Sometime later, Gracie came home. It was obvious from her glow that the date had gone well. The revelation should have hurt me, but the incident with the doorway had officially broken my spirit. I felt…numb. I was voiceless, powerless, and now without escape. There was nothing left to get worked up about. No chance of ever being anything to Gracie again. Not an angel, not the man I so desperately wanted to be, nothing…just another ghost in her already haunted house.
Days passed, then weeks, and I watched Gracie go on about the happy business of life, coming and going, but rarely staying home. When she did come home, it was often with her girlfriend by her side. I considered this to be both an annoyance and a blessing. Better Mavis Davis than Joshua Buehler! Even so, I passionately resented the woman for her role in my estrangement from Gracie. I still didn’t know why my powers had failed, or why god had felt it necessary to snatch me away from the woman I loved. But I had a sneaking suspicion that it would not have happened if Gracie still needed me, and I was finally ready to admit the fact that she just… plain… didn’t. If Mavis had never come into Gracie’s life, she and I would still be thick as thieves! It was rough being replaced, especially by someone who was able to do your job better than you ever could.
I was sitting on the living room sofa contemplating this exact thought when Gracie and Mavis came through the front door in a whirlwind of chatter. My girl held an enormous bouquet of stargazer lilies and was digging through the flowers, eagerly.
“I can’t find a card…” she said, after a moment. “The little stick-thingy is in there, but there is nothing on it.”
“Maybe it fell off, out on the porch?” Mavis responded, flipping on the porch light and passing back out the door.
She came back a minute later, waving a tiny, white envelope.
“Tada!” She cried, and handed it off to Gracie’s eager hands.
“I bet I know who theeese are frooom,” she sang, tearing open the envelope.
“Joooooshua?” Mavis sang, in response.
Gracie’s brow furrowed as she read the card.
“Hmm,” she mused.
“What does it say?” Mavis asked.
“It just says, ‘Soon.’”
“Soon? That’s it? Not even a name?”
Gracie shook her head.
“No,” she said. “I wonder what he meant by that. Soon.”
“Why don’t you call him and find out? Maybe it’s a clue or something. Like he’s about to surprise you by whisking you off, to some far away place!”
“Not with the way his father pays him,” Gracie laughed. “We wouldn’t make it beyond Salt Lake City. I make more than he does, and God knows that I couldn’t get us much farther than that.”
“Well…Salt Lake could be fun too.”
Gracie winked at her friend as she dialed her cell phone.
“Hi sweetie,” she said, as she exited the room to talk privately.
With her friend out of the room, Mavis began poking around, like the nosey bitch she was. I knew that Gracie would not mind the way the woman went into her drawers and perused the contents of her refrigerator, but I didn’t like it. Not one bit. I scowled at her as I followed her from room to room, until Rodge distracted me.
“What are you doing, Chuck?” He asked, at the base of the stairs.
“Oh, nothing,” I replied, with a sigh. “Just wishing I was still capable of doing any kind of harm to the living.”
“Buddy, you have got to get over this thing you have against, Mavis! She has been nothing but good for Gracie.”
“Whatever,” I replied, rolling my eyes and stepping away from Gracie’s houseguest. “I would seriously push her down the stairs, if I could.”
“What?! You know I wouldn’t…not really. I would never hurt someone just for being Gracie’s friend.”
Rodge blinked in surprise.
“Oh really now?” He said, crossing his arms.
“Come on!” I exclaimed. “I told you a million times, that was an accident! I did not push you down the stairs, you tripped! That’s what happens when you go running down a staircase all willy-nilly!”
“Willy-nilly?” Rodge cried, aghast. “I was not running willy-nilly, I was fleeing in terror, thanks to you!”
“Look, I’m sorry, Rodge! You know that I’m sorry! I have apologized a million times, when are going to let that go?”
“You mean, the fact that you killed me?” Rodge replied, with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
“You just love raking me over the coals, don’t you?”
“I must admit that I do. But honestly, I forgave you as soon as I got to know you. There was no real malice in what you did. No intention to do physical harm. You were just Chuck being Chuck and, well…I got caught in the crossfire. That’s just what happens, sometimes.”
I winced, not liking the idea that Rodge viewed me as some loose cannon. Though I suppose it was a fair analogy.
“Thanks…I guess,” I grumbled. “For what it’s worth…I really am sorry, Rodge.”
My one and only “murder victim” smiled at me, and I could not help but smile back, shaking my head. I would never have forgiven Rodge, had the tables been turned. He was a feakin’ saint! And I…I was more than just a sinner. I was damn near the devil, himself…
Gracie came walking back into the room as her friend began opening cabinets in the living room.
