Chuck: A Ghost's Story

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Chapter 10

They say the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For a while, I went through each of these on a daily basis. All of them, that is, except for the last. Gracie would wake up and I’d follow her around the townhouse, shouting at the top of my lungs, convinced that I could make her hear me, and driving Rodge crazy in the process. Once she was gone, I would lose my temper and often break something, then hide the evidence before she got home. I’d spend the rest of the day promising God that if he would let me speak to her again just once, let me say a proper goodbye, I would step back and never interfere in her life again. Then, when that did not happen, I’d spend the rest of the evening in a black pit of despair. Not speaking to Gracie was bad enough, but to not be able to speak? That was absolute torture!

Eventually, however, I made my way toward a reluctant acceptance of my situation. I began to follow Gracie around once more, tagging along to work, to the gym, or anywhere else that my girl went. If I couldn’t speak to her, at least I could be near. It beat rattling around the townhouse all day, and I’m sure Rodge was glad to be rid of me for a few hours. I tried to be pleasant with him, but I resented his ability to be “at peace” with his situation, his limitations, and I found myself lashing out at him far more often then was called for. After all, it wasn’t Rodge’s fault that I was in this mess. In fact, it was my fault that he was stuck here, with me. And that made me even angrier with myself…which I took out on him. God, I was twisted!

Hanging around Gracie like a little, black raincloud (as Rodge dubbed me) I moped through Provo, no longer trying to get Gracie’s attention, and cringing when other men did. Fortunately, Gracie seemed in no hurry to rush into a relationship, so I had little to worry about. Until one day, when Mavis Davis decided to intervene on my Gracie’s behalf, and changed both of our courses, forever.

Mavis and Mason Davis lived in a fancy-schmancy, 5 bedroom, Victorian home right next door to Blake and Kim Tracey. Because of this, I was surprised when Gracie agreed to come visit one evening, despite the possibility of running into the man who had broken her heart (or so she thought). I did notice, however, that the girl spent an extra-long time primping and preening, before she left the townhouse. Rodge explained that this was normal female behavior meant to “show them what they are missing,” or something to that effect. And man-oh-man was there something worth missing!

Now that she had a girlfriend to take her under her wing and smack her out of her granny-garb, Gracie was beginning to dress like the sexy, young woman she was. Maybe not as provocatively as my taste would call for, but still a vast improvement from the ankle-length skirts and high-necked blouses that I had loathed. The girl’s makeup had taken a turn for the better as well. Not that Gracie needed it. All in all, she was simply a more colorful, feminine version of the stunner she already was.

When Gracie stepped out of the Pinto and onto the Davis’ driveway that night, I thought that if I was Blake Tracey (which I guess I kind of was), I’d be eating my heart out about now (which I guess I kind of was). The real Blake Tracey, however, was occupied. I could see him through his kitchen window, apparently fighting with his wife. With a tinge of guilt, I wondered how much trouble I’d caused, borrowing the young man’s body. I’d gotten all of the pleasure, he the repercussions. Well, he and Gracie. I really was a selfish bastard.

“Gracie James!” Mason exclaimed, approaching from his front porch. “You made it!”

“Yep,” Gracie replied uncomfortably, avoiding looking in his neighbor’s direction.

Mason embraced her and placed his hand on the small of her back, ushering her toward the front door. A ping of jealousy streaked through me at the gesture. It was so small, so simple, but so utterly beyond my abilities. I did my best to brush the emotion aside, tired of feeling sorry for myself, and genuinely craving a pleasant evening with my girl.

“Trent!” Mason called to a lanky kid practicing skateboard stunts on the sidewalk. “Come meet our guest!”

The boy picked up his skateboard and darted toward us eagerly.

“Hi!” He sang out, with an enormous grin and small wave.

“Hello,” Gracie replied, holding her hand out. “I’m Gracie.”

“I’m Trent,” the boy replied, shaking her hand politely.

“I know! Your mom talks about you and your brothers all the time. If I’m remembering correctly, you have a birthday coming up, don’t you?”

The boy nodded his beanie-capped head.

“Yep!” He said. “In three days.”

“Well, happy early birthday! You’re going to be, what, fifteen, sixteen?”

The boy’s jaw dropped.

“No!” He exclaimed, in a fit of laughter. “I’m not a teenager! I’m only ten!”

Really?” Gracie said, pretending to be surprised.

The boy was positively beaming, and so was Gracie. I’d never seen my girl around a child before. She really should have been a mother. Life was so unfair.

