Chuck: A Ghost's Story

By C.A. Cardoza All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Fantasy

Chapter 6

Gracie pulled outfit after outfit from her closet and drawers, tossing them onto her bed in dismay.

“I dress like an old lady,” she said, with a groan.

“You JUST realized this?” I replied, reclining happily on her bed.

“No, but…it never mattered before!”

“It doesn’t matter now. Trust me, I know this guy, and he won’t give a rat’s ass what you’re wearing. He just wants you.”

“Because he’s my soulmate, right?” Gracie asked, sounding hopeful but skeptical.

“Yeah,” I replied, a surprising ping of sorrow, in my chest. “I think he might be.”

Gracie sighed.

“You’re sure he won’t care about my outfit?” She asked.

“Yes, Gracie. I’m sure.”

“And you’re sure that it’s time for this?”

“Yes, Gracie. It’s time.”

“And I have your blessing?”

I smiled.

“Absolutely.”

Gracie beamed, and stunned me by digging out her little, red, “Vegas dress” from the back of her closet. That little minx was putting on the one sexy thing she owned! I was flattered.

“What am I missing, here?” Rodge asked suddenly, from Gracie’s doorway.

I ignored him. To reply, I would have to leave Gracie and I just didn’t feel like doing that, at the moment. Chuck Butkis had been on many, many, MANY dates, in his lifetime, but never had the pleasure of watching one of his women prepare for one. It was rather fun, in a voyeuristic way, to see the process my date was going through in order to impress me. A substantial ego stroke, to be sure.

“Chuck!” Rodge shouted, obviously frustrated by my silence. “What are you up to, now?”

I sighed, and climbed off of Gracie’s bed, to address my irksome roommate in the guest room.

“Do you mind?” I spat, closing the door to keep Gracie out of earshot. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

“Yes,” Rodge replied, “that much I can tell. But what exactly are you in the middle of, Chuck?”

“Oh, nothing much,” I responded, turning my palm to examine my fingernails, casually. “Just solving all of our problems, with one brilliant act.”

“And what act, might that be?”

“I’m taking Gracie out on a date!”

“What? How?”

“In another fella’s body.”

“You mean…possession? You can do that?!”

“Hell yeah, I can.”

Rodge shook his shiny head.

“No,” he said, emphatically. “No, you can’t!”

“Sure, I can! I’ve done it lots of times.”

“No,” Rodge corrected, stepping toward me. “I mean you can’t do that to Gracie.”

“Do what?” I asked, genuinely confused by his upset. “Take her out? Show her a good time? Why not?”

Rodge ran his hands over his face, and gave me a look which suggested he would have hit me, had he been able.

“Gracie has not been out on a date in years,” Rodge growled. “Your brilliant plan is to, what, pretend to be some other guy so you can take her out and get her hopes up? Break her heart so she’ll come crawling back here to you, forever? I won’t let you!”

“You honestly think I would do that to her?” I asked, genuinely insulted.

Rodge shrugged.

“We both know that Chuck Butkis stops at nothing to get what he wants,” he responded, bitterly.

“Not anymore,” I said, defensively. “At least, not with her. I’m not taking her out to hurt her, Rodge. I’m doing it to help her! To help all of us!”

“How, exactly?”

“Gracie is full of all this energy these days, thanks to me, and she wants to dip her toe back into the dating pool, right? I’m giving her a safe place to dip…that’s all! I’m going to take her out and make her feel so good that she doesn’t want anybody else. I’ll help her satisfy this urge to ‘play the field,’ once and for all.”

“That,” Rodge began, forcefully, “is the stupidest plan I have ever heard! You obviously know nothing about women.”

“And you do?”

“More than you, apparently! Especially Gracie! What do you think a woman wants after a wonderful date with a wonderful guy, Chuck? To become an old spinster, sitting back and milking that memory forever? Are you freakin’ kidding me?! She’s going to want another date!”

Well…when he put it THAT way…

“Fine, then,” I said, refusing to give up. “I’ll just have to give her one, then.”

“What, another date?”

“Yep!”

“How?! Are just going to keep stealing some guy’s body over and over so you can carry on a relationship with it? Chuck…this is insanity! Surely, even you can see that.”

