08 Nov Purgatory
“Purgatory”Written by Dirk Stevens Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 37 minutes
Chapter One: Surprise
I lay my hands against the edge of the bathroom sink and stare at my reflection. I could still add a trickle of blood down the corner of my mouth… The girl in the mirror shakes her head. I roll my eyes and toss the lipstick back into the drawer. She’s right. That would ruin everything. The whole point of dressing like this in the first place was to fit in with the rest of my cheerleading squad.
“Come on, Lil. We’re gonna be late.”
I roll my eyes and adjust the little white nurse’s hat over my hair. Rick. Patience never was one of his strengths. Besides, if he is in such a hurry, he should have been here half an hour earlier.
I push up my bra and pop open another button. Better, but real nurses never wear skirts this short. I give the mirror my best sultry pout. Maybe they should. If they did, they’d never need a defibrillator again. I unlock the door, slide my palms down the side of my hips and smile. Time to stop his heart. Clear!
I open the door and press my body against the frame, slowly dragging my foot up and down the outside wall. “Does someone require medical attention?” I make sure to add a few deep breaths and put my pout on before leaning through the doorway.
Rick’s standing by my latest painting, a ship in a storm, still drying on the easel. His right hand fumbles in his pocket, the other twists at the edge of his cape. “I…uh…Wow, Lil.”
Dracula. Great. I tried convincing him to go as a doctor, but he has this weird thing about old movies. I guess I can always say I’m the nurse that gets him his blood, but it’s not exactly the couple’s theme I hoped for.
He swallows hard and drops down onto one knee.
My hand flies to my mouth. I wasn’t expecting this. Not yet. “Is… Are you…”
His hands shake. “Lillian Elizabeth Dalton…” A gold ring drops from his fingers and rolls across the tile floor. It spins a series of tight circles and falls flat at my feet.
Rick’s shoulders slump, and his face goes scarlet. I’m too shocked to do anything but stand there with my hand over my mouth and stare at him.
His brown eyes trace down my body to the ring on the floor. “Um…not…how…I wanted this to go, but I love you, Lil. I always will. Will you marry me?”
“Marry you?” I think that’s what he said, but it takes a second for the words to reach me. When they do, I nod and wipe my eyes. I’ve never loved anyone more. It’s not even a question.
I squat down and pick up the ring. It doesn’t look like an engagement ring. No diamond, just a solid gold band. I slide it on and look at him to see a smile spread across his face.
“I know it’s nothing fancy, but it was my grandma’s, and well, I wanted you to have it.”
His arms fold around me, but as I hold him my focus returns to the ring. He did propose. His ring is on my finger. His grandmother’s wedding ring. And I just slid it on without a saying a word. I wince and bury my face into his shoulder.
“Yes.” I wish I wasn’t like this… That I could tell him how I feel without it getting all messed up. Tell him how much I love him.
Chapter Two: Party
I pull into an empty spot on the street, kill the engine and look up at the fraternity. Phi Gamma’s parties are legendary, and judging by the people dancing in the lawn, tonight’s going to be no exception. A guy covered in a sheet with two holes cut out for eyes runs by flapping his arms like some giant bird and howls, “Happy Halloween!”
I laugh. He looks like every cartoon ghost I’ve ever seen. “That is seriously the worst costume ever.” I tuck my keys into my purse and slide it between the eight-track cassette tapes living under my seat. “And it’s not Halloween for two more weeks.”
“I guess that makes it their pre-Halloween party?” Rick laughs and kisses my cheek. His hand finds mine, and his smile turns sappy. “You know, we could get married at the courthouse on your birthday. Then, you could move into my place, and we could still do the whole church thing with your family later.”
But that’s only two weeks away, the day after Halloween. I twist the ring on my finger and somehow, manage to return his smile. This is all happening too fast. We need to slow down and take a breath. “Um, Rick?”
“You look amazing.” His smile stops the words on my tongue, and his voice drops into a Transylvanian accent. “And do not worry, my dear. I never drink wine.”
I roll my eyes, a little embarrassed that I actually caught the Lugosi reference. I never watched old movies before we started dating. Now, I’m an expert.
He leans over and kisses the side of my neck. His lips on my skin send a warm, comforting sensation straight to my toes. It’s not the kind that sends sparks through my chest or anything. With Rick, it never is. It’s more than that, deeper, less sensual.
I pull his lips to mine and shiver as I drink in every chill. His touch fills every hollow in my soul, every secret ache. It makes me whole. Our lips part, and for a moment, we sit there in silence, reveling in the moment.
“Seriously, Lil. Not a drop.” His voice is quiet, solemn. “I want to remember today, like forever.”
I wind my fingers between his, kiss his lips and draw in every ounce of his presence, plastic fangs and all. I want him. I can’t imagine life without him.
I just need more time.
We walk up the steps hand in hand. Rick pulls open the door for me. “Urgh! Rick!”
I glance back over my shoulder to see Frankenstein’s monster limping up the stairs. He lumbers over with his arms stretched out in front of him, and then leans back as he reaches us and bobs his head.
“Nice. Lugosi. Gotta respect the classics, man.”
I smile and shake my head. Adam, Rick’s movie buddy. He’s about the skinniest Frankenstein’s monster I’ve ever seen. Still, it’s nice to see that, at least, one of Rick’s friends came.
With a swish, Rick swings his cape over his face and gives him a sinister laugh.
And that’s my cue to head inside.
Those two could be out there all night talking about old monster movies. Not really my thing, unless it means cuddling up to Rick for an evening.
I stretch up onto my toes and scan the crowd for nurses. None. I settle back on my heels. It figures. The other cheerleaders probably won’t show up for another hour. My fault for being on time, I guess. By now, I should know better.
I elbow my way through the crowd. They call this room ‘The Party Cave’. Stupid, but the name fits. They hold more parties than any other fraternity on campus, one every two weeks. They started the ’78 fall term with Star Wars. Last time it was Oktoberfest. Tonight, it’s ghouls and goblins. Some of the girls opted for witches or vampires, but none of the costumes are as sexy as mine.
Hussy. Nobody actually says it, but they don’t have to. It’s written all over their faces when I walk by. I bite my cheek and try not to smile, but making the other girls jealous is all part of the fun.
“Hey, Lil. You finally ditch that loser boyfriend of yours?”
“Hey, Ben.” He’s shouting to be heard over the music. We broke up in high school after I caught him making out with another girl under the bleachers. His voice still makes my skin crawl. He didn’t even get upset when I yelled at him. He didn’t even break lip contact. He just finished the kiss, smiled and told me to wait my turn.
