I sat on Gracie’s bed and watched her dig through her drawers for something to wear to her stupid self-defense class, crossing my fingers that she would give up and change her mind about going. Yes, the girl needed to learn how to fight, but surely there were ways to accomplish this besides wrestling around with Omer. I couldn’t bring myself to talk her out of going, but if she chose to skip class on her own…well that would be none of my doing, now would it?
Gracie laid out a couple of potential outfits on the bed, beside me. The first was a dumpy pair of grey sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt with some cheesy, bible verse on it. The second, was surprisingly sexy. Black tights or leggings or something and a bright red, tank top that tied behind the neck. I eyed the two outfits with obvious preference, and was relieved when my girl grabbed the baggy, grey sweatpants and slipped them up over her tight, round behind.
“Still pouting?” Rodge’s voice spoke, from the doorway.
I ignored it, watching Gracie continue to dress instead.
“Where exactly is she going that has you so worked up?” He continued, annoyingly. “Ever since you two got home you’ve been in an absolute snit. What did I miss?”
Certain that Rodge wouldn’t shut up until I answered his questions, I slid off of the bed and walked past him toward the guest room, where we could speak privately.
“She’s going to a self-defense class that a client told her about today,” I explained, when we were alone.
“Really?” Rodge asked, raising his eyebrows. “That’s great! Good for her!”
“Yeah,” I snorted. “It’s just swell.”
“What exactly am I missing here? What’s your problem, Chuck?”
“My problem is that she’s only going to this class to meet some guy!”
Rodge took a step back, his left arm coming across his chest to support his right elbow while his index finger tapped his lips.
“Is that right?” He said, with a twinkle in his eye that reminded me of Gracie’s. I hated it on Rodge, even more.
“Yeah, that’s right. It was her meathead client’s idea. Apparently there is a guy at this class that is just perfect for Gracie and she just has to meet him!”
Rodge stopped tapping and eyed me intensely. I didn’t like it.
“Stare hard, retard!” I spat, in irritation.
Rodge simply shook his shiny head and smiled.
“You’re so jealous you can’t see straight,” he declared, knowingly.
“Well, you can’t do anything straight,” I responded.
“Wouldn’t want to,” Rodge quipped. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re stomping around here like a toddler in a tantrum because Chuck Butkis finally found something he can’t just take! You can’t have her and someone else can…it’s driving you bananas.”
“Make me. Oh wait…you can’t! I’m dead. You can’t scare me, can’t hurt me, can’t make me do anything! I’m going to do whatever I damn well please, and so is Gracie. Time to accept that there are things in this world you just can’t do, can’t have…”
“If you say ‘can’t,’ one more time…”
“You’ll do what, Chuck? Face it, you’ve lost control. You’re not even in control of your own con, anymore! You slipped and tumbled into…well, I’d call it love, but I don’t think you’re capable of that, so I’ll say, infatuation. You became infatuated with your ‘mark’ and now you get to enjoy the special kind of torture that comes from watching someone else get the lover you want. I’d say I feel sorry for you, but this is pure karma, man. You had this coming.”
“Are you done?” I asked bitterly, when Rodge finally stopped gloating.
Rodge leaned against the wall and slid down to a come to a seated position on the floor.
“Yeah,” he replied, obviously pleased with himself. “I’m done.”
A minute later, however, he continued.
“What I don’t get is why you aren’t in there trying to talk her out of this, right now. Don’t get me wrong, once Gracie sets her mind to something there is no stopping her, but why not at least put up a fight? It’s not like you to just sit back and accept defeat.”
I leaned against the wall and slid down, like Rodge had done.
“I wouldn’t call it defeat, exactly,” I replied. “I said I was going to help her, and…going to this class could help her…so…”
“Wait, just a minute!” Rodge interrupted, excitedly leaning forward. “Am I to believe that Chuck Butkis, the most selfish man ever created by the hand of God, is actually putting his own feelings aside for the sake of another?!”
