As Gracie went to work, then to kickboxing class and sushi with her new best friend, I sat on the couch in the living room like a pathetic puppy, and waited for her to come home. This whole “step back and give her space” plan sucked serious balls! Why did I think I could do this forever? I’d tried to distract myself by talking to Rodge for a bit, but when he realized I wasn’t actually listening to anything he had to say, he retreated upstairs. I reorganized the magazines on Gracie’s coffee table and even tried reading a few, but they were not only seriously out of date, but either Christian or “girlie,” in nature. One Cosmo rag is quite enough for one day, thank you very much!
When the front door eventually swung open (late, mind you), and my Gracie’s beautiful self came strolling into the house, I was overjoyed. It took everything in me not to speak to her, but I kept to the plan. I followed her upstairs and into the bedroom, sat on her bed and watched her undress then climb into the shower, all the while waiting rather impatiently for her to talk me. I promised I would be there for her if she needed me, and I intended to. Until then, I would stay out of her way.
“Hello?” I heard Gracie call from the shower, and I leapt to my feet…until I realized she was just singing. “Is it meee yooou’re lookin’ for?”
Lionel Richie, Gracie? Seriously?
I sighed and dropped back down to the mattress, staring at the ceiling as Gracie finished her ballad, until I heard the shower shut off. Lifting my head just enough to see the girl climb out of the shower and dry her perfect skin off with a towel, I willed her to speak to me. Focusing all of my energy, I tried to send her a telepathic message.
GRACIE JAMES…ADDRESS YOUR ANGEL!!!
I repeated this command, over and over in my mind, until my head ached. At least, as much as my head could ache, at this point. Ghosts don’t actually get headaches. It’s more like… “mental exhaustion,” I suppose. Either way, I started to feel shitty and Gracie seemed oblivious to my struggle, so I gave up. This was it, an eternity of being ignored again. Just like the days before Gracie came into my life. Yet, somehow, it was infinitely worse now. Probably because this time, there was someone whose attention I wanted more than anything.
Gracie put on her pajamas, brushed and flossed, knelt to say her nightly prayers, then climbed into bed, beside me. Her big, brown eyes closed momentarily and my heart sank.
“Chuck?” Gracie called softly, her eyes still closed, though she was surely not asleep yet.
“I’m here!” I replied, a little too excitedly. “What do you need?!”
Be cool, man…
“Nothing,” the girl said, opening her eyes and smiling in my general direction. “I was just wondering if you were here.”
“Oh,” I replied, my excitement waning.
“I had the best day,” Gracie said, rolling onto her back.
“Do you need to talk about it?” I asked, seeing my window of opportunity. “We can talk about it…”
“Well I wouldn’t say that I need to,” she replied, looking amused, “but sure, we can talk.”
This was all wrong. I was supposed to be seeing to her needs, not the other way around!
Goddamn it, Chuck! Can you NOT manipulate this girl for even one day?!
“First of all, work went great,” Gracie began, and I leaned forward, enjoying her attention. “Mr. Buehler has been out of town so he didn’t even know I’d missed work, and with Joshua in charge…he was more worried about me, then angry. You know, I think you might be right about his feelings for me.”
“I’m glad that it went well,” I responded, grudgingly.
“It really did,” Gracie replied. “I even ended up with a couple of clients today. Mason came in, and he gave me a HUGE tip! I think Mavis must have told him that I’ve been going through a rough time. I tried to turn it down, but…you know Mason, when he gets excited…”
My memory flashed back to Mason’s full-frontal exposure last time he’d gotten excited around Gracie.
“Indeed,” I said. “Did he lose his sheet again?”
“Not this time,” Gracie laughed. “I think he’s still embarrassed about that. He holds onto that sheet for dear life whenever he changes positions on the table.”
“Thank God for small favors,” I thought aloud.
“Oh, nothing. So, work went well. How about your kickboxing class?”
“Weeeell,” Gracie stalled, blushing a bit. “Turns out, I kind of stink at it. Mavis swears that I’ll get better but…I was definitely flailing more than boxing.”
I smiled, imagining the scene and wishing I would have been there to see it.
“I’m sure you did great,” I replied, warmly. “And Mavis is right. You will get better…if it’s something you want to continue, that is.”
“I think it is,” Gracie responded, thoughtfully. “I felt like an idiot, don’t get me wrong, but I also felt kind of…powerful. Is that stupid?”
“Not at all.”
“Mavis says that she’s going to make a cage fighter out of me.”
Gracie cage fighting? THAT would be the day.
“What’s so funny?” The girl replied, feigning insult. “I could be a cage fighter if I wanted to!”
“I have no doubt you can do any and every thing that you want to, Gracie. I just never would have imagined that cage fighting would be one of them.”