I put my best pout back on, bat my eyes and press my left hand against my cheek to show off my ring. “I’m off the market…” I meant to end it with a cutting remark. Something like, “So eat it jerk!” But the words die on my lips. He’s not wearing anything. Just a leopard skin tied low around his hips. He was all right back in high school, but now he looks like something out of a muscle magazine.
He smiles and holds out one of the red solo cups he’s carrying. “You don’t look like a housewife to me, Lil.”
My cheeks are on fire. I take the cup, close my eyes and down it one swallow. I hate Tequila, but this time it’s even worse, much more bitter than I remember Tequila ever being. I hide behind the cup by holding it to my forehead and pretend I can’t handle the burn. My head throbs, which is strange. I hope I’m not coming down with a cold. Deciding to ignore it, I stare him back in the eyes. No matter what, he can’t see me blush. I need to focus.
My head clears. I shove the glass into his hand, and I fold my arms over my chest with a death stare.
What he said gnaws at me. Housewife.
It makes my gut churn because he’s right. That’s exactly what Rick wants, someone to come home to. Although I didn’t realize it earlier, I now know that’s why I couldn’t answer when he proposed. I don’t want to be stuck in a home. It’s not who I am. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it sooner. I’m an artist, a painter. I want to travel the world, visit Paris or Spain. I don’t want to settle down. I want to be free. Like Ben. We could’ve been together, once. We could’ve shared that dream. If only…
Something slides around my waist, and I jump.
“Hey, Ben! What are you supposed to be? Tarzan?”
At the sound of Rick’s voice, my pulse slows. Warmth spreads through my chest, and I lean my head over on his shoulder. It feels so right. I don’t know why I panicked. He doesn’t want to tie me down. He’d never do that to me. Never.
“Nah, just a wild man.” Ben slugs his drink and howls. A chorus of yipping answers his call, and I have to duck behind Rick’s collar to hide my smile. That’s Ben, captain of the football team. The Alpha male. It’s what caught my attention the first day I saw him.
“Anyway, enjoy the party.” He turns and walks away.
Rick snorts. “Yeah, he better get used to living wild. If it wasn’t for his coach, he’d have flunked out already.”
I barely catch the bitterness in his voice, too distracted by the two little dimples playing peek-a-boo over Ben’s leopard skin as he walks away. “We can’t all be engineers, Rick. Some people need to be free.”
“Poor isn’t free. It’s a cage.” He kisses my forehead. “Sorry, we’re here to have fun… Would you look at that!”
He points at a couple huddled in the corner wearing green waistcoats, bushy hair and pointy ears. The only flaw is the girl’s glasses.
“Hobbits? Isn’t that Bob and Stacey?” I still can’t believe Rick got me to read those books, or that I loved them so much.
Rick laughs. “They actually came. Watch this.” He licks his lips and smirks. “Frodo lives!”
The hobbits jolt and spin, but when they see Rick, Bob’s face relaxes into a broad grin. “For the Shire!” A few drunk frat boys raise a glass. “Yeah! Wooo!”
Stacey blushes and ducks between Bob and the wall like a frightened child. She’s so meek, so quiet. He never should have brought her here. “What are you doing?” I grab Rick’s arm and put a hand over his mouth. “Just look at her.”
Rick grimaces, and I lower my hand. “Yeah, I wasn’t thinking. I better go talk to them.”
I feel bad for Stacey, but I’m already catching flak from the other cheerleaders for dating a geek. The last thing I need is to be seen talking to hobbits at a frat party. “You have fun with that. I’m gonna go find a drink.”
I shove my way through the sea of dancing ghouls to a table of plastic cups at the back of the room, take one, and turn back to the party. The dancers part, and I watch Rick swing his cape over his face while talking and laughing with Bob. I know he’s quoting some line from the movie. Stacey laughs so hard she holds on to Bob to keep from falling over. I smile behind my cup. That’s what she wants him to think.
Two hobbits. Probably a perfect match from the very beginning. Not like me and Rick. I only asked him out to get even with Ben. The math geek and the cheerleader. We have almost nothing in common. His kisses never send tingles down my spine, no goose bumps, no little stomach flips. No. They’re better than any of that could ever be. They mean so much more. I don’t even understand it. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this way. But I love it.
Now, we’re engaged.
I let my gaze fall to the cup of vodka in my hands. I need air.
I slide out the back way, shut the door behind me and breathe in the cold night air. A flash of lightning throws the campus skyline into a brief, haunting glory. Every dome spire drawn in total darkness against the bright, billowing clouds. Goose bumps tickle my arms, and I let the image burn into my memory. It’s one of those rare moments the artist in me longs to experience. Beauty, power and danger all rolled into one. Magical.
A familiar shape emerges from the alley to my left. “Looks like rain.”
I sit down on the stairs and try to watch the sky. “Hey Ben. I didn’t see you come out here.”
Another flash of lightening arcs across the horizon, but I’m not watching the sky. Not anymore. Light dances across Ben’s chest, and I’m back in high school, watching him dump water over his head after practice. My fingers tingle, aching to feel his skin one more time.
He runs a hand through his thick dark hair. It breaks against his shoulders like a wave, and my stomach flips. “Yeah, between you and me, I get to feeling a little caged at these things. Guess, I’m not used to going stag.” He walks over and sits beside me on the stairs. “I wish things were different with us, you know?”
I can smell his cologne…hear his strong steady breathing, and my head spins. He’s sorry, he knows he screwed up, and he wants me back.
I wipe my palms on my skirt and gaze back up at the sky, wondering what I was doing here. “Yeah, me too.” My voice sounds too eager, breathless. I pull my lower lip between my teeth, hoping he didn’t hear, but a part of me wonders why I hope that.
“Can I see your ring?” He doesn’t wait for my reply and snatches up my hand before I can protest. “It’s beautiful.” He’s not looking at my hand. His eyes are locked on mine, drawing me in while his finger traces circles on my palm.
He moves to my wrist, and I accidentally sigh as his touch forces the air from my lungs. This isn’t me. I don’t want this. I shouldn’t be here. I’m in love with Rick. Aren’t I? Doubt shifts away as I picture Rick’s little lopsided smile, and remember the warmth of his touch. He’s all I ever want. The thought presses in, granting me sanity.
“Ben, stop. I’m engaged.” I need to leave.
