Spirit of Lovebyslyc_willie©
I tapped the rim of my drink, deflecting his question. "One more," I said.
I watched from across the street as Steve walked her home. Carmen had a little smile on her face as she held the bouquet of roses he had given her. That pang of jealousy returned; I steeled myself against it.
They spoke for a moment. Carmen clutched the roses; she did not seek out Steve's hands. When he leaned in for a tentative kiss, she offered her cheek. I felt both sorry for him and a little gladdened; on our first date, Carmen and I had made out like bandits.
She thanked him for a 'nice' date – I could just hear her soft voice drifting through the cool night air – and left him on the street as she ascended the steps to her building. Poor Steve looked disappointed, but he was too much of a gentleman to try and pressure Carmen. Not that he could, he knew, from what I had told him.
Like a puppy looking for a lost home, he watched after Carmen as she unlocked the door and headed in. Just before closing it, she looked back and smiled, waved. He waved back.
Then her eyes fell upon me. Her smile vanished; she frowned instead, as if not sure of what she was looking at. I cursed myself silently; I wasn't supposed to let her see me.
I took a step back, into the shadows. Carmen stared a moment longer, looked back to Steve as he said something. She forced a smile, shook her head . . . and slipped through the door. Steve lingered a moment, then turned and headed back down the street, hanging his head.
That night, I watched through her bedroom window as Carmen cried quietly upon her bed.
"How'd it go?"
Steve snapped his head up from the crossword puzzle he was working on. The grocery store was devoid of any customers; Steve had apparently looked for something to occupy his time until business picked up in the afternoon.
"Oh . . . hey," he said, straightening.
I smiled. "So . . . ."
He sighed. "I don't think she likes me," he said heavily. "I mean, we had a good time and all, but . . . she wouldn't even let me hold her hand."
"Did she like the roses?"
His lips curled. "Yeah. Yeah, she did."
"She keep them?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
He nodded. "Yeah. So?"
I winked. "Ask her out again. Do something fun this time. Amusement park, arcade, bumper cars, something like that."
Steve narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Why're you doing this?"
I held his eyes for a moment. "Because she deserves a good man," I said.
Steve was quiet, studying me, trying to read me. He couldn't, I knew, and he seemed to accept that. "Well . . . I guess I could give it another try."
I nodded. "You do that."
When they came back that second night, Steve leading her down the street to her apartment, Carmen was glowing. They had gone to the arcade, I could tell, judging by the big golden bear Steve was carrying for her. And this time, she had her arms looped in his, rubbing against him as they made their way along the sidewalk. Carmen looked happy. Hell, she looked more than happy. She looked . . . aroused.
And this time, when Steve leaned in for a kiss, she gave it to him. I tried not to watch, feeling a fist squeezing my heart. But I had to. I had to know that my beloved Carmen was happy.
Still, I was almost relieved when Steve came back from the door after taking the big stuffed bear to Carmen's apartment. He had a smile on his face, however, of the cat-that-ate-the-canary variety. When he walked back down the street, his head was held high and he was whistling a tune.
Good for you, buddy, I thought.
"You were right, Pete!" exclaimed Steve, slapping his hand on the counter beside the register in the grocery store. "Man, it's like . . . like the first date never happened, you know? She was so . . . fun, and . . . and she talked! I mean, she was asking all about me and stuff . . . ."
I nodded, feeling the dagger in my heart twisting a little. "Yeah, I know."
He gave a me a look. "She let me kiss her," he said with a boyish grin, then laughed. "She let me kiss her! Man! And it was . . . I mean . . . ." he trailed off, his smile fading. "Hey, Pete, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
I raised a hand. "It's all right," I said. "You're going to see her again, right?"
He nodded, somberly, trying to hide his excitement. He didn't do a very good job. "Tonight."
"Just promise me something, all right?"
He nodded again. "Sure. Anything."
I stared into his eyes. "Never hurt her," I said. "And never leave her."
Steve was silent a moment, staring back. It was a long moment before he spoke again. "I won't," he vowed.
That night, I stood on the balcony once more as I looked into the living room. Carmen had let Steve into her apartment this time, shown him around the place. They spoke for a bit, shared a little Chartreuse in cordial glasses. Steve didn't know it yet, but the golden liqueur was Carmen's aphrodisiac of choice.
They sat down upon the couch, and Carmen put on some music. Steve looked excited, anxious, but he remained patient. That would work for him, I knew.
Then she kissed him. Soft, sweet, warm and wet, her lips pressed against his. I could almost feel it myself. Steve looked like he was being blessed, and in a way, he was. The most incredible woman to ever walk the Earth was giving herself to him. I remembered how awed I had felt that first time.
She stood before him, smiling down with true affection as she slowly untied her blouse. Steve stared with real appreciation as Carmen's perfect breasts were revealed to him.
She slipped onto his lap, straddling him, took his hands and placed them on her breasts. Steve didn't fumble or grope like a desperate high-school jock who didn't know what he was doing; he caressed her flesh, lightly kissed her nipples. Carmen sighed, running her fingers through his hair.
"I want you," he whispered.
"Do you?" she asked.
"Because . . ." he began, then paused, forming his words. His eyes stared up at hers when he continued: "Because I feel like the peasant who's been chosen by the princess," he said, then blushed in self-admonishment. "Th-that was corny. I-I—"
"Steve," she said, cupping his face, making him look at her again.
"It's been a long time for me," she said. "Since . . . well, since. I haven't told you, yet, and I'm not ready to, but . . . I just want you to remember something, and keep remembering it, when I finally do tell you."
He looked confused. "What's that?"
Her fingers graced his lips, and she smiled. It was a true, affectionate, even loving smile. "I'm with you because I want to be with you. Remember that."