“Well,” Mavis began, inspecting the contents of a dusty, cardboard box that she had found. “What did Joshua say about the flowers?”
“He said that they weren’t from him.”
“Yep,” Gracie replied, looking at the card again.
“Who do you think sent them, then? A secret admirer, maybe?”
“Maybe…” Gracie mused. “But they’re stargazer lilies. My favorite flower. That’s not the kind of thing just anybody would know. I told Joshua of course, because that kind of stuff always comes up when you’re dating, but…”
Mavis’ head suddenly whipped around to face her friend.
“Blake!” She cried. “Blake knows they’re your favorite flower, right? You said you told him.”
Gracie looked taken aback.
“Blake? You honestly think it could be him after…everything?”
“I don’t know,” Gracie continued, picking up the bouquet and eyeing it suspiciously. “I think Blake would have signed the card. Besides, how would he know where I live?”
“Information age, right?” Mavis replied, turning back to her cardboard box. “Anyone can find anyone, you said.”
“I guess,” Gracie said. “I don’t know this all just feels kind of…creepy. I don’t like it.”
With that, my girl walked into the kitchen and tossed the mystery bouquet straight into the garbage can, vase and all.
“Gracie!” Mavis whined. “Those flowers were gorgeous! If you didn’t want them, you could have given them to me. I could care less where they came from. Besides, I’m sure it was a completely innocent gesture.”
“I hope so,” Gracie responded, rubbing away the goosebumps on her forearms. “Maybe I should get a dog. A big ol’ Rottweiler, or something…”
“You don’t want a dog, they stink,” Mavis replied, holding up a CD she had dug out of the cardboard box while observing its handwritten title. “What the heck is ’Dances Through Time?”
“Awe!” Gracie cooed, forgetting about the flowers and darting forward to snatch the CD. “That was a little project me and Rodge took on, forever ago!”
The girl’s eyes grew misty, but she smiled at the memory.
“Oh my god!” Rodge cried, moving toward her. “I can’t believe that she still has that old thing! Gracie and I had so much fun putting that compilation together. We spent months…”
“Months?” I asked. “Doing what, exactly?”
Rodge opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by Gracie.
“Rodge and I both loved to dance, though he was infinitely better at it then I ever was. So we decided one day that we would take it upon ourselves to revisit every dance craze we had ever heard of, and teach ourselves to do them all!”
“You know, like, ‘the Twist’ and the ’Cabbage Patch,” and the “Macarena…”
“Oh!” Mavis replied, with a laugh. “I get it. I am the master of novelty dances! Or…the mistress, I guess I should say. If I’d have known you back then, I totally could have taught you guys.”
“I wish you had. We never did get around to teaching ourselves. We just made the CD and then sort of lost interest.”
“Well, shoot!” Mavis exclaimed, opening the CD box. “Let’s pop the thing in, then, and get to it!”
“I don’t know. It seems wrong without Rodge…”
“I’m not the most spiritual person, you know this, but I have a feeling he’ll be right here with you for this one, Gracie. Don’t worry.”
“You know…I’m sure you’re right,” Gracie replied, smiling. “I miss him so much, but I feel him around me, a lot. It makes things a little easier, you know? When he passed, I thought that I would just curl up and die without him, but... I haven’t really felt without him. It’s like, I can’t see him, but I know that he’s there, watching over me. Does that make any sense at all?”
I looked over at Rodge to find him grinning from ear to ear. It probably felt good to have your presence acknowledged. I wouldn’t know. Not anymore. But I was happy for Rodge. God knows, it was certainly his turn to get a little attention, and the limited amount of grieving Gracie had displayed after his death now made a lot more sense. I’m sure it had stung at the time. I know that I would have been pissed to be written off so easily! Though, Rodge had probably been relieved that his friend had handled his demise so well. He was a much bigger person than I, after all.
“Yes…I am here, Gummy Bear,” he said, lovingly.
“She can’t hear you, you know,” I poked, strictly out of habit.
Rodge cast me a sideways glance.
“That bothered me a lot more when she could hear you,” he responded.
Ouch! I thought a “gentleman” never hit below the belt?
“Alright, alright,” I sighed. “I guess that I had that coming.”
“Damn right, you did.”
Mavis tossed the mixed CD across the room to Gracie, who missed the catch (of course).
“We have seriously got to work on your reflexes, girl,” Mavis laughed.
“Hey!” Gracie laughed, as she made her way over to her CD player. “They are getting better! I swear!”
“I suppose you’re right about that. Remember your first self-defense class with me? I think you spent about 90% of it with your back to the mat.”
“No way! 80%, maybe…85…”
The women giggled as Gracie pressed play on the CD player and the room filled with music.