“I know you are.”
I shiver as his finger traces up my forearm. I want to pull away…I need to, but something is holding me back, a desire I don’t understand.
“But you’re like me. That’s why you’re out here. You’ve gotta be free.”
Panic screams in my head. He’s wrong. I’m nothing like him. I’m like Rick. But I’m not. Rick and I are nothing alike. Not even close.
Ben’s hand caresses my elbow and continues up from there until it glides across my shoulder. I don’t pull away. I should, but I don’t want to, and I hate myself for it. “Marriage is a cage, Lil. That ring is a chain.”
His fingers spread across the back of my neck, and I close my eyes. Ben’s wrong. I’m not like him, and I don’t want to be. I love Rick, and I can’t do this to him. This isn’t who I am. I need to stop.
And yet, I don’t want to. “Ben-”
His lips press against mine, silencing my protest. He presses forward, and I lay back on the stairs. Under the warmth of his body, my resolve shatters. He tastes just like I remember, mint and vodka. Something inside me ignites. Some animalistic hunger I can’t control. I need more. I need to touch him, feel his skin beneath my palm. My hand trembles as it slides up his back, my nails digging into his shoulder blades. I bite his lip, and he turns away and goes for my neck instead, teasing me with his teeth. I moan. He moves to my collar bone, his breath hot against my skin. The world melts away. I wind my hands through his hair, pulling him lower and arching into his lips. Hungry. Panting.
“Lil?” I hear Rick, but before the meaning hits me, I’m engulfed in blissful cloud of everything Ben.
I pull his lips to mine and wrap a leg around him. Ben pulls back only to lean forward again. I press my lips to his neck, but the gentle moaning from before is gone. Now, his throat’s vibrating as if he’s laughing. I push back to see what’s wrong, but he’s not looking at me. He’s staring at the door behind me, wearing the same smug smirk he had under the bleachers months ago.
“God, no.” Rick’s voice is so weak. So broken. Just the sound of it tears me in half.
“Rick!” I push Ben off me and jump to my feet. “Rick, I…we…” I tug down the hem of my skirt. But I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what happened. It doesn’t make sense. I can’t even look at him. I just can’t.
“Looks like she needs a real man, loser.”
Shut up! I want to scream, but the words won’t come. Rick doesn’t respond, doesn’t make a sound. I can’t take it. I give everything I have to lift my head and look at him. He’s staring at me, his mouth open, frozen in a silent scream.
Something inside me breaks.
“Rick it-it’s not…” But I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing to say. I betrayed him.
He stumbles back against the wall. A tear trails down his cheek. Ben slides his arm over my shoulder, smirks at Rick and tries to kiss me.
He doesn’t even see my fist coming, when it slams into his nose. He trips on the stairs and goes down. Rick doesn’t react. He doesn’t seem to notice. He just stands there inside the doorway staring at me. Pale and fading.
My chest aches.
Ben was right. We are the same. We’re both monsters.
Chapter Three: Fallout
Rain pounds against the windshield too hard for my wipers to keep up. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. I destroyed him, Rick, my only love. He stares out the passenger window, his body limp, the rain still dripping from his chin. He doesn’t speak. He hasn’t said a word since he tried to walk home. If it wasn’t for the rain, I’m not sure how I’d have gotten him into the car. But I still don’t know what to say, how to make this right.
The stoplight ahead turns red, but I don’t slow down.
A station wagon rolls into the intersection, and I jerk to the left. I swear as tires squeal and the back end of the car loses traction. It slides around, and I turn into the skid. The squealing stops. Somehow, we’re still on the road. The driver lays on the horn, and I hit the gas and swerve back into my lane. My heart is trying to bounce out of my chest, but Rick doesn’t even look up.
“God, Rick! Don’t you care about me at all?”
He winces and tugs at his seatbelt. It’s the first sign of life, since I pulled him in out of the rain. “I love you, no matter what. I-I just want you to be happy.” He slumps against the door, and his eyes close. “Even if it’s not with me.”
Idiot. I mash the accelerator to the floor. I broke Ben’s nose. He was standing right there and watched me do it. How could he even think I wanted Ben?
Because he saw everything.
I choke against the ache in my chest. I don’t want forgiveness. I don’t deserve it. I want him to scream, hit me, call me a slut, or tell me he never wants to see me again. Anything. Anything but this.
“I don’t want Ben. I want you. I love you.”
I watch him pick at the rubber along the edge of the window. He’s not buying it. I don’t blame him. And I don’t even know what happened, why I couldn’t stay faithful one lousy night. He deserves so much better.
I wipe my eyes, and his grandmother’s ring brushes against my cheek. He was going to spend the rest his life with me. He wanted to remember tonight forever. I guess he will.
I scream and slam my head against the steering wheel. Rick opens his eyes and watches me, but he doesn’t say anything. There’s not enough of him left to speak. I’d do anything to take it back, do tonight all over again and make it right. But I can’t.
I wish I was dead.
A shadow moves at the corner of my eye. It’s a car, a black Nova stopped dead in the middle of my lane. I scream and spin the wheel hard right. The car tips, and I’m weightless, helpless. Everything blurs as the world spins away. I fold my arms over my head and close my eyes.
A jolt rakes though my body.
I hear the crunch of metal, the bang of breaking glass, then nothing.
A distant horn draws me back, growing in volume as it’s joined by the sound of heavy rain, but it’s louder than before, closer.
I open my eyes. I’m not in the car. I’m standing in the rain just off the road near a burning pile of twisted metal. I had to have been thrown from the car, but I don’t feel anything. No pain, no fear, not even the rain on my skin. Like a dream.
Fire spreads over half the of the metallic mass. It looks like someone tried to create a bus by jamming two cars together and hoping they’d fit.
But I think I recognize at least part of it. It’s mangled and upside down, so I’m not sure. I swallow and walk closer. One of the front wheels is spinning like an overturned beetle trying to get back on its feet. I reach out and run my hand over the blue painted surface, but I can’t tell if it’s cold or hot. I can’t feel anything. I must be in shock. I step around the wreckage, detached and numb. I can barely tell where one car ends and the other begins, but one of them is definitely mine. The driver’s side…the side I sat in…is completely folded around the Nova. I have no idea how I got out here, or why nothing hurts. Judging by the twisted metal, I should be dead.
A dark shape flaps through the hole that used to be my windshield. A cape. My throat clenches.
Rick. He’s still in the car. I run to the passenger side and fall on my hands and knees.