“You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“Yeah, I kinda do! I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Look,” I responded, growing more annoyed by the minute, “I may be tough but I am a human being. I do have a heart, you know, and after what you told me about that fucking dirt bag, Marcus Crowley…I just can’t stand the idea of Gracie being hurt again. If learning how to defend herself means falling for some stupid schmuck, I’ll just have to learn how to deal with that, when the time comes. I won’t stand between Gracie and something that she needs, and she needs this class. I can’t protect her, so she needs to learn how to protect herself. If anything ever happened to her…”
“Hmm,” Rodge interrupted, in a tone of thoughtful surprise.
“I just might have to take back my assumptions about what you are capable of, Chuck. I’m starting to think that’s a whole lot more than infatuation, talking.”
I glared at him, unsure how to respond.
“It sounds like she’s grabbing her keys,” he pointed out. “You better get going.”
“Nah,” I replied, uneasily. “I think I’m gonna sit this one out.”
I thought Rodge’s eyes would fall out of his head.
“You’re not going to go down there and check this guy out?!” He asked, incredulously. “Seriously? Don’t you want to know what you’re up against?”
“Look, I said no, okay?” I responded, trying to sound cool and failing miserably. “I don’t want to go. Don’t want to see him, just want to…hang out at home, for a bit. It’s a big house. We can go our separate ways, keep to our corners. When Gracie comes home, I’ll assess the damage. No big deal.”
Rodge eyed me skeptically and I wondered which part of the statement he wasn’t buying, that I wasn’t interested in scoping out my rival, or that I was planning on leaving him alone until Gracie got back. Maybe he didn’t believe any of it.
“You know,” he said, after a moment, “there’s no reason why we couldn’t just hang out, while she’s gone. Like you once said, if we are going to be lashed together like this, we may as well be friendly.”
Now it was my turn to be suspicious.
“Are you comin’ on to me, Rodge?”
He laughed so hard that he had to grab his aching stomach, and fell forward on his lap. I must admit…it was a bit insulting.
“Hardly,” he said, straightening up. “Don’t get me wrong, you have a sort of bad-boy, Colin Farrell look to you that I might have responded to in my younger days, but now? Nuh-uh, no way. I know an asshole when I see one. Even if it’s a good looking asshole.”
I sooo badly wanted to say something crass, but didn’t have the energy for a fight. Better to let that line just lie there.
’What do you want to talk about?” I asked.
“Whatever you want,” he said.
I thought about it for a moment, before responding.
“Tell me more about Gracie,” I said, finally.
Rodge grinned widely.
“How did I know you were going to say that?” He asked. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, for starters, why the hell do you call her ’Gummy Bear?’”
“Oh now that is a great story of pre-Marcus, Gracie James!”
As Rodge related the tale (which in a nutshell, involved my Gracie and half a dozen Jello-shots packed with Everclear soaked gummy bears), I was so amused that I did not even hear my gal head out the front door. In fact, it wasn’t until she came stumbling back in, hours later, that I realized she’d left. Her noisy entrance caught my attention, as well as Rodge’s, and we followed the sound curiously.
As we neared the foot of the stairs, it became apparent that Gracie had not returned home alone. Much to my relief, however, it was not the “awesome, green-eyed Omer” which was helping her to the couch, but a striking blonde woman.
“Here you go, girl!” The blonde sang, as Gracie fell roughly onto the cushions. “Promised I’d get you home, safe and sound, didn’t I?”
“That you did!” Gracie exclaimed, flopping over clumsily. “You’re my hero, Mavis Davis!”
Gracie began to laugh wildly at mention of the name, and for a moment, I could not figure out what was wrong with the girl...until I realized that I’d heard that laugh before. Gracie had been drinking! Without me!
“I still can’t believe your name is Mavis Davis,” my intoxicated girl continued. “You must reeeeeeally love your husband.”
The blonde shrugged her muscular shoulders and smiled.
“Yeah,” she admitted. “Mason’s pretty great, there’s no denying it.”
“He has terrible taste in men, though,” Gracie sighed.
“Oh yeah?” Mavis laughed.
“Yep,” Gracie replied, pushing up to a seated position. “He sent me to that class tonight because he thought that Omer guy would be ‘perfect for me!’”
“I have told that man a million times to stop trying to play matchmaker! He’s terrible at it! Never does the necessary recon before jumping to introductions.”
Mavis sighed and reached out to turn Gracie’s head side to side.