He nodded. "I will."
Carmen smiled again, kissed him once more. It was a different kiss, one of longing, desire . . . need. She slid from his lap, took his hands.
"Come to bed with me," she whispered.
I closed my eyes, turning away. I had seen enough.
I stared down into my third Scotch as the bartender's words tumbled around in my ears. I had a hundred answers to that question.
"She's happy again," I said.
I nodded, fished out a cigarette. His hand appeared before me, holding a golden Zippo. The flame flickered before my eyes as I lit my cigarette. "Thanks."
"Sure thing, buddy."
I eased back, exhaling a cloud of smoke that disappeared into the air. "I knew it was going to be hard," I said. "I'm happy for her, I really am. She deserves this. He's a good guy. I just . . . ."
"Wish it was you?"
I looked to the bartender, saw his narrow smile. I returned one of my own. "Yeah."
"Can't be easy," he said. "Seeing her with someone else."
My smile remained. "It's really not that bad," I said. "In fact, it's . . . revealing."
He frowned with an unspoken question.
I chuckled. "I think I finally understand just what she meant."
"About . . .?"
"The spirit of love," I said.
The bartender nodded slowly, took down a bottle from the top shelf. He gave me a wry look and set two shot glasses upon the bar before me. I watched as he poured the dark golden liquid, inhaled the scent of very expensive Scotch. A single pour of that stuff alone would have been twenty bucks.
"I've heard a thousand stories in this bar," he said. "Some have been tragic, others inspiring. Not too many are both."
I mused silently at his words. "The story's not over yet."
He pushed one of the crystalline glasses my way. "This one's on me," he said.
I frowned. "Why?"
He smiled knowingly. "Never had a drink with a ghost before," he said.
I didn't know how the bartender had figured it out. I guess it really doesn't matter. Maybe he picked up on some things I had said; maybe he just took a guess. Or maybe he had seen a few ghosts in his life and had come to realize that we can sometimes be just as human as we had once been . . . if only for a little while. We can smoke cigarettes and drink Scotch, interact with the living and appear as one of them.
I never went back to that bar. I imagine that Sam – that was the bartender's name – wasn't too surprised when I never graced his cozy little pub again.
But I did see Carmen, one last time, when she came to visit my grave. My grave, within which I had been buried for almost exactly a year. She couldn't see me, of course, even though I stood beside her as she knelt upon the soft grass.
"Happy Valentine's Day, honey," she said in a soft voice, tears already welling in her eyes. She sniffled once, smiled sweetly. Her fingers dragged lightly across the surface of my tombstone.
"I can't believe it's already been a year," she continued. "Sometimes, it seems like it was only yesterday."
"I know," I said, even though my voice was nothing more than the sound of the wind to her.
"I've been thinking a lot about that night, Pete," she said. "God, I felt so guilty for the longest time. Like, I should have said or done something, to keep you from leaving. I never wanted you to go, baby. I should have stopped you."
I sunk to my knees, feeling my own tears flowing as readily as hers. "It's not your fault," I said.
Carmen sniffed up tears, tilted her head back a moment. "I know it's not my fault," she said. "It's not yours, either. I always figured – I always knew – we were gonna be together forever. And I don't know why you were taken from me, I don't . . . I don't know why you had to . . . get yourself . . . killed . . . ."
Carmen shuddered as she cried, clutching her hands together against her lips. I wanted to hold her, comfort her, but that was one thing I could not do. All I could do was watch . . . and hope that she could feel me, at least in some way.
"We'll be together again," she said at last, not drying her eyes. "I know that. And I'll be just as in love with you then as I was the night you proposed . . . as the night you left. There will never be a man in my life as important as you."
I stared at her. "God, I love you, baby."
Carmen smiled suddenly. "I'll always love you," she said, as if in response to my words. But then her smile faded. "I've met someone."
"He's a good man; you'd like him."
"I hope you can forgive me, baby, but I just can't go the rest of my life alone."
"I don't want you to."
Carmen rubbed her nose, looked upon my tombstone with the same love and affection she had always given me. "He reminds me of you in so many ways. He's smart, and humble, and affectionate . . ." she laughed softly. "He even cuddles afterward, like you always did."
I extended my hand, almost touching her soft hair, her shoulder. "He'll make you happy," I said.
"I hope so," she said, then frowned, surprised at her words. I was, too. She had spoken as if responding directly to my words.
Carmen gasped, sitting up straight, and touched her heart. Tears flowed anew, down both our cheeks. "You're here," she whispered.
I leaned close, as close as I could come to her. "I'm always here," I whispered.
Carmen shuddered as she cried, yet even as she did so, she smiled.
"Goodbye, Pete," she managed to say through her tears. "For now."
"Goodbye, my love. For now."
Carmen cried softly for a while, letting it all out. We both did. Finally, she dug her fingers into her jeans, pulled out the ring I had given her. The gold glittered in the sunlight, the diamond flashed with a dozen pure colors. Carmen lifted it to her lips, kissed it. Then she leaned forward and settled it upon my grave.
"Hold onto this for me, baby," she whispered. "So you can give it to me again."
I watched Carmen as she stood and wiped her eyes. She finally looked like she was at peace. Her smile remained as she touched the stone above my final resting place, then as she headed down the grassy slope toward the narrow road through the cemetery. She looked back once, blew me a kiss, then turned away, returning to her life. I knew she would never return.
Nor did I want her to.
I felt, more than heard, the voice from behind me. It was strong, commanding, unearthly. "Yeah."
"It's time to go, son."
I took a breath, and smiled as well as I watched Carmen head down along the road, swinging her hands, holding her head high, undoubtedly anticipating being with Steve once more. I was no longer jealous. I had found peace, as well.
I pushed myself to my feet. "I know."