He’s hanging upside down, held in place by the seatbelt. His face covered in blood, his arms dangling in a pool of broken glass below his head. I push the shards aside and crawl in through the passenger side window. Something drips from the floor; it smells like gas. I roll onto my back and reach for the seatbelt latch. The button won’t press. There’s too much pressure on the belt.
Firelight dances across my face. Time drops into slow motion, and I hear everything; the rain, the horn, the rhythmic drip of gasoline splashing against the roof beside my head. The roar of fire.
My hands shake as I feed my other arm up beside him and squeeze with both thumbs as hard as I can. There’s a pop, and he falls on top of me. I grunt when he lands, but he’s lighter than he should be, weightless. I chalk it up to adrenaline, hook my heels over the window frame and push against the seat. Using my body like a gurney, I drag him from the wreckage, and then roll over and tug him by his arms. Fire explodes from the car in a deafening roar. I dive onto Rick to shield him as glass and steel rain down around me. But there’s no heat, no pain when a hubcap bounces off my back. All I can feel is his heart beating against my chest. He’s alive. Nothing else matters.
I hold his bloodied forehead to mine and close my eyes. I did this. All of it. All he wanted was to spend his life with me, to love me forever. And I betrayed him, almost got him killed. I don’t fight the tears when they come…when my fingers tangle in his hair, and I scream into the storm. This is my fault. I don’t deserve to live. I don’t want to.
I pull him close and wrap my arms around him. A trail of red water flows from the pool beneath him. Blood. I push away. Crimson spreads across the side of his shirt.
“Rick!” He’s bleeding to death, and I don’t have a clue what to do. I squint into the dark, but outside of my little circle of firelight, I can’t see anything. “Help!”
“Coming!” A heavy man in a yellow raincoat appears out of nowhere and falls to his knees at my side panting. “We have to stop this bleeding.” He lifts Rick’s shirt and stuffs my hand against his side. “Keep pressure here.”
I do as he says, but my hands won’t stop shaking. “He can’t die. He can’t!”
“He’s going to be fine.” He takes off his rain coat and tears the sleeve off his dress shirt. “I’m Doctor Mason. What’s your name?” He wipes the rain off his balding grey head, rolls his sleeve into a ball and tucks it under my hands. “Steady pressure here.”
“Lillian.” I close my eyes and whisper my thanks to God. “My name is Lillian.” Everything is going to be fine.
“Are you hurt, Lillian?”
I shake my head.
“Was there anyone else in the car with you?” His voice is calm, soothing, even as he shouts to be heard over the pounding rain.
“No.” Then, I remember. “There was another car.”
“There’s no one in the other car.” Dr. Mason runs his hands down Rick’s sides. “It stalled, and I walked back to find a payphone. I was just on my way back when… I tried to get you to stop, but at night, in the rain, and with the way you were driving… You nearly ran me over.”
The rain slows to a drizzle. He sits back, wipes the water from his face, and sighs. “Well, that’s at least something.” He looks over at me, and his eyes drift over my shoulder. He swallows hard. “Lillian, are you certain there was no one else in the car with you?”
I glance back. A girl wearing a nurse costume lays sprawled on the pavement. She’s where I was standing when I opened my eyes after losing control of the car. I don’t know how I didn’t see her. She’s a mess. I gag, and manage to choke back the bile rising in my throat. It’s not something I’m likely to forget. Ever.
“Just me and Rick.” I don’t want to look at her, but I can’t turn away. One of the other cheerleaders must have been walking to the party. I bite my lip and concentrate on Rick’s wound so I don’t have to think about it, but it doesn’t work. She’s dead because of me. I never even saw her.
Dr. Mason pats my shoulder and pushes himself to his feet. “Just keep pressure. I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do.”
But as slow as he’s moving, he already knows there isn’t. He rolls her over and stands there for a moment, staring at her. He blinks hard and looks back at me. Now, I can see her, the color of her hair, her left hand and the plain gold band on her finger…her face.
My hand goes to my chest. There’s no hole. It’s not me. It can’t be. But my skin and costume are dry, clean. It’s not possible. I should be drenched and covered in Rick’s blood, but there’s not a drop on me. I look down at Rick. Even the hand pressed against his wound is clean. I hold up my arm and watch the flames from the cars in the distance dancing through the palm of my hand. The rain drops pass through me like I’m smoke. My eyes fall back onto the girl lying on the side of the road.
She’s me. I’m dead.
But I’m still here. I turn away and focus on Rick. I don’t even know how to process it. I’m dead, and I can touch him. I don’t know why. I don’t care. He needs me.
A light shines in the darkness, piercing through the rain. Warming, comforting, beckoning.
“Lillian, come. You don’t belong here anymore.” It’s a man’s voice, gentle, deep and soothing. It gives me peace. I want to follow.
Light spreads around me, pulling me away. I sigh, surrendering to the call. But as the world melts, I can feel Rick’s warmth vanishing, and I look down. I can see his chest growing clearer through my hands. I’m fading.
I can’t go, not yet. I turn back to Dr. Mason. “Please, tell him I’m sorry, and that I love him…that I’ll always love him.”
But the color’s gone from his face, and he’s just staring at me with his mouth hanging open.
The light around me dims as I pull away, but the voice still calls, “Lillian, come…” It’s only a dying whisper now, begging me to follow. But I can’t go. I can’t leave him.
I’ll never leave him again.
Chapter Four: Hospital
I stand at the window looking out at the drizzling rain. I hate hospitals. I always have. They’re depressing, and the smell makes me want to cram toilet paper up my nose. Right now, I wouldn’t even care if it’s clean. The nurse finishes changing the bandages on Rick’s face and walks out of the room. I sigh and flop down on the bed beside him. I guess being stuck in a nurse costume for all eternity is just God’s way of punishing me for being a slut.
I hate irony.
Rick mumbles something in his sleep, and I let my hand sink into his. I know he can’t feel it. I can’t touch anything. Not since the accident. But for some reason I can sit on things. I don’t get it.
I run my hand over the bandages covering his face. Somehow, he managed to get out without any major injuries. It’s a miracle. God knows he deserves one.
His mom died years ago, and he hasn’t heard from his dad in over a year. But I’m here. His friends are here, Bob and Adam. He’s not alone. They’ve been here about an hour just sitting, sipping coffee and staring at the floor. Like if they don’t look at each other, they can make it all go away.