“Well…your face seems to be intact, so I’m guessing Maria didn’t notice you were after her man…”
“No, thank God! I’d been there for about 30 seconds when she walked over and stuck her tongue down his throat in front of everyone, so I was pretty sure he was taken!”
“Yeah…she does that anytime she spots a new face in class. Bitch be psycho!”
“I might be too if I was dating a sleaze-bag like Omer. He tried to slip me his number after class. Even with his girlfriend there! Can you believe that?”
Gracie made a dramatic retching sound to emphasize the “perp’s” repulsiveness, and I felt a flutter of pure joy. Omer-schmomer…nothing to worry about there!
“I’m sorry about my husband’s meddling,” Mavis said, shaking her head and dropping to sit next to Gracie. “He means well.”
“I know,” Gracie replied. “I have to admit that I am a little disappointed. It’s not that I’m in some huge hurry to get married or anything I was just looking forward to spending some time with a guy who actually has a body…”
Mavis was visibly confused by the comment, but I knew exactly what Gracie meant…and it stung.
“Well,” the blonde said after a moment, “we’ll just have to find you a body that doesn’t have a crazy girlfriend attached to it, now won’t we?”
Gracie blew air through her closed lips, making a “raspberry” sound.
“Where?” She asked, rolling her big, brown eyes. “Look at that bar tonight? Did you see one, even one hot guy in there? Or wait, forget hot, did you even find one guy in there that seemed interesting or sweet or anything other than yuck? I sure as hell didn’t! I’m telling you…attractive men are few and far between. Maybe I should have just gone after that guy with the Camaro…but Chuck would have been pissed!”
Yes, Chuck WOULD have!
“What guy in the Camaro?” Mavis asked, curiously. “And who is Chuck?”
“Never mind,” Gracie sighed, the alcohol beginning to make her drowsy. “It’s a long, weird story. Thank you for taking me out after class. It was nice getting to just hang out with another woman for a while.”
“I know what you mean,” Mavis responded. “I don’t do that enough, either. Most of my time is preoccupied with Mason and the kids. I train and spar with women and lead those self-defense classes, but that’s not the same as ‘girl time.’ We should do it again!”
“We should,” Gracie replied, leaning over to place her sleepy head on the arm of the couch, and close her eyes. “We will.”
Mavis chuckled at her new friend’s state and quietly crept out the door.
“Goodnight, Gracie,” she whispered, careful to lock the door on her way out.
Gracie mumbled a response, but was soon fast asleep.
“Well,” Rodge spoke from behind me on the stairs, “the set-up failed! You must be happy.”
“Yeah,” I replied, moving to cover Gracie with the quilt from her rocking chair. “Happy.”
Rodge cocked his head to the side quizzically.
“You don’t sound happy,” he stated. “What’s on your mind, Chuck?”
I sighed, unsure how to articulate the tangle of feelings churning in my gut.
“I don’t know,” I began. “I mean, she has a friend now…a real friend…and that’s great, but…”
“You’re afraid she won’t need you anymore,” Rodge concluded.
I didn’t want to admit that he was right, so I said nothing.
“It could be worse,” Rodge said, with a shrug. “At least it’s not another guy, right?”
“Yeah, but that’s just a matter of time, isn’t it? You heard her. Gracie wants a man with a body. And now she has a wing-woman to help her prowl for one. Face it, man…our days are numbered.”
“How so? I mean, Gracie finding love may feel like the end of the world for you, but there’s nothing I want to see more!”
“Who says you’ll get to see it? Who says she’ll ever even be home? Or stay in this house? If she runs off with some schmuck I won’t be the only one left in the dust, my friend! You can’t leave, remember? If Gracie leaves us, you’ll be stuck haunting whatever schmoes move in next…forever!”
Rodge looked ill for a moment, then shook his shiny head.
“No,” he said, firmly. “It can’t work that way. I only stuck around to protect Gracie from you…to keep her safe…once I know she’s okay, I’ll move on.”
I snorted and crossed my arms.
“How can you be so sure that your tunnel of light wasn’t a one-time-offer? What if it never comes back for you?”
“It will,” Rodge said.
“How can you be so sure?”