“Alright, Trent,” Mason said, interrupting the conversation. “That’s enough flirting with Gracie. Get in there and help your mother set the table.”

“I’m not flirting!” The boy cried, his cheeks flushing red.

“Uh-huh,” Mason responded with a laugh and a playful cuff to his son’s ear, “sure you weren’t.”

“I wasn’t!” The boy insisted, embarrassed but smiling. “I think you’re the one flirting!”

“Shh!” Mason scolded, playfully. “Don’t accuse me of that around your mother. She’ll break my face!”

The boy nodded.

“She could, too!” He exclaimed, looking at Gracie with a serious expression.

“Yeah, she could!” Mason agreed. “So quit trying to get me killed and go set the table.”

“Okay,” the child replied, and trotted away.

Gracie smiled, after the boy.

“He is adorable,” she said warmly. “And looks so much like his mother!”

“That he does,” Mason responded, ushering Gracie toward the house again.

“Where are your other two?”

“Gavin is at a sleepover and Liam’s on a band trip to Canada, so we’ll just have one very bored little guy running amuck around the house tonight.”

“Canada, wow.”

“Yeah, they’ve been ‘fundraising’ all year. I think I personally paid for about half of those kids’ plane tickets! But it’s worth it. Those are the kinds of experiences that make a childhood, you know?”

I rubbed my temples and rolled my eyes. Mason Davis was the biggest goodie-goodie I’d ever met, and such a snoozefest! I wished Gracie would hurry up and get inside the house. Hot or no, at least Mason’s wife had some spunk! This guy was total milk-toast. He was maddening to be around, for more than a minute or so.

I was about to get my wish, when Gracie paused and looked inside of her purse.

“Oops!” She said, turning away from the house, toward Rodge’s car. “I forgot my phone, and I’m expecting a call from work. Tell Mavis I’ll be right back!”

“Will do,” Mason replied, disappearing into the house.

Gracie walked back to the car, and was visibly pleased to see her cellphone lying on the floorboard.

“Woohoo!” She sang to herself, as she opened the door. “I didn’t forget you, after all.”

The girl scooped up her phone, shut the car door, turned around…and froze.

Blake Tracey stood in his yard with his hands in his pockets, his blonde hair shining in the light from the streetlamp. I cringed, hoping against hope that he hadn’t come out to cause my Gracie any trouble.

“Hey,” he said, softly.

“Hey,” Gracie replied, trembling slightly with some unknowable emotion.

“I saw you out here and…I wanted to come out to tell you that I’m sorry.”

Didn’t see THAT coming!

“You did?” Gracie said, her voice barely audible.

Blake nodded.

“I accused you of some terrible things. I was just confused, and Kim had me backed into a corner so I just…reacted. I still don’t know what happened between us, and I don’t know why, but that wasn’t the first time I’ve had a blackout…or a memory lapse…or whatever happened, that night. So I know you didn’t roofie me, or any other ridiculous thing I said.”

Gracie eyed the blonde man with a strange blend of skepticism and…hope?

“It happened before?” she asked, carefully.

“Yeah, the same thing happened at this spa I go to sometimes, over on 14th. I checked in for a massage, and the next thing I knew, it was over and I was getting into my car!”

“You mean…your massage the day of our date?”

“We went on a date?” Blake asked, stepping toward the girl with a small smile.

Gracie nodded.

“Maybe I am responsible for your blackouts, then,” she replied. “I gave you that massage you don’t remember.”

Blake’s eyes lit up.

That’s where I know you from!” He said, excitedly. “I knew I’d seen you somewhere before! You work at the spa.”

“Yep,” Gracie replied, flatly. “I work at the spa. Your usual massage therapist injured her ankle so Ren rescheduled you with me. You left your massage a little early, but asked me to dinner first. I don’t date clients…I don’t know why I said yes…”

“And I don’t know why I don’t remember any of that,” Blake said, quietly. “But I wish I did.”

The two looked at each other silently for a long moment, and I didn’t care for the expression on Blake’s face. He looked alarmingly regretful.

“Yeah, well,” Gracie began, crossing her arms, “I kind of wish I didn’t.”

Blake winced.

“I’ve had two MRIs and a CT scan since you walked away that morning,” he said, “and I still have no idea what went wrong, in my head. All I know is that apparently, I missed out on quite a night, and hurt a beautiful woman in the process. I wanted to apologize, but had no idea how to find you. I don’t even know your name! I wish I’d have known you were friends with the Davis’ or remembered where you worked. I would have tracked you down.”