“Is he gonna make it?” Stacey walks in, pushes her dark hair aside and dabs her nose with a tissue. She looks awful, like she’s been crying for hours.
Adam rolls a paper cup half-filled with coffee between his hands and looks back over at her as she sits down in an empty chair beside Bob. “Yeah, Doc said he was awake a little while ago. He’s only out cause of the meds.”
“What about Lil? Where’s she?”
Adam’s head falls. “She didn’t make it.”
Stacey pulls at the edges of her brown plaid skirt. “But, Dr. Mason said—”
“I know what he said.” Adam’s voice cracks. “He was drunk, Stace. Had to be.”
“Serves her right.” Bob’s voice is so quiet, I’m not sure I heard him right. He sounds angry. Bitter. Not at all like the guy I thought he was. Then again, I don’t really know any of them. They’re Rick’s friends. The people he plays that weird new game with, the one they dress up for, Dungeons and Dragons. I almost never talked to any of them. I don’t even know their last names.
Adam lifts his head just enough to glare at him. “Shut it, Bob.”
Bob runs his hand through his blond hair and rolls his eyes. “Oh, come on. You think just because you watched a few old movies together you knew anything about her?”
“Stop.” Stacey reaches over and takes his hand. “Don’t talk about the dead like that.” Her voice is a whisper, and her eyes drift across the room like she’s searching for something. It kind of gives me the creeps.
There’s a knock on the door frame, and Stacey folds her hands in her lap and retreats behind her hair.
Ben clears his throat. “Hey.”
I can’t believe he’s here, not after everything that happened. He stands in the doorway smiling at Rick’s friends like they’re his. Like he cares. Like he belongs. I wish I could punch him again.
“How is he?” Ben steps through the door.
Bob’s jaw tightens. “You should go.”
Stacey picks at her fingernail, scowling at him from behind her hair, while Adam swallows his coffee and stares at the wall.
Rick’s eye lids flutter, and my chest aches. I don’t want him to wake up, not now, not with Ben here.
“Oh, grow up, Bob. Like I wanna be here? I just need to borrow your girl for a sec. Then, I’m gone.”
His smile widens for an instant, and I slide off the bed, my hands balling into fists. Borrow your girl. His words echo in my mind. He said it like that on purpose, his own private joke about stealing me away at the party. He doesn’t care what happened. Not to Rick, not to me.
I can’t believe I kissed him…that I ever kissed him.
I want to rip his arms off and beat him with his own fists. Rage pulses down arms, I can feel it pounding cold in my fingertips. I can touch him. Somehow, I know I can. I can hurt him.
“Look, Stace, your mom won’t even answer the phone. I just want you to talk to her for me, you know? That’s all.” Ben’s breath curls from his lips, and his smile vanishes. “God, it’s cold in here.”
“What?” Stacey’s head jerks up, and she blows a puff of white smoke. Her eyes go wide, and the color drains from her face. “Fine, whatever, just go. Now.”
“Okay.” He laughs, looking back and forth between Bob and Adam with his brow tied into a knot. But they won’t look at him. They don’t want him here.
And I don’t want him to go. Not yet.
I walk around the bed. My hand brushes against Stacey’s arm as I pass. She shivers and jumps to her feet. “Get out! Now!”
It’s so out of character, I stop and look at her. Her wild hair and thick glasses, the way she has her blouse buttoned all the way to the top, the crucifix hanging around her neck…everything about her screams geek. Right down to her knee high argyle socks and black buckled shoes. But she’s staring down a man twice her size without even the slightest twinge of fear.
Ben looks her up and down. “Whatever.” He snorts and walks out the door.
Adam watches him go, and turns back to Stacey. “What was that about?”
“My mom, ‘Lady Helen.’” She sits down and rolls her eyes. “Ben’s been using Mom’s herbs to treat his leg since he got hurt ` back in high school. But she won’t deal with him anymore. Not after I told her what happened at the party.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. She’s got that shop downtown, right? The one that has all those teas and crystals and stuff?” Adam sips his coffee. “And those herbs work?”
Stacey nods. “Better than anything, but his knee’s a total mess. He has to keep taking them, or he won’t even be able to walk.”
I saw Ben take that helmet to his knee in a rush his junior year. Everyone in the stands heard the snap, but seeing his leg bend forward at the knee was horrifying. Now, I hope it hurts. A lot. I walk back to the bed and sit down beside Rick.
Bob shakes his head. “She also does Tarot Cards, palm readings and séances.” He glances over at Stacey. “Don’t tell me you still work there?”
“Just in the tea shop. It’s just herbal tea.” Stacey digs under her fingernail. “I don’t do the mystical stuff, not anymore. Mom knows I’m Catholic now.”
“Yeah, only my girl would rebel to Catholicism.” Bob rubs her knee, and Stacey blushes.
“Spiritualist to Catholic.” Adam snorts a laugh and takes another sip. “Bet that made for a fun talk.”
She opens her mouth but closes it when Rick’s hand moves under the blanket. “Lil…How’s Lil?”
I wrap my arms around my chest and try to remember how to breathe. It kills me that, even after everything I did, he’s still worried about me. I don’t deserve him. I don’t think I ever did.
Stacey goes over, smiles and combs her hand through his hair. “Shhh. She’s going to be fine. Sleep.”
A tear trails down Rick’s temple. “Tell her I’m sorry… and that I love her.”
“I will.” She wipes Rick’s tear with her index finger and turns away from his bed blinking back her own tears.
I lay down beside him, twisting my engagement ring, and stare at the side of his face. In spite of everything I did, he still loves me. I barely notice when the others leave…when the nurses come, check his I.V. and change his bandages. I’m with him, and he loves me.
Chapter Five: Plans
“Rick!” Bob snaps his fingers, and Rick’s eyes clear.
“Yeah, I heard. Her funeral’s tomorrow.” Rick swallows and turns back to the window. He stares off across the street at my old apartment. “I’m not going.”
It’s been almost a week since I died, but Rick hasn’t left the apartment in days. Not since his release from the hospital. He hasn’t been to class, hasn’t done laundry or cleaned. He barely eats or sleeps. He just sits there in that chair, staring across the street and fondling that letter he wrote.
It explains to his friends why he’d killed himself…why he’d do it on my birthday. Only four days away. That his life has no meaning, no purpose without me.
Stacey’s here every day, usually with Bob or Adam. She picks up his mess, tries to coax him back to life. He’s lucky to have them, friends that really care. But she’s using makeup to hide the circles under her eyes, and she breaks down when no one’s watching. But I’m always watching. She’s taking this hard. Like she’s blaming herself. It’s what keeps her coming over, but she’s wearing down. They all are. And they don’t know what he’s planning.