I felt my brilliant plan unraveling all around me, suddenly seeming a lot less brilliant. But there was no way I was backing down now. Two rooms away from where I stood there was a beautiful woman painting her beautiful face, in preparation for a date with a man who was willing to risk anything for one more of her caresses. This was happening, whether Rodge liked it or not.

“Letters!” I exclaimed, the idea hitting me like a brick. “I’ll write her letters!”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Rodge sighed.

“We’ll go long distance,” I said, pleased with my quick wit. “Tonight, I’ll take her out. We’ll have an amazing time. Then I’ll tell her I have to leave the country on business, or something, and we can carry on long distance! We can exchange letters and crap and I’ll borrow Blondie’s body from time to time when I’m ‘in town.’ It’s perfect. Even better than a one night-stand! There’s no way she’ll want to date anyone else now, because she’ll be dating me.”

Rodge simply stared at me, with his mouth hanging open.

“What?” I asked, confused by the expression. “It’s the perfect plan, everyone gets what they want.”

“No, Chuck. You’d get what you want, but not Gracie! She deserves much more than an imaginary boyfriend.”

“I am not imaginary!”

“You may as well be! You can’t marry her, Chuck, can’t give her children. Think of the future…”

“Fuck the future!” I shouted, thoroughly fed up. “You can’t live for the future, Rodge! Sometimes, the future doesn’t come! You of all people should know that. All there is, is now.”

“Not for Gracie.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but stopped when I heard my name called, from Gracie’s bedroom.

“If she heard me shouting,” I said, heading toward the door, “I blame you.”

“Yes, yes,” Rodge replied, shaking his head. “There’s always someone else to blame, isn’t there, Chuck?”

Ignoring him, I made my way back to Gracie’s bedroom, where she stood before me looking like an absolute goddess.

“Well,” she said, apparently sensing my presence. “How do I look?”

At a loss for words, I stared at the stunning woman before me, simply taking in the sight of her. Rodge was right when he said that I didn’t deserve to know her. Yet, I did know her…in every way but one…

“Chuck?”

“I’m here,” I said, clearing my throat.

“Well, do I look okay?”

Gracie twisted and turned, eyeing her body self-consciously, and I smiled.

“More than okay,” I said, and Gracie beamed. “You’re ready awfully early though, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” the gorgeous girl admitted, sheepishly. “But I want to get to Badu early. I thought I might have a drink or two or…ten…”

I laughed, wishing I could wrap my arms around her.

“A tad nervous, are we?”

“You have no idea,” she said.

“You might be surprised.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed angels ever felt anxiety,” Gracie replied, thoughtfully.

“We feel everything, Gracie. Everything you do. Sometimes more.”

Gracie’s brows knit, slightly.

“I don’t know why,” she said, “but that makes me kind of…sad.”

You and me both, sweetheart.

“Now, now,” I scolded playfully, trying to lighten the mood. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about ol’ Chuck! You just focus on having a good time tonight. I’m serious, Gracie. No holding back! Go out there and follow your bliss, in any way you desire…”

“Chuck!” Gracie laughed. “Are you actually telling me to have sex…on the first date?”

Apparently alcohol had wiped the “elevator/crabs scandal” from her Vegas memories…

“I’m not telling you to do anything,” I said, suddenly uncomfortable. “Just giving you my blessing to do whatever feels right, tonight. Okay?”

Gracie nodded and went to check her makeup in the mirror one final time, as I wrestled with my inner demons. Sleeping with Gracie tonight was a terrible idea, laced with potentially devastating consequences. But would I be able to resist the opportunity, should it arise?

“I have some, um, angel business to attend to tonight,” I said, looking at the clock. “So you’ll be on your own. In fact, I’m already late, so…”

Gracie practically ran toward the sound of my voice.

“You’re not coming with me?” She asked, panicked. “I don’t know if I can do this alone…”

“You won’t be alone,” I said, amused. “You’ll be with Blake, and he’ll take good care of you while I’m gone. I promise.”

Gracie looked surprised.