“Well, that makes two of us. I don’t know, I guess I’m just ready to take control, ya know? My entire life, I’ve let other people make me do things. It’s time to stop.”
It’s a good thing you retired, Chuck Butkis, because your game has officially ended.
“Good for you,” I replied, somewhere between extreme sadness and extreme pride. “No one can ever control you again, unless you let them.”
“And I never will,” Gracie promised.
“How was sushi, by the way?”
“Gross,” Gracie replied, with a yawn.
“Well…I guess all new things can’t be good, right?”
Gracie nodded and closed her eyes.
“Thanks for listening, Chuck,” she said, drowsily.
“Thanks for talking, Gracie.”
Gracie woke up and got out of bed, without saying “good morning,” once again. In fact, she didn’t acknowledge me at all, leaving the townhouse without as much as a “fare thee well.” She just…left. I sat on the couch again, bitterly wondering if she would come home after work, or run off with her girlfriend again for more lessons in female empowerment. Yes, yes, I knew it was good for Gracie, but I did not have to like it!
I didn’t like it when Gracie brought Mavis home that night, either. After a long day of pacing the floor, the last thing I needed was to see any chance of conversation with Gracie flying out the window, when the blonde came trotting in behind her. She wasn’t even as hot as I’d initially thought. Her jaw was a bit too square and her shoulders, a bit too broad. She was kind of manly, that Mavis Davis. Not worth checking out at all.
“I can’t believe you made me do that!” Gracie laughed, taking off her jacket to reveal her very sweaty work-out wear.
I hadn’t seen her pack a gym bag this morning. Was she just keeping one in the car, these days? This was getting serious.
“Oh, come on!” Mavis cried, flopping down on the couch. “That was fun! You know you liked it.”
“No, you liked it, because you can dance! I looked like a frog in a freakin’ blender!”
I snort laughed, but Gracie didn’t seem to hear it.
“Zumba isn’t dancing,” Mavis corrected. “Well…kind of. But not really. It is good practice for tomorrow niiiiight thoooooough…”
“Why? What’s happening tomorrow night? I’m almost afraid to ask…”
“Tomorrow night is salsa dancing, at Tres Vinos Cantina! We are going to get all hussied up and hit the dance floor, girlie! There’s sure to be a lot of sexy, Latino men there, to keep you company on the dancefloor! Unless you want to bring a date. Like…I don’t know…Joshua, maybe?”
Hussied up? Sexy, Latino men? Joshua?!
I was seriously starting to dislike Mavis Davis. What was she trying to do to me?!
“Um, no,” Gracie argued, shaking her head violently. “You saw what I just did in sneakers and you expect me to do that in heels? And in front of Joshua?! No freakin’ way!”
“You’ve never danced in heels?” Mavis asked, skeptically. “I don’t buy it. Every woman has danced in heels, at least once.”
“Well, yeah,” Gracie admitted, “nightclub dancing! Like…feet planted, wiggle your hips dancing. That, I’ve done! But you’re talking salsa, which is a whole new ballgame.”
“The hips are the hardest part!” Mavis laughed. “If you’ve got that, you’re golden.”
“Tell that to my feet,” Gracie replied, before taking a swig from her sports bottle. “If I break an ankle, you’ll be the one stuck carrying me home!”
“Not a problem. I’ve carried heavier weights then you farther than that, when I was in the Army.”
Gracie’s head whipped around curiously.
“You were in the Army? You never told me that!”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m full of surprises,” Mavis replied, with a wink.
“You’ve done so much, already,” Gracie said, taking a seat next to her friend. “The Army, the husband, the kids…the MMA belts on your living room wall…I haven’t done anything. Seriously! I’ve spent most of my life just…existing…”
“Don’t worry, little one,” Mavis said, with a playful pat to Gracie’s head. “We’ll catch you up.”
Apparently, Mavis intended to get Gracie “caught up” all at once. I hardly saw the girl for weeks, as her friend drug her all around the city to do everything from pottery classes to indoor rock-climbing. I only know this, mind you, from the conversations they so generously let me overhear during their hen-fests in our living room. Gracie hardly ever spoke to me anymore, other than the occasional, “Chuck, are you here? Just checking.” Though to be honest, she hadn’t even done that, in quite some time. I had taken to talking to Rodge, while Gracie was away. Really talking. But though I was grateful for the companionship, it did little to fill the void steadily growing within me. I missed my girl, and another man made for a poor substitute.
Dealing cards one evening, Rodge began to eye me curiously.
“What are you thinking?” He asked.
“I thought only chicks asked that,” I answered, collecting my cards.
“Fine,” Rodge replied, with a shrug. “Don’t tell me.”
He waited for me to spread his cards out for him, but I was too lost in my head to notice. He was right. I was thinking about something…
Rodge cleared his throat, regaining my attention.