I watched him write it. I know exactly what it says, and where it’s hidden. And I can’t do anything about it. I’ve tried grabbing it, screaming, everything I could think of to let them know, but I’m a ghost. A shadow and a memory. All I can do is watch, wait and pray.
Adam rolls his eyes. “Dude, you need closure. You’re going to that funeral if we have to drag you there.”
“Please, go.” Stacey lays her hand on Rick’s, and her chin trembles. “You don’t want her to think you don’t care, do you?”
“What?” Rick stares up at her and blinks. “No. You’re right.” He leans forward and reaches for his cane. “I wanna leave her flowers.”
I wish I could hug her. It’s the one thing that could get him moving, and she guessed it.
“Finally.” Bob groans and helps Rick to the door.
Stacey squats down and tosses a few Kleenex from the floor into the trash. She stands and stares at the window. I watch a tear trail down her cheek in the dim reflection of the glass. She wipes it away on her cuff, and as she raises her head, her eyes meet mine. Her mouth falls open.
I see it. Me, reflected in the window, still in my sexy nurse costume.
“Lil?” She glances over her shoulder at me, and then back at the window. “Is that you?”
I gasp and wave. She waves back. She sees it. She sees my reflection.
“So, you didn’t move on.” She slumps, twisting the hem of her skirt. “I’m so sorry. I-I…what do you need? How can I help?”
I point at the chair with both hands. She has to find it and stop him. She looks at the chair and shrugs. “I can barely see you. Try focusing your emotions more. If they’re strong enough, sometimes spirits can reach into the living world…but it’s hard. Focus.”
Rick, I need to help Rick. I let my desperation peak. I need to save him. I point at the chair and pantomime lifting something.
Stacey pulls the cushion from his chair, takes the letter and looks at me. My eyes burn and my chest feels like it’s about to explode. She’s so close. I point from my eyes to my hand, begging her to read it, to stop him.
She shakes out the paper, and the cushion falls from her hand “God, no.” She pales, and her eyes switch back to the window, but my reflection’s gone.
She tucks the letter back where it was and straightens the cushion over it again. “I’m sorry, Lil, I’m so sorry. I-I, I’ll make it…I gotta go.” She runs into the hall, slamming the door behind her.
I go to the window and watch Adam help Rick into the back seat of Bob’s car. I’ve done all I can, but I don’t know if it’s enough. I walk through the wall, head to the car and slide in the back seat beside Rick.
Stacey climbs into the front seat and smiles, but it falters as her eyes land on Rick. I can see the tears rising behind her glasses before she looks away “We should swing by Mom’s and have some tea on the way to the flower shop. She has this new Lavender blend I want you try.”
Chapter Six: Stranger Things
I fold my arms over my gut to keep from shaking as I look out across the pews. This is the one place in the world I don’t want to be right now. And it’s a packed house.
Apparently, if you die as a student, you’re suddenly the most popular girl on campus. I watch Rick sitting in the back row with his friends, only a few feet away from where I’m standing. His jaw is clenched, and I can see every muscle in his neck shake as he struggles to hold back his tears. My throat burns. I want to die all over again. I did this. I’d do anything to take it back. But I can’t. I can’t do anything. Not even comfort him with a simple touch. All I can do is watch him fall apart. Because of me, because of what I did. But it’s worse than that. I know what he’s planning. I keep seeing his body in the casket, hearing his name in the eulogy. But I can’t do anything to stop him. Only watch.
The priest says something about ’A rose picked in bloom’, and everyone shuffles forward to pay their last respects. I whimper and dig my nails into my elbows as they pass, but I’m not really paying much attention to any of them. I’m watching Stacey.
I thought when she read Rick’s letter everything would be alright, that she’d do something to stop him. But she hasn’t. She hasn’t even talked to him about it, and my birthday’s only three days away. Rick’s running out of time.
When it’s his time to go, Rick lags behind. So, we’re alone at the front of the chapel with the open casket. I bend over and look inside expecting the same disorienting confusion I felt the last time I saw my body. But the girl in the coffin isn’t me. It’s a doll made to look like me. She has the same hair color, nose and chin, but everything’s wrong. The hair’s combed down like a little girl’s, her eyes look like they’ve been glued closed, and I don’t have a clue what’s happening with that smirk, or why she has her hands folded over her stomach, right below her chest.
And that dress.
I shake my head, wondering who decided I should wear it. Robin’s egg blue had never been my thing, and not with a lace collar. Not in a million years. The only thing they got right was the nail polish. Deep Red. And that totally clashed with the dress.
Rick whimpers next to me and braces himself against the side of the casket. His shoulders shake and tears drip from his chin as a low, broken moan rises from his chest. I’ve never seen him cry, not like this. It rips me apart. I can’t breathe, I can’t think. I need to comfort him. I need to take it away. I reach for him, but my hand passes through his chest. Of course, it does. I’m nothing. All I can do is watch my mistake tear him apart. I gulp against the growing emptiness inside of me, a vicious void. My legs give way as I crumple to the floor, screaming in an agony I’ll never be able to truly feel. I’m right here, and I can’t help him.
I look up as Stacey moves in beside him and lays her head against his shoulder. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t need to. Just her touch silences his tears. I watch her nuzzle her cheek against his arm, and I ache.
I’d give anything to be that girl again.
“It’s my fault, Stace.” Rick sniffs. “I just loved her so much, and I didn’t want to wait anymore. I just… I just thought she loved me, too.”
“I do love you.” The words pour out of my mouth in a breathless sob. He doesn’t know how much I love him, what I’d give just to hold him one more time.
“She did…” Stacey turns her head and her eyes lock with mine. “She does know.” My heart races, and I climb to my feet. But her gaze doesn’t follow. I can’t tell if she knows I’m here or not.
Adam comes up beside her and groans. “Don’t take this the wrong way, man, but whoever they got doing makeup around here needs to get fired.”
I smirk. He’s right, but he’s also wearing blue jeans under a black wool sailor’s coat and grey tennis shoes to a funeral. So, I’m not sure he has a right to judge.
Rick wipes his cheeks. “Can you even imagine what she’d say if she saw this?”
