crusty roll, with homemade mayonaise tinged with horseradish, garlic roasted baby red potatoes and a tomato salad. There was also a small bowl of beef broth to dip the sandwich in.
The tomato salad was eight different kinds of tomato, cut into small cubes with a vinegarette dressing and basil, served in a parfait cup. It was probably the best meal I had ever eaten.
My phone vibrated and without thinking I checked it. A text message, from Heather.
"The Bistro? WTF?"
I looked around to see her standing on the sidewalk. Before I could reply there were two more messages.
Cindy: "The Bistro? Nosh?" Nosh was her shorthand for no shit.
Janey: "OMG! He's gonna get some!"
I looked up to see him frowning.
"I know we're at least a generation apart, but where I come from it's considered rude to ignore a dining companion to answer the phone."
"You're right. I apologize." I said, turning off my phone and sliding it into my jeans. Let them stew.
I was thoroughly satisfied with the meal and thanked him. He grinned.
"we're not done yet. Time for dessert."
The blueberries were in season, so we had Blueberry Fool, fresh blueberries stirred into blueberry jam, and layered alternately with creamed whipped at the restaurant, topped with fresh blueberries, in a large champagne glass. The whipped cream was tinged with lavender. I ignored the screams of my calorie counting conscience and cleaned the glass.