“It’s called faith, friend.”
“Faith,” I spat, agitated by his sudden calm. “Well…lucky for you, we won’t have to test your stupid faith…I’m going to take care of this.”
“Take care of what, exactly?” Rodge asked, confused.
“Gracie wants a man with a body,” I began, a brilliant scheme forming in my mind. “I’m going to give her a body! I’m going to give it to her so good that no living man can compare!”
“Chuck…” Rodge attempted to interrupt, but I was on a roll…
“She’ll be so satisfied that dating won’t even be on her radar for God knows how long, and things around here can just…go back to normal!”
“Normal?!” Rodge shouted. “You call this twisted situation normal?!”
“Okay,” I conceded, “maybe not normal. But things were better, before. Good, even. At least, as good as they can be, for a dead guy like me. I want it back. And I’m going to get it.”
I turned and headed up the stairs, wanting some peace and quiet to work out the details of my latest plan…which was pure genius, by the way…leaving a flustered Rodge and slumbering Gracie behind me.
By the time Gracie woke up for work the next morning, my plan was fully conceived and ready to be hatched. Unfortunately, there was one, crucial element of my scheme which was absolutely necessary…and completely beyond my control. I’m not the kind of guy you would generally call “lucky.” Any successes I had in life were of my own making. So as I tagged along with my Gracie to the day spa, I scanned the curb for a familiar vehicle, but was not the least bit surprised when it wasn’t there.
“You’re awfully quiet this morning, Chuck,” Gracie said, drawing my attention back from the curb. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “I guess. Could be better…”
If there was a Camaro at this curb, for starters…
“Never you mind,” I sighed. “Let ol’ Chuck worry about all that. How’s your head?”
Gracie reached up to rub her temples, with a sheepish expression.
“Could be better,” she laughed, weakly. “But it’s my own fault. You would think I’d have learned my lesson after Vegas, and stayed away from alcohol…forever!”
“Forever?” I teased, “Now what kind of life would that be?”
“The hangover-free kind?”
“Exactly! Where’s the fun in that?”
Gracie scrunched up her pretty face in my general direction.
“You think hangovers are fun?” She asked, incredulously.
“Hell, no! Of course not! But the events leading up to that hangover? That’s what life is all about!”
“Getting drunk,” Gracie began, with a raised eyebrow, “is what life is all about?”
I swear, sometimes I wanted to throttle the girl…then kiss her. Then throttle her again. Though mostly, I just wanted to kiss her until she’d stop talking…then kiss her some more…
“No, Gracie,” I replied, letting annoyance slip into my tone, “getting drunk is not what life is all about! I simply meant that life is just a series of moments, and you have to grab and squeeze every single drop of life out of every single moment that the good Lord gives you! Live in the now, sweetheart. Tomorrow is of no concern.”
Gracie stopped walking and smiled strangely.
“What?” I asked.
“You called me ‘sweetheart,’” she said, softly.
“Yeah, so?” I asked, a little embarrassed. “I’ve called you lots of things.”
“Yeah, but that was…kind of nice,” she said, continuing her walk toward the spa entrance.
“I’m always nice to you.”
“Okay, not always. Sometimes I get a little…”
“Condescending? Judgmental? Pushy?”
“I was going to say gruff! Sometimes, I get a little gruff, I know. But only when it’s called for.”
“Like, when I don’t do every little thing you tell me to.”
“Exactly! If you won’t listen to me Gracie, why the hell am I here? I am supposed to be your guardian, your guide. If you don’t want me to guide you, then what do you want from me?”
Gracie grabbed the door handle and paused for a moment.
“I want you to call me sweetheart, more often,” she said with a wink, then walked into the building.
I stood and stared dumbly at the door. Did that really just happen? Did Gracie just flirt with me? Gracie, flirt? Part of me was excited…a very specific part…but the rest of me was seized by an overwhelming sense of dread. Despite general appearances, this was not the same girl who’d passed through me that day in San Francisco. Gracie was changing, coming back to life, and if I couldn’t get ahold of my plan’s “missing ingredient” soon, some other guy was going to come along and take advantage of that. I wouldn’t have it! Wouldn’t have some schmuck calling my Gracie sweetheart, and getting my smiles, in return! I wasn’t about to lose my life, twice.