“Blue?” Adam thrusts a hip to one side, huffs and rolls his eyes. “Am I a bride’s maid?” He props a fist on his hip, flicks his other hand off his temple and shakes his head. “It totally clashes with my nail polish, and don’t even get me started on that hair…”
I fold my arms over my chest and glare at him, but I have to admit, he’s good. He’s even got my head shake right. It makes me want to laugh and hit him all at the same time.
Rick gives a half smile and pulls a ragged breath. “I thought it was bad luck to speak ill of the dead.”
“I’d never say a word against Lil, but this isn’t her. This is a shell, an empty bottle. The real Lil would never come to anything this depressing. And I know she wouldn’t want you wasting your life sitting in a chair and staring out the window. She’d want you out there living, kicking back a few drinks in her honor, and I don’t know…painting her a picture or something.”
“You know he’s right.” Stacey lifts her head from his shoulder. “We had an adventure planned for Halloween, remember? You should still come; she’d want you to. I’m gonna be the Dungeon Master. It’ll be fun, I promise. Do it for her.”
Rick’s eyes close. “She never played.”
“Nah, man, she didn’t. But she loved seeing you happy.” Adam takes him by the arm and pulls him down the aisle. “Anyway, you don’t get a choice. We need a wizard. You’re coming.”
Dungeons and Dragons? That’s her big plan? If it was anyone else I’d think she was crazy. But I know Rick. I know he’ll go, if only to say goodbye. At least, it’ll give her a chance to talk to him while he’s having fun. Actually, it’s not a bad plan. It could work, if she can get him to open up. I take a few steps to follow them, when I realize Stacey’s still leaned over my coffin. With a sigh, she dives her hand into her coat pocket.
“Oh, Lil, I’m so sorry.” She pulls out a pair of scissors, drags a trembling finger up the side of my face and snips off a lock of my hair. “Please, forgive me.” She twists it into a coil, stuffs it in her pocket and hurries to catch up with the others.
My eyes go back and forth between Stacey and the casket. But I can’t move. That didn’t just happen. I had to have seen it wrong. I lean over and look at myself again. I can see where she snipped my hair; it’s obvious. I step back and fold my arms over my chest. I don’t know what to think.
I have to trust her. I have no choice. She’s the only one who’s seen me, who knows what Rick’s planning. The only one who can stop him. I’m counting on her.
And she just took my hair.
Chapter Seven: The Games We Play
The car rumbles to a stop and Bob turns off the engine. “We’re here.” His chainmail rattles as he lays his arm over the back of the seat and smiles. “Now, tell me this isn’t gonna be awesome.”
Rick ducks to see out the side window. His long gray wizard beard sways through my shoulder. “So… We’re doing this in the cemetery?”
His eyes dart to the funeral chapel on the far side of the parking lot, and I can already see the shadows spreading over his face. This is my cemetery. This is where they buried me.
“Hey, none of that. We’re here to have fun.” Bob’s fingers brush through Stacey’s hair as he turns back around.
I cross my arms and flop back against the seat. I need to talk to her. I’ve been trying to for days, but the hair thing still has me rattled. I just can’t focus.
“Tonight’s all about the adventure.” Bob stuffs his green head inside a steel helmet, and his voice shifts into orc mode. “Stacey good Dungeon Master. Scary story. Good place. Goood.”
I roll my eyes and groan. I can’t believe I’m here. I can’t believe they actually dress up for a board game. It’s embarrassing.
“Yea verily, and the stars shine warmly. I believe this quest is indeed worthy of elven attention.” Adam’s breath fogs his passenger side window. He wipes it clear with his sleeve and shakes his bow. “Ready your axe, Garduk. I sense the spirits of the dead are restless—”
Stacey cuts him off with a slap on the box in her lap. “All right, before you get into character, tonight’s going to be a little different. We’re acting out the adventure instead of playing it on a board. Got it?”
I unfold my arms and take in her tight black dress with the plunging neckline, where a pentagram dangles against her skin….exactly where her crucifix usually lies. Just seeing it makes me wince. She’s supposed to be Catholic. Wearing that thing has to be some kind of violation, game or no game.
Then again, so is collecting souvenirs off a corpse.
Stacey shifts in her seat. “Okay, the story starts like this. After hearing tell of undead ravaging the nearby village, our brave adventurers march to the cemetery where…” She glares at Bob. “Exactly at midnight, they come upon a sorceress, who’s summoning the dead. That’s me. They approach her silently from the east, hoping to take her by surprise.” She holds up the box and gives it a shake. “I need ten minutes to set up. When you see candlelight over there…to the west…” She points to the left. “Then, the quest begins.” She pushes up her glasses and climbs out of the car.
I watch Rick twist the grey pointed hat in his hands. I can tell he doesn’t want to be here.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, Adam flicks his bowstring. “You gonna be okay, man?”
Rick wipes his nose and shrugs.
“Dude.” Bob lays his arm back over the seat. “Seriously, you gotta move on. I mean…I get it. I do. But Lil wouldn’t want you throwing your life away.”
Pressure tugs at my stomach, and the car jolts away in a rush of color and light until only dim flickers remain in a sea of darkness. I blink and rub my stomach where the pressure was, but my head keeps spinning. Two red candles poke out of the grass a few feet away, connected by a thin white line. I squint and try to see into the darkness, but their flickering light blinds me to whatever’s out there.
“Where am I?”
“Woah. It worked.”
I spin to see a knife fall from Stacey’s bleeding hand. It clangs as it bounces off a headstone. My eyes drift to the inscription, and I gasp. It’s my headstone, draped in a white cloth with an open book on top. What appears to be a lock of my hair lies next to my engagement ring. Both are covered in blood.
Goosebumps rise on my arms, and I lift my hands in front of my face. My ring is still on my finger, but my hands are solid. Firm. “Stacey, what did you do?”
“Blood summoning?” She shudders. “Oh, I am so getting excommunicated.” Her hands tremble, and her eyes go wide. “Wait. You didn’t follow the light, did you? I mean, that was you, in the hospital and the window? Please, tell me I didn’t pull you from your rest.”
“No it was me, but…” My eyes trace the white lines drawn on the ground in what looks like salt. I recognize the shape. It’s the same as her necklace.
Bob gasps as he steps into the light with Adam and Rick. “Stacey, what is this?”
Rick’s eyes lock on mine, and he falls to his knees. “Lil?” His gaze burns like hot coals.
“It’s me.” I bite my lip and force myself to look at him. I can’t read him behind the hat and beard, but I don’t know how much time I have before I vanish again. And there’s so much I need to say. So much he needs to hear.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.” I step towards him. “I love you. You, Rick. Only you. Please, you can’t kill yourself. I want you to live. I need you to live.”