“What?!” He demanded.
“I was just thinking,” I began, causally. “Maybe I should start talking to Gracie again.”
“Well, I said that I would be there for her if she needed me, right? How in the hell am I supposed to know if she needs me, if I don’t even know what’s going on with her? I don’t know what she’s doing or who she’s doing it with. I could start following her around again, but I can’t read her mind! How am I supposed to know what she’s thinking…if something is bothering her…unless I ask? Just watching isn’t enough…it’s…it’s…”
“Yes! It’s cruel!”
“Yeah! I mean…shut up, Rodge! That’s not what I meant.”
“Of course it is! You couldn’t have meant that it was cruel to Gracie, because she is doing better than I have ever seen her. She doesn’t need you anymore, Chuck. I’m sorry, I know that probably hurts, but she just doesn’t. You’ve got to stay out of her life and continue to let her live it. You’re doing the right thing here, buddy.”
“If it’s the right thing,” I grumbled, “why does it feel so wrong?”
“Because you’re a selfish bastard,” Rodge replied, flippantly. “The ‘right thing’ is bound to feel unnatural to you.”
“Sorry, Chuck. You know it’s true.”
“Sorry,” I repeated, tossing my cards. “That’s all I’ve been hearing from you, lately! ‘Sorry, Chuck. She doesn’t seem to be coming home tonight.’ ‘Sorry, Chuck. She’s already asleep, no conversation tonight.’ ’Sorry, Chuck. That was a man on the phone and I think he just asked her out.’ Sorry, sorry, sorry! Well, I’m sorry too, Rodge! Sorry that I ever took on this stupid con in the first place, sorry I ever came to Provo-fucking-Utah, and sorry that I EVER said that I’d stop talking to Gracie! The ‘right thing’ can officially kiss my ass! When my Gracie gets home, I am going to talk to her as much as I damn well please.”
Rodge’s eyes grew wide, at my tantrum.
“Chuck!” He gasped. “You can’t! She’s come so far…”
“Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” I spat, and jumped to my feet. “I’m a selfish bastard, remember? Selfish bastards do what they want, when they want, with whom they want.”
I stomped out of the room and down the stairs, placing myself firmly before the front door, and daring Rodge to challenge my position. He did not follow, however, so I could only guess he was leaving me alone to cool off, hoping that I’d come to my senses and do the right thing. But I was done doing right. I was done being good. I missed Gracie, and there was no way in hell I was going to go one more day right next to her, yet a universe apart. She didn’t need me, it was true. But I was finally ready to admit that I needed her.
Hours later, the front door finally opened, and I was relieved to find that Gracie was alone. She closed and locked the door behind her then hung up her jacket, as I tried to collect my thoughts. It had been weeks since we’d spoken. What was I going to say? Should I open with a question? A joke? A fictitious warning? What excuse could I give for breaking the silence between us? I certainly couldn’t tell her the truth! Can you imagine?
“Hey Gracie, what’s up, girl? I just wanted to say that I miss you like crazy! I love you so much that not talking to you is killing me a second time.”
Sure! THAT sounded like something an angel would say! Then, the thought occurred to me. Maybe it was time to stop being her angel…to tell her the truth. I shivered at the thought, but an intense excitement filled my spirit at the prospect. I could be honest with her. I could let her know who I really was. Let her all the way in. What would she say? Would she hate me for my lie? Appreciate my honesty? Could she love me…really love me…if I became a man to her, rather than a celestial being? But, I wasn’t a man, was I? I was a ghost. Was Gracie afraid of ghosts? It had never come up.
I followed Gracie up the stairs, wrestling with my inner drives. Deep down, the girl knew I wasn’t who I pretended to be. Maybe she wouldn’t even be all that surprised by my ruse! Maybe she would be glad that I’d finally told her the truth. Maybe the confession would lead to a thousand questions and actual conversations that would bring us back together. No, closer. Closer than ever! If I dropped the angel act once and for all and just let myself be, well, myself, I could tell her all of the things that were in my heart, without blowing her precious mind. I would just be the ghost of a man, in love with a woman. Surely, she’d understand that. Maybe, even, reciprocate? I could never marry her, grow old with her, but I’d stay with her the rest of her life. I’d be with her the day she died, and then…
Gracie knocked a book off her nightstand and the bang distracted me from my circling thoughts. I had already made up my mind. No point in trying to convince myself further! I closed my eyes and prepared to “out” myself, in the most straightforward way possible.
“Gracie,” I said firmly. “We need to talk, sweetheart.”
Gracie stooped to pick up the fallen book, and flipped through its pages absently.
Confused, I took a few steps toward her, and tried again.
I rushed forward until my face was mere inches from Gracie’s and shouted.
That’s when I realized that she could no longer hear me.