As if in answer to my prayers (or rather, my tantrum), a black and orange Camaro pulled up the curb beside me at just that moment. The human Ken doll I’d been waiting for stepped out of his car, checked his surfer-blonde hair in the side mirror, then passed right through me on his way into the day spa. I shook off the unpleasant sensation, but smiled wickedly.
As much as I hated being walked-through by the living, it allowed me a distinct feel for the strength of their…I don’t know…life force? Aura, maybe? Whatever it was, I’d discovered that the strength of that energy correlated directly to the ease with which I could possess their bodies. As well as the length of time I could remain in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Fortunately, Camaro-guy had the weakest energy field I had ever felt. Seriously! He was more loosely held together than any man I’d ever encountered. I didn’t know what this guy’s deal was. Addiction, perhaps? Mental illness? Or, maybe, he just had a weak, shallow-ass character. I didn’t know, and didn’t care! All I knew was that I had won the jackpot with this one. Maybe Chuck Butkis was a lucky guy, after all!
I followed my target into the day spa and listened as he checked in for his 8am Swedish massage with Lisa…which simply would not do. My target (whose name turned out to be Blake Tracey by the way), needed to switch massage therapists…and fast. It just so happened that this was an easy feat, on my part. Gracie was the only one with an open slot, and I despised Lisa. I’d already tripped the bitch multiple times for trash-talking Gracie behind her back, so one more good spill was nothing to feel sorry about. Once Blake headed back to the men’s locker room, a quick “rearrangement” of Lisa’s massage room lead to a satisfyingly loud CRASH, followed by a dramatic wail.
I did not bother to investigate the scene, knowing instinctively that my mission had been accomplished. Instead, I remained at the spa desk, watching Gracie’s little boss, Joshua, practically carry the wounded Lisa back to the staff break-room and rolling my eyes as they passed. It was a lousy sprain at the most! Drama queen…
“What happened to Lisa?!” Gracie asked, approaching from behind me. “Is she okay?”
“Yeah,” the chubby Asian receptionist, Ren, replied. “Looks like she tripped again.”
“Do you think she needs glasses?” Gracie asked, in genuine concern.
“Between you and me,” Ren whispered, “I think she has a drinking problem.”
I laughed and Gracie’s head whipped around, curiously.
“Can you take her 8am?” Ren continued, glancing at the clock. “You’re the only one open.”
“Yeah,” Gracie replied, “of course. What is it?”
“60 minute Swedish. Client’s name is Blake Tracey.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked on him before,” Gracie said thoughtfully. “What does he look like?”
Ren gave a sort of feline grin.
“Oh, he is hot,” she said. “If all of the guys that walked into this place were that pretty I’d go get my massage license!”
“That good, huh?” Gracie giggled.
“Oh, yeah. I forgot to check for a ring, though.”
“I’ll check for you,” Gracie teased, leaving the desk for her massage room.
“Check for yourself!” Ren called back. “Your dry-run has been longer than mine!”
Gracie laughed and went to prep her room for her “pretty” client. I went to the locker room to do some ring-checking of my own. I hadn’t thought to scan my target for a wedding ring, as it seemed inconsequential at the time, but the women’s conversation reminded me that it was an important detail. There was no way a girl like Gracie would hook-up with a married man, no matter how charming I…I mean, he, was…
Luckily, when I caught up with Blake sitting quietly in the steam room, I noticed his hands were bare. I also noticed that he had washboard abs and was reasonably well-endowed. Not quite as well as I was…but that was neither here, nor there. All that mattered was that he had the equipment to get the job done, and his currently relaxed position made it primetime to get to work!
As uncomfortable as it was being passed through by the living, slipping into them was oddly pleasurable, like a nice, tight, full-body hug. Hunkering down inside a living body felt even better! Though I could touch things in spirit form, I couldn’t truly feel them. Once I “borrowed” Blake’s body, however, I could feel the heat inside the steam room, feel the moisture on my (his) face, feel the hard, smooth bench beneath me (him). It was intoxicating. For a moment, I forgot why I had possessed him in the first place. Until I heard Gracie’s voice calling from the locker room doorway.