The words pour out in a jumbled sob as I hold out my arms. I need to touch him…feel his arms around me, but my hands hit something solid. I can’t see what it is, but it’s as smooth as glass and hard as steel. I spread my palms across the cold surface, searching for the edge. But it’s like I’m in a cage, I can’t get to him. I slam my fist against the wall and scream. He’s right there. He can see me…hear me. But I can’t go to him.
I glance over at Stacey, watching open mouthed from beside my headstone. “Stacey. Please, just let me hold him.”
Rick pulls the hat off his head and yanks the beard from his face. But his expression is still masked. “This can’t be real.”
Stacey clears her throat. “It’s real. It’s her. But she can’t leave the summoning circle. Not until the spell fades, and she’s a ghost again. Rick, she’s been with you all along. She pulled you out of that wreck, and she told me about your letter. But you have to go to her. She can’t cross the salt. Hurry, this only works during the first fifteen minutes of Samhain. You only have ten minutes left.”
Rick reaches out, his eyes wide, his hand trembling. “I thought you left me. I thought you wanted Ben.”
“Never.” I spread my fingers across the glass. ‘I’ll never leave you.”
Our palms meet.
I can feel him, his warm, rough fingers between my own. A whimper leaks out before I can stop it. He’s touching me. Me, without my body. I shudder as tingling lightning flows through my hands. I never knew a touch could be like this, mean this much. It’s like I’d been wearing a glove before, and now I can feel him for the first time. He steps through the glass and folds me in his arms. I press myself against him, losing myself in his warmth. I’m not whole without him. I was never meant to be alone. I was made for this, for him. It’s so obvious, I don’t know how I didn’t feel it before. I spread my fingers across his back and pull him tighter. I want him. I want to melt into him and forget everything else. I lay my head against his chest, just breathing in his scent.
And that’s when I hear it. His heartbeat.
My grip loosens.
He’s still alive, still wearing his glove. He can’t feel what I’m feeling, how much we belong together. Not yet. I pull his lips to mine and drink in the taste of him, the fullness of his essence. But we can’t be together, not yet. He has a life to live. I can’t deny him that journey. I want to share it with him, even if he can’t see me by his side. I pull away and bite my lip, savoring the lingering tingles on my tongue.
“I love you, and I swear I’ll be with you every second of every day until you can see me again.” I open my eyes and gaze deep into his brown eyes. “I want you to take me on a lot of adventures. Live the life we wanted to share. Live for me. I’ll love you forever.”
His warmth cools, and my arms turn to smoke. I sob and try to hold on to him, but the moment’s passed. I’m a shadow and a memory. I can’t touch him; I can’t feel anything. Nothing. Rick’s standing in the center of the Pentagram staring at his hands like he’s not sure what happened, and I can’t even talk to him. I’m a ghost.
“You really are a sorceress?” Adam stammers, a smile curling at the edge of his mouth. “That is awe-some.” He pulls his hair and staggers back with a sigh.
“No, it’s not.” Stacey’s voice shakes. “You don’t get it. She’s dead, and it’s my fault…it’s all my fault.” She buries her face in her hands.
Bob walks over to her and lays a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not your-“
“Yes, it is!” She swats his hand away. “I was moving a box of potions for Mom when Ben came in for his treatment. I set it down to open the case for like a second, but when I turned around, a love potion was missing. I knew Ben took it, but Mom would kill me if she found out. So, I didn’t tell her. I went to the party to get it back. But by the time I got the chance to talk to him, he’d already given it to Lil.” She crosses her arms and stares off into nothing, tears streaming down her face. “She didn’t betray you, Rick. She never wanted Ben. It was just a spell. Do you hear me, Lil? It wasn’t your fault. You were under a spell.” Her voice falls to a whisper. “Because of me…because I screwed up. God, I am so sorry.”
Rick’s jaw clenches. He closes his eyes. “So, this whole thing, the summoning…” He sounds weak, shaken.
“Was so she could talk to you. So, you couldn’t convince yourself the love she had for you wasn’t real. Because it is. You were gonna kill yourself, Rick. I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t want anyone else to die because of me.”
Adam glances up at Rick, his face twisting into a strange pained grimace. “What?”
“You don’t get it.” Stacey swallows hard. “She stayed behind for him. They belong together. And I killed her. It’s like I cut off half his soul. But she’s not gone. She’s still here, Rick. She’ll always be with you. She loves you, and that’s never gonna change. I just wanted you to see it for yourself.” She rubs her arms shaking her head back and forth. “If you all hate me, I’d totally understand.”
I watch her standing there in the graveyard, her head bowed, her arms folded over her chest. She looks so vulnerable, so broken. I can’t hate her. I don’t want to. I wish I could hug her.
“Sounds more like Ben’s fault than yours, Stace.” Adam takes my engagement ring and wipes it clean in the cloth. “Speaking of, did I tell you I ran into him on the way to class the other day? That dude’s in a wheelchair. Guess, you weren’t joking about him needing those treatments.” He flips it like a coin over to Rick. “And don’t go hating on him too much, man. Football was like the only thing he had going for him. Now that he’s cut off, his life is over. Just saying.”
Rick spins the ring between his fingers and shakes his head. “I don’t hate you, Stace. You’re probably the best friend I’ve ever had. Thank you.”
Stacey chokes on a single sob and sticks a finger behind her glasses to wiper her eye. “I don’t even know what the penance for necromancy is…”
“Twenty Hail Mary’s, and memorizing the entire book of Maccabees.” Bob pulls her into a hug. “’Faithless is the friend that departs when the road turns dark.’ You’re awesome, I could never hate you.”
She laughs and nuzzles into his chest. “You would quote Tolkien at a time like this.”
I watch them standing in the fading glow of the summoning circle, tangled in a lover’s embrace, oblivious to the elf thumbing through the grimore on my headstone.
A sorceress and a half-orc.
I laugh and slide my hand into Rick’s. He jolts, and Stacey winks at him over Bob’s shoulder. “Everything will be a little different now that you’re aware.”
Rick smiles and slides my engagement ring onto his pinky. I lean over, kiss his cheek and watch the goose bumps race across his face. It isn’t much, but it’s all we have.
But I don’t mind waiting. I don’t have to do it alone. He loves me. I love him. And a lifetime is so very short.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Dirk StevensPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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