“You don’t even remember my name?” Gracie asked, looking hurt.

Blake shook his head, his expression apologetic.

The girl sighed.

“It’s Gracie,” she said. “Gracie James.”

Blake smiled, his perfect, white teeth gleaming as he held out his hand. Gracie reached out to grasp it, cautiously.

“Nice to really meet you, Gracie James.”

Blake held onto Gracie’s hand a little too long, and I scowled in his direction. Not that he could see it.

“So…you honestly don’t remember…any of it?” Gracie asked, skeptically.

“Cross my heart, and hope to die!”

The girl’s eyes drifted toward Blake’s house.

“I guess I’m sorry too, then,” she said. “For coming over here and…”

“No,” Blake interrupted. “No need to be sorry. You did me a favor, actually.”

Gracie cocked her head to the side.

“How so?” She asked.

“Kim and I have been miserable for years,” Blake replied…still holding Gracie’s hand, I noticed. “But I don’t know if I ever could have ended it. Thanks to you, I didn’t have to! Kim left on her own.”

Gracie blinked in surprise.

“You mean…you two…”

“Yep,” Blake said, with a nod. “Kim stormed out the day you showed up on our porch and we met with our attorneys the next day. I don’t know why I held onto our marriage the way I did, why I fought for it, and tried to convince her to love me over and over again. Since she’s been gone, I’ve felt so…free! She stopped by a few minutes ago to get the last of her things, and did nothing but scream at me the entire time she was here. I’m glad you missed her.”

“Me too,” Gracie replied. “But this is all so bizarre. I mean, Mavis said you and Kim were so happy together, that you two were so in love...”

“Lots of homes look happy from the outside,” Blake said, with a shrug. “Inside can be a different story.”

“True,” Gracie responded, before glancing down at Blake’s hand, still wrapped around hers. “Um, I should go. The Davis’ invited me to dinner sooo…”

“Oh, yeah, of course!” Blake stammered, releasing his grip. “I don’t want to keep you.”

Gracie smiled, turned, and began to walk away.

“Hey, Gracie!” Blake called after her. “What would you say if I asked you on a second date?”

The girl turned around with a haughty expression I’d never seen on her pretty face.

“I’d say, what’s the point? You probably won’t remember it anyway.”

Point, Gracie!!!

“Ouch!” Blake replied, though he looked more amused than insulted. “In my defense, my brain does seem to be working properly these days. I haven’t had any lapses since that night with you.”

“Well,” Gracie said, thoughtfully, “I’m happy for you, Blake. Really, I am. But I’m gonna go now.”

With that, the girl turned and walked away. Blake stood in his yard, shaking his head…but smiling. Gracie’s spirit had obviously impressed him. Hell, it impressed me too! I followed her into the Davis’ home with my arms up in the air, in gesture of victory, and soon realized I wasn’t the only one celebrating.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” Gracie exclaimed, scurrying up to Mavis, in her kitchen. “You’re never going to believe what just happened!”

“What?!” Mason asked, racing in from the living room, like a gossipy teenaged girl.

“Yeah, What?” Mavis repeated.

“Blake Tracey just apologized to me, and asked me out again!”

“What?!” Mavis and Mason asked, in unison.

“Crazy, right?” Gracie replied, helping herself to a gulp of Mavis’ wine, from the counter.

“What did you say?!” Mavis asked, in obvious suspense.

“I shot him down, of course.”

“Good girl, Gracie!” Mason said, with a manly punch to her arm.

“You know he’s single now, right?” Mavis asked. “Not that I’m saying you should have said yes…I would have busted his nose for even asking…”

“Yeah,” Gracie replied, grinning. “He told me. My head is literally spinning, right now. After everything he put me through…what nerve.”

“And you were like, ‘no thank you, Mr. Perfect!’” Mavis exclaimed, wagging her finger in the air. “I’m so proud of you, Gracie girl. It would have been all too easy to give it another shot, after the night you had together. I’m glad you didn’t get some case of mysterious amnesia and forget how it all ended!”

“For a moment, I kind of did,” Gracie admitted. “But it was oddly easy to turn him down. He seems…different, now. I can’t explain it. I looked into his eyes and even though they’re as gorgeous as ever, I didn’t feel anything. Isn’t that weird? There was no connection, at all.”

“I guess it could be the divorce,” Mavis said with a shrug. “That sort of thing can change someone.”