“I don’t need taken care of,” she protested. “I just liked the idea of having backup, you know? I mean…he’s definitely safe to be alone with, right? You’re sure he won’t hurt me?”

Gracie’s hand raised instinctively to the scar at her throat and I felt a fresh rush of hatred for Marcus Crowely sweep through me.

“He would never hurt you,” I replied, passionately. “Never.”

I heard a small sigh escape Gracie’s lips as she nodded, trusting me completely.

“I’m leaving you, now,” I said, turning to exit the room. “But I won’t be far away.”

“Goodbye, Chuck,” I heard Gracie say uneasily, from behind me.

I would have liked to remain with her, escorting her to the restaurant and ensuring she felt comfortable…but I had a body to snatch.

The day spa kept records on all of their clients, including addresses, so it was delightfully easy to track down Blake Tracey. He didn’t live far from Gracie so it was an easy walk to his impressively large and luxurious home, the familiar orange and black Camaro in the driveway making it clear that I’d found the right place.

I strolled up the drive, prepared to knock on the door to draw Blake out, but was pleased to find it unnecessary. The man approached me from behind, with a German shepherd he’d apparently been walking, but stopped when the dog spotted me and lost its shit.

“Shh, Chauncey!” Blake scolded, trying to settle the agitated dog. “Down!”

Chauncey? Poor dog.

The shepherd continued to buck and bark, pulling against his owner’s leash, and I resisted the childish urge to egg him on. After all, we had a date to get to! Instead, I took a few steps away from the animal until it relaxed, allowing his owner to lead him back to the house, and through the front door. I hurried to catch Blake before he followed the dog, but he made things easy for me, locking the front door and heading toward the driveway instead. Apparently, he had plans…important plans, judging by his swanky suit…but they were about to change.

I gathered my strength, and jumped straight into Blake’s body, taking control with remarkable ease. I had never possessed the same body more than once in such quick succession, and was pleased to discover that Blake’s aura was even weaker than it had been that morning. Apparently being overtaken by a spirit was even more draining for the living than it is for the dead. Who knew?

“Thank goodness for small favors,” I said in Blake’s voice, examining his reflection in the car window and straightening his tie.

Blake Tracey was a good looking man, indeed. And a damn fine dresser, to boot! I was glad to have caught the man on his way to someplace special. If he had been walking the dog in sweat pants I would have had to take him inside and change him and I’m pretty sure Chauncey would have shredded me (him) the second I walked in through the front door. Dogs were never fooled by my ghostly antics. They saw right though any possession to the stranger inside their master. Funny that it was always easier to fool a person’s spouse, children, co-workers, than it was to fool their dog. Man’s best friend? Undoubtedly. Cats could spot me too, mind you, they just didn’t seem to give a shit. But cat’s rarely do.

I reached into Blake’s pocket and found his keys, then let myself into the Camaro. As much as I enjoyed the car’s rumble when I turned the engine over, I won’t lie, there was a bit of a learning curve for me when it came to actually driving it. It had been years since I’d driven a vehicle after all, and the technology had certainly changed a bit. Even so, with the exception of a tiny ding to the bumper, the sports car was no worse for my stealing it. I drove across town to Badu, enjoying the repeated sensation of acceleration, not the slightest bit worried about speeding tickets. After all, it wouldn’t be my ticket, now would it? Zero legal liability is a serious advantage of being dead. I would call it the ultimate freedom…if there weren’t so many other damned restrictions. But one by one, I was working my way around those.

Stopping only to purchase an ungodly expensive bouquet from a nearby florist with Blake’s credit card, I made it to Badu at five ’til six. I tipped the valet well with cash from Blake’s wallet and asked him to keep the Camaro handy. After all, I had only managed to keep control of this body for about 45 minutes, that morning. Despite my determination to do better that night, I still might have ended up needing to make a sudden departure.

As I strolled through Badu’s front door, I felt a stirring of some unique emotion, in the pit of my spiritual stomach. Was Chuck Butkis actually getting butterflies? I was contemplating the possibility of this idea, when I passed through the doorway to the bar, and there she was…a woman fully capable of giving a dead man butterflies. Gracie sat at the bar with a martini glass in hand, and from her relaxed posture, I could tell that it wasn’t her first. Even so, she was far from drunk, bringing the rim of her glass to her lips with graceful composure. Good god, she was beautiful! More so than ever, in her anticipation of my arrival. Okay, Blake’s arrival, but close enough. Repeatedly glancing toward the wrong door, as it opened and closed, Gracie had missed my entrance, so I was able to surprise her.