“Oh, yeah!” Mavis exclaimed, excitedly. “I got this one, check it out! Mavis Davis has more moves than anybody!”
I snorted in disdain and Rodge cast me another sideways glance.
“What?” He asked.
“’I’ve got more moves than anybody,’” I mimicked, mockingly. “I guarantee that I know more of these dances than that bimbo ever will.”
“Is that so?”
“Hell yeah, that’s so! I’ve been watching these stupid fads crest and crash for a thousand years and she’s, what, 28…29? Give me a break!”
“A thousand years, huh?” Rodge teased.
“You know what I mean,” I spat.
“Okay then, you dance machine, you. Let’s see some moves!”
“Is that supposed to be some kind of challenge?”
“Yep. Put your money where your mouth is, Chuck! You say you can dance? Well…I have to see it to believe it. But I don’t think…”
“What, you think I won’t?”
“No, I think you can’t!”
I knew he was goading me, but enough was enough!
“Step aside, Rodger,” I said, sweeping my arm to the left as I stepped forward, forcing him to edge over and give me room to move.
I ignored everyone in the room for a moment, as I listened intently to discern which song happened to be on, so that I could choose my steps accordingly. I stepped to the left, then again to the left. To the right, then again to the right. To the front, then again to the front. To the back, then again to the back. But when I “dipped,” Rodge broke into a fit of laughter.
“Chuck Butkis, you have the stiffest hips of any man on the planet! Please tell me that you’ve never done the ‘Tootsie Roll’ in public.”
“It just so happens that I have not,” I replied casually, still dancing. “This one was ‘after my time,’ so to speak.”
“Well that’s a blessing. You could take a page from that ’bimbo’ over there. She’s killin’ it!”
I glanced over at Mavis and had to begrudgingly admit…the girl could dance.
“She’s alright,” I grumbled.
Gracie jumped up and hit the shuffle button on the CD player.
“New song!” She cried.
“Ha!” I shouted, triumphantly, as familiar music blasted through the stereo speakers. “This one is mine. You youngsters hadn’t even been born when ‘The Hustle’ hit the scene!”
Breaking into my hottest disco moves, I thought for sure that I had won this contest…until I glanced over at my competitor. As Rodge would say, Mavis was killin’ it, again! Gracie cheered and clapped as her friend twirled, and Rodge shook his head.
“That youngster is kicking your butt, buddy,” he observed, gloatingly. “She actually makes disco look good.”
“And I don’t?” I asked, still dancing.
Rodge watched me intently for a moment, before speaking.
“What’s that old expression?” He mused. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”
“Next song!” Gracie cried, again, pushing the shuffle button.
When the song changed again, I was sure that I would finally have the advantage. We had gone even further back in time, now.
“Alright, Mavis,” I began, in challenge, “Let’s see you top this one!’”
Not waiting for the girl to begin, I started dancing, my feet pivoting and legs swinging enthusiastically.
“Good god!” Rodge cried. “What are you doing?! Chuck…you look like a chicken on some sort of amphetamine! That can’t possibly be a real dance…”
“It is, so!” I argued. “It’s called the ’Mashed Potato,’ popularized by the one and only, James Brown. Thank you very much!”
Rodge glanced over where Mavis was dancing, and began laughing hysterically.
“That’s what you think you’re doing?!” He exclaimed, jutting his thumb toward the sickeningly coordinated blonde, who again, was putting me to shame. I glared in her direction, willing her to snap an ankle.
“Go, Mavis!” Gracie cheered. “How on earth do you know how to do that?”
“My mom taught me,” she replied, still dancing. “We used to do these old dances around the house, all the time.”
“That must have been nice,” Gracie responded, somewhat sadly.
“It was. Those are some of my favorite memories of her.”
Shuffling on its own, the CD player switched songs again, and Mavis groaned.
“Ah, man,” she sighed. “This one is beyond me! I don’t even know what song this is.”
I snapped my fingers and threw my hands up in the air.
“I win!” I cried.
“Is that right?” Rodge asked, sounding skeptical.
“Damn right,” I replied, preparing to dance. “The song, my friend, is ‘The Charleston,’ composed by James P. Johnson back in1923. And the Charleston just happens to be my very favorite dance, of all time! In fact, I would call it my specialty…”
“Come on, Mavis!” Gracie cried, cutting me off. “At least give it a try.”
Mavis shrugged and began to move, doing the dance completely wrong. I snickered rudely and proceeded to show Rodge how it was really done. Swinging my legs back and forth confidently, even Rodge could not deny that this round was all mine.
“Chuck Butkis,” he said, in a tone laden with surprised admiration. “The Charleston actually looks good on you! I never would have guessed.”