Or, it could just be that he was an entirely different person…

“Yeah, I guess,” Gracie agreed. “He certainly has changed.”

Gracie was lost in her thoughts for a moment, while Mason left the kitchen to carry a salad bowl to the dining room table, and Mavis refilled her wine glass then filled another for her guest.

“Speeeaking of dates,” Mavis began, handing Gracie her glass. “I have a surprise for you.”

Gracie’s face made the same horrified expression that mine did. Apparently, we were thinking the same thing.

“Oh god,” she said. “This isn’t some spontaneous ‘set-up’ is it? There isn’t some guy stashed around here, somewhere…”

“No,” Mavis laughed, “of course not! I would never do that to you. But I did kind of, sort of, play matchmaker…a little.”

“Mavis Davis, you are as bad as your husband!” Gracie screeched. “What did you do?”

Mavis took Gracie by the hand, and led her away from the kitchen and into her home office. She flipped open her laptop, and began typing away, as she chattered.

“It can be really hard to meet people, in Provo,” she began. “Trust me, I know! So I just thought you might like a little help.”

Mavis leaned back and allowed Gracie to see her computer screen.

“You registered me on a DATING site!” Gracie actually shouted, taking both Mavis and I aback.

“Well, yeah,” Mavis said, sounding apologetic. “You are such an amazing person, Gracie! You deserve…”

“No, Mavis, you don’t understand…” Gracie interrupted, visibly panicked. “You have to take that profile down, now! It’s not safe…”

“Gracie, honey,” Mavis said, placing a hand on her friend’s arm. “What are you so afraid of? I wouldn’t put any personal information about you out on the web! There’s no phone number here, no address, I didn’t even say where you work! All these guys get is a name, a photo…”

“And a town,” Gracie interrupted, trembling. “He’ll know where I live now…”

Marcus Crowley.

I felt a knot twist in my stomach. She was right. Mavis’ little favor was not only asinine, it was dangerous! In the information age, it’s all too easy to track someone down, with even less detail than Mavis had spewed.

Who will know where you live?” Mavis demanded, rising to her feet. “Did somebody hurt you, Gracie? Are you in some kind of trouble?”

Gracie was silent for a moment, lost in traumatic memories I could read in her expression.

“Gracie girl,” Mavis said, softly this time. “Tell me.”

“It’s a long story,” her friend replied.

“I have time.”

“What about dinner?”

“I don’t give a good goddamn about some baby-back ribs, Gracie James! It’s you I care about.”

“But…Mason and Trent, shouldn’t have to wait…”

Mavis leaned to stick her head out of the office door.


“Okay!” Came her son’s distant reply.

“Now,” Mavis replied turning back toward Gracie. “Tell me.”

Once Mavis learned about Marcus Crowley (and the ironic fact that he and Gracie actually met through a dating website), she not only immediately removed my girl’s online profile, but insisted that she “up” her training regimen. The women spent five nights a week at the mixed martial arts gym, where Mavis, Mason, and even their boys, strived to teach Gracie everything they knew about sparring. It was sickeningly sweet how they adopted the girl, and though I was generally happy for her, something about Gracie’s new family made me feel all the more…isolated.

I enjoyed watching Gracie’s fighting skills improve bit by bit, but after a while, the feeling of exclusion got to be a tad more than I could handle. I stopped attending the training sessions, only following Gracie to and from work each day. This was okay, for a while. I sat in on her massages and turned green with envy of every one of her clients. I listened to her chit chat with her co-workers (all too often, that lovesick brat, Joshua), then rode home with her, either in silence or listening to her sing loudly with the radio. I liked it when she sang. It was easy to trick myself into believing that she was singing to me…that she acknowledged me, again. Yep, it was a pretty lonely time, for old Chuck.

One day at the spa, no different than any other day, my exclusion from Gracie’s life became complete. I followed her through the hallways as she carried a bundle of oily sheets to the laundry room, and there was Joshua…stupid, little homewrecker…

“All done for the day?” He asked casually, as he took inventory of the cleaning supplies.

“Yep,” Gracie replied, tossing her sheets into the dirty laundry bin. “I’m glad, too. Mr. Jones wears me out!”

“I bet! He’s, what, 6’7”?”

“Something like that. It’s a good thing I’ve been working out.”

“Yeah,” Joshua replied, smiling shyly. “I’ve noticed those guns you’re packing these days. You’re lookin’ good, Gracie. Not that you needed more muscle tone to look good. You’ve always been beautiful.”