Sneaking up from behind, I was about to reach out and tap her on the shoulder when the bartender interrupted me by sliding another martini Gracie’s way.

“A drink, complements of that gentleman by the window,” the bartender said, gesturing toward a baby-faced, suit across the room.

Gracie smiled at the stranger, who winked lamely, but turned down the cocktail.

“Tell him thanks, anyway,” she said politely, “but I’m waiting for someone.”

“Yes,” I said from behind her, startling the girl. “She is.”

Gracie whipped around to see me standing there, arms loaded with flowers, and beamed.

“Hi,” she said, shyly.

“Hi, yourself,” I replied, reaching out to embrace her and flip off her baby-faced admirer over her shoulder.

I handed Gracie the bouquet I’d purchased, and was not surprised that she adored it.

“Stargazer lilies are my favorite flowers!” She exclaimed, burying her button nose in their petals.

“Oh, really?” I replied, in pretend ignorance. “What a lucky guess for me, then! I just saw them and thought, ‘now there is a flower worthy of the most beautiful woman in the world.’ I bought every single blossom in the shop.”

Gracie blushed and smiled, but looked a bit uncomfortable at the flattery. I would have to watch that.

Keep it simple, Chuckster! You must come off completely sincere, if you want to turn this one’s head...

“You didn’t have to do that,” she said. “The flowers, I mean.”

“I know,” I replied. “I did it because I wanted to. It feels good to give, doesn’t it?”

Gracie’s smile widened.

“Yes,” she replied, “it does.”

Dinner was a dream. Blake was kind enough to treat Gracie and I to a lovely (and obscenely expensive) bottle of Cabernet, which I could only guess was responsible for the exceptionally long period of time I was able to control his body. We had already been at Badu’s for over an hour, and I had yet to feel the slightest bit of resistance from my host. Eventually, I began to forget what I was doing. Forgot that I was a “hitchhiking ghost,” rather than a living, breathing man on a date with a spectacular woman. And I was happy to forget.

“You know, it’s so strange,” Gracie said thoughtfully, as I refilled her glass. “I feel like I’ve known you forever, but I know almost nothing about you…other than that you have amazing taste in wine.”

I laughed and raised the bottle, triumphantly.

“1996 Opus One, Napa Valley, Cab,” I declared. “Worth every penny!”

“Well, I’m not even going to ask how many pennies,” Gracie responded, before taking another sip. “What do you do, Blake? I just realized that it hasn’t come up.”

“Me?” I replied, leaning in to caress Gracie’s smooth fingertips where they rested on the table, “I seduce beautiful massage therapists over dinner and amazing wine.”

The girl blushed slightly, and slid her hand from mine.

“So…you do this a lot, then,” she said softly, making me wince.

Damn it, Chuck! Enough with the games! Sincerity, remember? DO NOT fuck this up!

“No,” I replied, shaking Blake’s blonde head. “No, that was supposed to be a joke. You are the only beautiful massage therapist I have ever taken to dinner…I swear.”

“But, you’ve taken ugly ones?” Gracie quipped, surprising me.

I laughed, and my date was obviously pleased with the response.

“Gracie James, you’re funny,” I said thoughtfully. “You should let that side of yourself out more often.”

“How do you know I don’t? You’ve only just met me.”

“Yes…yes, I suppose I have.”

“And you still haven’t answered my question.”

“About, what I do?”

“Yes.”

I’d already given that question a lot of thought, and was well prepared.

“I’m a pediatrician,” I said, proudly.

Gracie’s eyes lit up.

“Really?” She said, visibly impressed. “That’s so sweet!”

I shrugged, in pretend humility.