“See?” I scolded. “I told you that I had more moves than Mavis Davis. If you think this is impressive, you should see me ‘Lindy Hop!’ But for that, I would need a partner.”
“Well, don’t look at me. I’ll have to take your word on that one, Chuck.”
Gracie began to cheer for Mavis again, and I turned around to find the blonde still destroying the Charleston. What was Gracie so excited about?
“There! You got it now, girl!” She cried, applauding. “Who says you don’t know this one?”
“I say!” I spat, in response. “That’s not the Charleston at all! Come on, Gracie…surely you can tell the difference!”
“Between the correct and incorrect forms of a dance from the 1920s?” Rodge responded with a chuckle. “Doubtful. I don’t know what dance Mavis is attempting over there, but she does look good. If I hadn’t just seen you do it, she would probably have fooled me too.”
I stopped dancing and crossed my arms, wishing I could still kick something.
“I am so unbelievably sick of that woman! I wish that she would just…drop dead!”
Right on cue, Mavis abruptly stopped dancing and reached out to lean on the wall, gasping for breath.
“CHUCK!” Rodge shouted, both he and Gracie rushing toward the struggling woman. “What did you do?!”
“Nothing, I swear!” I replied, throwing my hands in the air.
Or did I…?
“Mavis, are you okay?!” Gracie cried, rubbing her friend’s back frantically.
The blonde shook her head, and sunk slowly to her knees.
“I can’t…breath…” she gasped.
Gracie turned white.
“Are you choking or something? What can I do?!”
Gracie bolted across the room to where Mavis’ purse lay by the front door, and tipped it over to shake it out onto the floor. Fumbling through the contents, she found the rescue inhaler and darted back to her friend.
“Here!” She cried, dropping to her knees and raising the inhaler to the blonde’s mouth.
Mavis grabbed the inhaler and took a deep breath of medication, closing her tear-filled eyes. I noticed Gracie’s eyes were wet also, and she trembled like a leaf as she watched the woman struggle.
“It’s gonna be okay honey,” Gracie soothed, stroking Mavis’ hair. “Just breath…”
A few very tense minutes later, Mavis was breathing normally. She smiled weakly at Gracie, and the girl fell into her friend’s lap and began to sob.
“Oh, Gracie,” Mavis said, quietly. “I am so sorry…I didn’t mean to scare you…”
“Well you did,” Gracie said, her voice muffled against Mavis’ thigh. “You should have told me you had asthma! I wouldn’t have made you do all of those stupid dances…”
Mavis shook her long, blonde ponytail.
“That’s just it,” she said, gently pulling Gracie up from her lap, to look her in the eye. “You didn’t make me do anything. This, tonight, was all my fault! I felt an attack coming on and I just kept going. I pushed my body too far. And yeah…I probably should have told you that I’m asthmatic by now, in case of a situation like this. But…I just hate the way people act, when they find out! They automatically start trying to tell me what I shouldn’t be doing, treating me like I’m delicate. I am not delicate, and I won’t have people telling me what I can’t do! If keeping my secret means hiding my inhaler in the corner of the cage every time I have a match, and puffing away behind a sweat towel between rounds, then so be it. Promise me you won’t tell anyone. Please.”
“But you should have told me,” she whispered.
“I know. I’m so sorry, Gracie. I just…”
“I was afraid that you were dying,” Gracie interrupted, her eyes flooding with tears. “I thought that you were going to die right in front of me. I can’t lose you too, Mavis! I just can’t…”
The girl’s face fell into her hands and her sobbing returned with even greater force, and her friend pulled her roughly into an embrace.
“You are not going to lose me, girlie,” she said, firmly. “I’m right here. And I will stay right here, I promise.”
Mavis comforted my Gracie, holding her as I never could again, and I pledged then and there to release my vendetta against her. Like it or not, Gracie needed this woman. She needed a friend. I had denied her of her only true friend once before, and even if I somehow had the means, I would never get rid of this one. It was time to live and let live (so to speak). Mavis was an important part of Gracie’s life…as was Joshua. As for Chuck, well, he had become tragically obsolete.
Gracie bore little resemblance these days to the desperate, introverted, buttoned-up girl who had passed through me on the streets of San Francisco, what felt like a hundred years ago. I was proud to have had even a small part in this transformation, but still could not help feeling like I’d been screwed somehow…like some great, heroic act I had been destined to perform for my lady love had been stolen right out from underneath me. Gracie now had living, breathing people around to guide her, and protect her, and help her make her way in the world. What good was I? I couldn’t even leave the townhouse, anymore! What could a silent, immaterial, housebound spirit like me possibly do for a girl like Gracie James?