The simple compliment made both of them blush, and I rolled my eyes.

“Thank you,” Gracie replied, awkwardly.

“I’m sorry,” Joshua apologized. “I didn’t just make you uncomfortable, did I? I know you think of me as your ‘boss.’ I don’t want you to think I was, like, harassing you…or anything. I just called you beautiful because…well…you’re beautiful! Inside and out. No strings attached, no agenda, just the honest truth.”

Nice lines, kid. Real smooth. That’s what makes women swoon, “the honest truth.” Sheesh.

Gracie looked at Joshua for a long while, evaluating the boy.

“I don’t think of you only as my boss,” she said, finally. “It’s just that you’re the Spa Manager and one day, your father will probably pass this place on to you and…I don’t know. I’ve never seen us as being on the same level, even though you always said we were. That doesn’t mean that I’ve never noticed how smart you are, or how kind…or that adorable dimple in your chin.”

Gracie’s eyes dropped in a bashful reflex, Joshua’s face lit up, and I felt like I was going to vomit. This couldn’t be happening…

“I’ve been hurt, in the past,” Gracie admitted, still looking at the floor. “And I’ve been deceived. I’ve been told everything a woman wants to hear, promised the moon and the stars, only to have every ray of light extinguished. I know that sounds melodramatic, but…I guess what I’m trying to say is that…you’ve always been honest with me, Joshua. You’ve always been exactly who you are, and never pretended to be anything else. You don’t play games. You don’t try to control or dominate the people around you. I look into your eyes and…I trust you. I look at your hands, and I can’t imagine you ever hurting anyone or anything…”

“Except for spiders,” the boy interjected, with a sheepish shrug. “I hate spiders. I’m sorry, but I do.”

Gracie looked up and grinned from ear to ear. She was actually falling for this kid! Or had she already fallen, and I been too stubborn to see it?

“That, right there,” she said, reaching out to tap on the boy’s chest. “Honesty. That’s what I want. What do you want, Joshua?”

“Me?” He asked, looking genuinely surprised. “I thought you knew.”

Gracie searched his expression curiously, and the boy shook his head, in disbelief.

“Gracie,” he said, taking her face into his hands, “all I want, is you.”

They looked deep into each other’s eyes and for a moment, I thought they were going to kiss…right there in front of me! Some drunken tonsil-hockey with my lookalike in Vegas was bad enough, but this?!

Not on my watch, little man!!!

I reached out to grab Joshua’s collar and yank him away from my girl…but my fingers slipped right through the fabric. I tried again, only to get the same result, and I began to panic. I turned from the boy, and reached out for a bottle of bleach sitting on a shelf…but could not grab that either! My entire hand passed right through the bottle, and even through the shelf below, without the slightest resistance. I turned in circles, trying again and again to grab, to move, to touch anything around me and failing pathetically.

I collapsed to the floor in bewilderment, as Gracie and Joshua stepped reluctantly back from one another (thank God). My mind was still spinning in frantic circles. I’d already lost my voice! Now, THIS?!

“What are you doing tonight?” Joshua asked, opening the door for Gracie.

“Well, I was supposed to go to the gym,” Gracie replied, her eyes twinkling. “But maybe I’ll take a night off.”

“I think you should,” Joshua said. “Give those guns a rest and go see a movie with me.”

Gracie giggled.

“Okay,” she said, with a slight nod. “What do you want to see?”

“Honestly? I don’t care. As long as I get to sit next to you.”

My head dropped into my hands, miserably. This was some horrible, cosmic prank! It had to be.

“What do you want to see?” Joshua continued, grinning like the lovesick schoolboy he was.

“Honestly?” Gracie replied, playfully. “I don’t care either. Why don’t you just give me a call when you get off and we’ll take it from there. You have my number.”

“For three years now,” the boy responded. “And for three years, I’ve wanted to use it.”

Gracie blushed again.

“Well,” she said, passing through the doorway and out of sight, “now you can.”

I glared at Joshua from my seat on the floor, unable to believe I’d once kind of liked the kid. Though it’s possible I only liked him because I didn’t think he had a snowball’s chance in Hell, with Gracie. The boy had absolutely no game, but ironically, that’s what she seemed to like about him. Nothing in this world made sense to me, anymore.