“Well, I don’t know about sweet…I just wanted to do some good in this world, and since I’ve always loved children and had a penchant for science, pediatrics seemed the natural choice for me. It’s so incredibly fulfilling, healing the young. Watching them grow. And it has provided me some remarkable opportunities over the years. For example, last year, in the Sudan…”

“The Sudan?” Gracie interrupted, her brown eyes large with surprise. “You went to the Sudan?”

“All over Africa, actually,” I responded with a causal nod.

“What were you doing there?”

“Have you ever heard of Doctors Without Borders?”

“Yes!” Gracie responded, excitedly. “Though, to be honest, I don’t know much about it. What exactly is it that you do?”

“We help people worldwide where the need is greatest,” I said, quoting directly from the humanitarian organization’s website, “delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care.”

“Wow,” Gracie exhaled. “Thank God for people like you, Blake. For all of its beauty, this world is such a disaster in so many ways.”

I twisted Blake’s face into a tragic expression.

“Yes it is,” I said, nodding. “I’m telling you, Gracie…it’s absolutely heartbreaking the conditions some of my tiny, helpless patients are living in, overseas. The sickness, the poverty. We do what we can, but…”

I paused dramatically, turning Blake’s big, blue eyes to stare off into the distance.

“I can imagine,” Gracie said, reaching out to grip Blake’s hand, where it rested on his thigh.

I suppressed the urge to smile.

“You would think I would be used to it by now,” I continued, with a shrug. “Between my days with the Peace Corps and all of the international missionary work I did, in my younger years…”

Gracie’s eyes grew even wider. She looked rather like an owl. A smokin’ hot owl.

“Missionary work?” She asked, hopefully. “So…you’re a religious man, then?”

“Absolutely,” I replied, firmly. “Faith is the most powerful force in the universe, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes,” Gracie replied, so softly it was barely audible.

“I don’t attend church though,” I continued. “I feel that faith is too personal a thing to be directed by clergy. I prefer to practice my religion at home, with a hot cup of tea and my rumpled, dog eared, King James. All the wisdom that I need is in the good book, you know? I feel in no need of a sermon.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more!” Gracie responded, enthusiastically. “I’ve spent way too much of my life letting men tell me what to do. Priest, Pastor, Minister…no matter what title you give him, a man is still just a man. I only take orders directly from the divine, these days.”

“Amen to that!” I replied, raising my glass.

Gracie raised her glass to tap mine, but eyed me quizzically.

“Why are you smiling like that?” She asked, with a laugh.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know you’re just…grinning like the cat that ate the canary! What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” I replied, with a wave of dismal. “Just enjoying the delicious wine and delightful company. Is that alright?”

“I hope so,” Gracie replied, shyly. “Because I’m doing the same.”

Badu’s dining room was beginning to clear out a bit, as more and more of its patrons finished their meals and gravitated to the adjoining lounge. The reduction in chatter and silverware clatter made the ambient music which had been playing all night, suddenly audible.

“That’s funny,” I said, after a moment. “I hadn’t noticed there was music, until just now.”

“I just caught it too,” Gracie replied, smiling. “It’s a familiar melody, but I can’t quite place it.”

“It’s ‘Someone to Watch over Me,’” I replied, taking a sip of wine. “Exquisitely sung by the incomparable Ms. Ella Fitzgerald. This wasn’t the original version of this song, you know, but it’s still the best by far.”

“Ah, a music lover, are we?” Gracie asked, tipping her head slightly.

“Indeed. But then…I am a lover of all things beautiful.”

The girl looked away bashfully. She was so stinkin’ adorable, sometimes! It took everything in me not to grab her by the shoulders and kiss her right on the mouth, then and there.

“You know,” the girl said, running her fingertip absently around the lip of her wine glass, “you’ve used that word about a hundred times, tonight.”

“What word?”

“Beautiful.”

I smiled.

“Well, can you blame me? I could choose another adjective, if you like. Pretty or lovely, perhaps. But you are such a beauty, Gracie James! Every time I look at you, that’s what I see, so that’s the word that springs to mind. You…are…beautiful.”

Caught up in the romanticism of the moment, I rose to my feet, and took Gracie’s hand.

“Dance with me!” I demanded.

“Dance? Here?! We’re in the middle of a restaurant!”

“So what? There’s room.”