“Blake Tracey?” She called, making me sprint for the door, slipping and nearly falling out of the steam room.
THAT would have been ironic…
“Mr. Blake Tracey, please?” Gracie called again, as I wrapped a towel around my body’s waist and hurried to the door.
“I’m here,” I replied, Blake’s vocal chords obscuring my voice to match his own. “Sorry, I was in the steam room.”
Gracie’s mouth fell open in recognition of her Camaro-driving “soulmate,” but snapped shut quickly.
“The steam is lovely, isn’t it?” Gracie asked politely, though she was visibly flustered by Blake’s appearance.
Our gaze met, and a small surge of electricity darted through me. I knew damn well it was Blake’s big, blue eyes she saw. Not mine, which were nearly black. Yet, I felt the pull of some sort of connection between us that had nothing at all to do with appearance. Gracie felt it, too. I knew she did.
“Um,” Gracie responded, clearing her throat, “my name is Gracie. Lisa had a small accident and had to leave…”
“Oh no, is she alright?” I responded, feigning concern.
“Yes,” Gracie replied, kindly. “Don’t worry, she’ll be okay. Just needs to rest her ankle.”
“Well…that’s a blessing.”
“I’m available to perform your 8 o’clock Swedish, if you’re okay switching therapists. If not, we can resched…”
“That would be great,” I interrupted, eager to cut to the chase. “I overdid it a bit at the gym last night, so I could really use that massage.”
I reached up to rub Blake’s “aching” biceps, purposefully flexing every one of his muscles, in the process. Gracie’s eyes widened a bit and the slight flush to her cheeks was proof positive that my plan was well underway.
“Would you, um, like to grab a robe and slippers from your locker?”
I looked down at the chiseled torso I was currently wearing and shrugged.
“Nah,” I said, smiling roguishly at the girl, “this will be fine. I’m going to be naked in a minute anyway, right?”
Gracie’s pink cheeks turned red.
“Yeah,” she laughed, nervously. “I suppose so. Well…follow me…”
I trailed Gracie toward her massage room at the end of the hall, and passed Joshua in the process. The boy looked a bit sick when Gracie smiled at me over her shoulder, and I couldn’t resist a cocky “thumbs-up” in his direction. It wasn’t that I hated the kid. In fact, I’d grown strangely fond of him. I just had zero-respect for wienies. Joshua had worked with Gracie every day for three years, and was her superior for Christ’s sake! He could have had that girl a million times over by now, if he had even an ounce of confidence. But, like I said, the boy was a wienie.
Sorry Joshua…your loss, my gain, little man!
As was customary, Gracie left the massage room until I signaled that my body was modestly tucked away beneath the sheets, which I made sure that it was. There would be no aggressive penile exposure, crude comments, or unwelcome fondling from this client! Chuck Butkis was all about seduction, not assault! At least, when it came to the ladies. Besides, that frat-boy crap never worked on Gracie, anyway.
A timid knock at the door told me that my Gracie had returned, and I felt the thrill of anticipation streak through me.
“Come in,” I said, the sound slightly muffled against the massage table’s headrest.
Gracie entered the room, and asked the usual questions about my comfort. Was the music, temperature, positioning of the table okay, blah, blah, blah…then she touched me. Her beautiful hands glided over my skin, and the pure sensation of it was almost more than I could handle. In all of my ghostly adventures, years of possessing the living in order to torment or humiliate them, it had somehow never occurred to me that I could use their bodies for something more…until Gracie came into my life. Laying on the table, awash in the pleasure of physical touch…of her touch…I wondered why I had waited so long to do this. Maybe I was not as smart as I’d once believed.
“How’s my pressure, Mr. Tracey?” Gracie asked, softly.
“Call me Chuck,” I slurred against the headrest, without thinking.
Gracie’s hands stopped moving.
“What?” She said.
My eyes flew open when I realized what I’d said.
“Call me Blake! I said, ‘call me Blake.’ No need to be so formal.”
I felt Gracie’s hands moving against my back once more and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you said something else.”