Realizing that I needed to hurry or walk home, I left my rival and followed Gracie to the Pinto, all the while feeling very, very sorry for myself. On the ride home, Gracie sang her little heart out, but I could no longer pretend that she was singing to me. I knew who she was thinking about, and he was no doubt back at the day spa, thinking about her too. When I had been alive, I avoided any chance of falling in love, like the plague. There were a few girls along the way that really caught my attention, and they were the ones I was sure to never call again. Looking out the window as Gracie drove I wondered, for a moment, what it would have been like to be young and in love and…alive. What did it feel like, to be Joshua Buehler? I would never know.

When we arrived at the townhouse, I followed Gracie inside to find Rodge sitting on the living room couch. He looked up as Gracie did a quick twirl and giggle, removing and hanging her jacket in the closet, then spinning on her tiptoes all the way to the staircase. She hurried upstairs, humming merrily, as I remained at the base of the stairs and watched her ascend. I could not bring myself to follow and witness her preening for this date. Instead, I turned and made my way to the couch, dropping heavily down next to Rodge and wishing with every iota of my being that I were still capable of drinking.

“What was that all about?” Rodge asked, nodding his shiny head toward the staircase.

“You mean the dance of the sugar plum fairies over there?” I asked, bitterly.

“Yeah,” Rodge chuckled. “What’s got Gracie so excited? I haven’t seen her bust into spontaneous ballet for years.”

“What, indeed,” I sighed, my head falling to rest on the back of the couch. “Gracie has a date tonight.”

Rodge cocked his head and eyed me accusingly.

“What?!” I barked. “I have nothing to do with this one! She picked this ninny out, all on her own.”

Rodge’s eyes grew wide.

“It’s Joshua, isn’t it?!” He exclaimed, excitedly. “The Spa Manager.”

My mouth fell open.

How the hell…”

“Oh, come on, Chuck! You had to see this coming! He’s the only guy besides Mason that she and Mavis ever talk about! And the way she talks about him? It was just a matter of time.”

“Well…I’m glad it was so obvious to you, Rodge. Could have warned a guy…”

“It would have been obvious to you too, buddy. If you’d been ready to see it.”

“Well,” I began, pulling my knees into my chest. “I’m still not ready to see it, but here it is. What am I gonna do?”

“Do?” Rodge asked, shaking his head. “You’re not going to do anything! You’ll let Gracie have this, because she deserves someone like Joshua. You’ll sit right here with me, let her go on her date, and wish her all the happiness that life has to offer. That is, if you truly love her.”

“Really?” I replied, sarcastically. “I always thought when you loved someone, you were supposed to fight for them.”

Rodge reached over and patted my hand, paternally.

“Not if your win means their loss, Chuck.”

As much as I didn’t like what Rodge had to say, I mulled it over for a while, until I heard Gracie’s footfalls on the stairs. I turned to look at her and there stood my Gracie, all dressed up for some other guy. She looked…she looked…she looked like the Heaven I would never know.

“Aww,” Rodge cooed, standing up to face her. “You look lovely, Gummy Bear!”

“She can’t hear you, you know,” I said darkly. “She can’t hear either of us.”

“Yes, Chuck, I am aware of that. But I wanted to compliment her, just the same. If that’s alright with you.”

“Makes no difference to me,” I responded, as Gracie put on her jacket. “It’s your breath, so to speak. Waste it how you like.”

Gracie opened the front door, and I stood to follow.

“What are you doing?” Rodge asked.

“What do you think I’m doing?” I responded, pointedly.

“I think you’re tagging along! What happened to letting her go on her date and wishing her happiness?!”

“That was your plan, Rodge, not mine! I’m a fighter, and I don’t give up that easily. I’ll find some way that Gracie and I can both win. Just watch me!”

Gracie walked out onto the landing and I was a step behind her…until I walked face first into an invisible wall.

“No way,” I breathed, and I heard Rodge gasp behind me.

I approached the doorway cautiously, as Gracie stood on the porch, trying to find her keys inside her messy purse. I reached my hand toward the opening separating us and felt the pressure of some unseen energy field pulsing in the doorway. I pressed against it as hard as I could, but it did not yield. I took a few steps back then ran forward, thrusting my shoulder into the barrier, only to have my own momentum boomerang me back and onto the tile floor.

Gracie finally found her keys, and closed the door, locking me inside of my new prison. This was it. This was Hell…

“Chuck?” Rodge called softly, from across the room.

His voice made me cringe. He had every right to laugh at my expense, to “rub in” the situation…but he didn’t. Instead, he walked across the room and lowered himself to sit beside me. We sat like that for quite some time, neither of us saying a word, then Rodge went upstairs and left me to my thoughts.

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