“Blake…”

I kissed my date’s hand, interrupting her protest, and pulled her to her feet. She looked up at me nervously, but when I placed my hand on her hip and pulled her into me, she did not protest. As we began to sway, her movements were stiff and awkward for only a moment, then she began to melt into me. With one hand in mine and the other on my shoulder, Gracie pressed her body to mine, laying her warm cheek against my chest. I glanced over at the mirrored wall leading to the lounge and observed my girl’s reflection. Her eyes were closed and her expression was…blissful. I knew just how she felt.

Gracie suddenly pulled her hand from mine to reach both of her hands behind my neck, pressing our bodies even closer, as we danced. I wondered if she felt my pulse accelerate within my chest, where her cheek still rested. The feeling of dancing with her, of holding her against me that way, was intoxicating. I felt alive. Truly alive. Then, just like that, it was over.

“Oh,” Gracie said softly, pulling back from me. “The music stopped.”

I cocked my head to listen.

“No, no,” I said, playfully pulling her back toward me. “There’s still music, listen.”

The pulsing bass of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like It’s Hot” rang out loud and clear, and Gracie laughed.

“Yes,” she said, “I’m aware that there is still music on…I just meant that it’s not exactly slow dancing music, Blake!”

“It is if we slow dance to it,” I argued, only half joking.

I was not ready to let her go.

“I don’t think so,” Gracie replied, with a laugh. “How do you go straight from Ella Fitzgerald to Snoop, anyway? Either there’s a jukebox around here somewhere or they hired the worst DJ ever!”

Still laughing, my girl sat back down at the table, facing away from me. I placed my hand over my heart for a moment, enjoying the feel of it thump, thump, thumping against my palm for the first time, in a long time. But when I lifted my hand I felt a wetness at my fingertips. Glancing down curiously I found a number of mascara-tinged, damp spots on my crisp, white shirt.

Tears?

I felt a ping of some unpleasant emotion shoot through me as I took my seat. Suddenly questioning my experiment, I glanced over at my date to find that her eyes were still glistening and subtly red-rimmed. I had not meant to make her cry. But why was I worried about it? Gracie had shed a million tears in my presence. Why did these trouble me so? The girl sat smiling at me across the table, and something in her expression made me even more uneasy. Shouldn’t I have been feeling triumphant at that point? She was falling for me, hook, line, and sinker! At least…the “me” she believed I was…

That was when it hit me, like an electric shock. I hadn’t asked Gracie out because I wanted to seduce her, to trick her into the sack by doing and saying all of the right things. I had asked her out because I wanted her…all of her…and I wanted her to want me. The real me. And that was not who I’d been all night. Sure, I was a music lover, and thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of fine wine, but I was no gentleman, no doctor, no humanitarian, and heaven knows, no Christian! Gracie’s new love was sprouting up in a pile of horse manure, and deep down, that’s not at all what I was after.

I decided, then and there, that for the rest of the evening I would just be Chuck. I may have looked like Blake (no helping that), but appearances aside, Gracie would get the real deal.

“So,” I said, leaning forward to take my date’s hand across the table. “We’ve talked enough about me tonight. Tell me more about you, Gracie.”

“About me?”

“Yes, I want to know everything.”

“Well,” she began, thoughtfully. “As you know, I’m a massage therapist. But I often think about becoming a teacher. Like you, I love kids. But I can’t have any of my own, so…”

“You can’t have children?” I interrupted.

How did I not know that, after all this time?

“Is that a problem?” Gracie asked, looking concerned.

“No, I just…didn’t know…”

“Why would you?” Gracie laughed, somewhat sadly.

“I guess, I wouldn’t,” I replied, slightly embarrassed. “What happened? I mean, why can’t you have children? Were you just born that way or…”

Gracie looked surprised at my questioning, probably because it was incredibly out of line for first-date conversation. But I genuinely wanted to know.

“Um,” she responded, uncomfortably, “No, I wasn’t born this way. I suffered some abuse as a child, which left some damage. Scarring…and…”

The girl trailed off, unable to look me in the eye, and I was filled with white-hot rage. I bit the inside of my cheek until it bled, but maintained my external composure.