As the massage continued, my mind went blissfully blank. I’d had every intention of using my appointment time to charm and seduce my Gracie, but it had been countless years since I experienced that level of physical contact with a woman…and never with a woman that I truly felt anything for. All I was capable of doing was laying on the table like a lump of clay she expertly sculpted in her wonderful, little hands.
“I’m going to hold onto the sheet now, so you can roll over,” Gracie said, waking me up a little.
Rolling onto my back, I was both relieved and more than a little surprised that Blake’s cock was blessedly well-behaved. No “tent-pitching” for me! Good boy.
Gracie walked around and pulled up a stool to sit at the head of the table, leaning over a bit to work on my…I mean Blake’s…neck and shoulders. I’d seen enough of the girl’s massages to know that at this point, she always put a warm, wet cloth over her client’s eyes. I noticed, however, that she skipped the step this time. I looked up at her, and she down at me, her inverted face so close to mine that I could feel her breathing.
Our eyes locked and for a moment, the girl’s hands stopped moving. Her wide, brown eyes stared down at me…or Blake. Which one of us was it that she saw, at that moment? It was Blake’s face, Blake’s eyes, but me looking through them…me. Did she see me, somehow? God, I wanted her to! I wanted it more badly then I’d ever wanted anything…and that terrified me.
“What time is it?” I asked abruptly, destroying the moment.
Gracie blinked in surprise, then looked over at her clock.
“It’s 8:42,” she said.
“I have to go!” I lied, pressing up to a seated position. “I’m so sorry, but I just remembered, I have an appointment across town to get to.”
“Oh,” Gracie replied, obviously disappointed. “Well…I’m sure Ren can discount your service to make up…”
“I don’t care about any of that,” I said, with a wave of Blake’s hand. “I’m just sorry to have to leave you so soon.”
“Me too,” Gracie said, then blushed at the admittance.
I was absolutely furious with myself for running away. Chuck never ran! But it was simply…too much. And I’d been in that body too long. I could feel Blake’s aura (weak as it was) beginning to fight me, and I knew that I needed to get out of his body quickly, or risk being propelled out against my will…right in front of Gracie…
“Have dinner with me tonight,” I asked, wrapping the sheet around my waist and backing toward the door.
Gracie looked taken aback.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, opening the door. “I know that this is a totally inappropriate time and place and…way…to ask a woman on a date. But I’m out of time and I’m just not ready to let you go yet.”
Gracie considered my clumsy proposal for what felt like an eternity, then smiled.
“Okay,” she said, simply.
I felt Blake’s face grin from ear to ear with my joy.
“Great,” I said, stupidly. “I’ll pick you up at, say, 6?”
“Actually,” Gracie said, “is it alright if we just meet somewhere?”
“Anywhere you want.”
“How about Badu? I’ve heard good things about their…”
“Badu at 6!” I interrupted feeling the familiar twitch of a rebelling body creeping in. “I’ll be there!”
I don’t know if she responded at that point, as I fled the room and rushed headlong into the men’s locker room. Fortunately, Blake had been wearing the band attached to his locker key on his wrist when I’d borrowed his body, so I had no trouble finding his clothes. Getting dressed was a bit more difficult, however, as my coordination suffered more and more by the minute, as Blake’s consciousness struggled to wake up. I finally succeeded and stumbled out of the locker room’s back door, rushing along the side of the spa building.
I’d JUST managed to steer Blake back to his Camaro, when the bastard shoved me out of his body and onto the sidewalk. Of course, he had no idea that he’d done it (that sort of thing is more of a reflex than a conscious decision), just as he had no idea why his clothes were so rumpled, and he smelled of eucalyptus-infused steam and Gracie’s massage lotion. I saw the man run his hands through his blonde hair, in dismay. His eyes darted toward the day spa, and I could practically hear the hamster wheel in his brain creaking as it turned.
“Yes,” I said, though I knew he couldn’t hear me, “you were already there. Yes, you got your massage.”
Blake looked at his watch and grimaced.
“See?” I said playfully, still sprawled on the sidewalk. “8 o’clock has come and gone, buddy. You’re all done! Time to go home and rest up for our big date tonight.”
Blake took one last look at the day spa, unhooked his car keys from his belt, climbed into his Camaro, and disappeared from sight.