“Gracie,” I said, through clenched teeth. “I am so very sorry that happened to you.”

She looked back at me, with a weak smile.

“Thanks,” she said. “I can’t believe I just told you that. I’ve never told anyone! Not even Marcus.”

Blake…the real Blake…would have asked who Marcus was. But I knew, and did not want the conversation turning down that path…

“Thank you,” I said instead, “for trusting me that much.”

“I don’t know why,” Gracie replied, reaching out to curl her hand around the back of my neck, “but I do. I trust you…completely.”

The warmth radiating from Gracie’s wide, brown eyes as she looked at me lovingly, the feel of her hand, should have been wonderful, but it just felt wrong. The entire date, which was going so very, very right, was beginning to feel wrong. Probably because I had been going about things all wrong. I’d won her the wrong way, and now, it was too late to start over.

“What’s the matter?” Gracie asked, observing my inner turmoil.

“Nothing,” I replied with a sigh. “Everything is wonderful, sweetheart.”

The girl’s eyebrows raised at the term of endearment, her gaze casting thoughtfully to the side.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Gracie replied. “You just…sounded like someone else, just then.”

“Who?” I asked eagerly, knowing the answer.

“No one, really,” she said, awkwardly.

“No one?” I prodded.

“Well…not no one…but…you’d think I was crazy…”

“Try me.”

Gracie took a deep breath, as the waiter handed me our bill.

“Blake,” the girl began cautiously, “do you believe in…angels?”

“Of course I do,” I replied immediately. “They are an inclusion of every major religion on earth. Don’t you believe in angels?”

“Yes!” Gracie exclaimed, multiple glasses of wine raising her volume. “I do believe…and I have proof.”

“Proof?”

“Yes, proof! An angel speaks to me.”

“Speaks to you? Like, in actual words?”

Gracie looked slightly disappointed.

“I told you, you’d think I was crazy,” she said, with a sigh.

“I don’t think you’re crazy,” I corrected, grasping both of her hands. “I believe you, Gracie. You have an absolutely enormous heart and more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known. I believe in you more than I’ve ever believed in anything.”

That’s when she kissed me. They might have been Blake’s lips, but I felt Gracie’s kiss resonate to my very core and I knew I had to have her. All of her…come what may.

Without pulling away from Gracie’s kiss, I lifted a credit card from Blake’s wallet and shoved it clumsily into the bill-fold, which I dropped on the table. My date felt the fumbling and tore her lips from mine.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry!” She apologized. “I don’t know why I did that!”

“Never apologize for following your bliss, sweetheart,” I responded, standing. “In any way that you desire.”

Gracie looked at me for a moment, with an expression of absolute awe, then sprung to her feet and kissed me again. Her arms wrapped around my neck, pulling me further into her kiss. Gracie’s lips tasted of wine and her soft tongue was quickly driving me mad. We had to get out of there. Leaving Blake’s credit card in the bill-fold, I pulled Gracie out of the restaurant without ever leaving her mouth, our stumbling surely annoying the remaining diners, as we made our exit. But I didn’t give a shit about how we looked to everyone else, and neither (apparently) did Gracie. All that mattered was that we find someplace to be alone, to do all of the things we would have done months ago, had I been able.

A quick stop at the curb to get the Camaro, and we drove off into the night. Gracie leaned over to pepper my neck with kisses and it took every ounce of restraint I had not to pull over onto the shoulder and take her right there on the interstate. But Gracie deserved better than that.

“Want to go back to my place?” The naughty girl asked, her lips sending tingles through me as they grazed Blake’s skin.

“Um, no,” I said, thinking of Rodge.

“Your place?”

That would be a terrible idea, considering I didn’t even know if Blake lived alone…

“No,” I replied, thoughtfully, “my place is a mess. But there is this lovely, little boutique hotel not far from here…”

“Perfect,” Gracie interrupted, her lips moving to Blake’s ear.

I hit the gas pedal, eager to reach our destination, and before I knew it, “Mr. and Mrs. Blake Tracey” had checked into the Hotel Primeiro and made their way to the 7th floor. I’d tried to hurry, before Gracie could realize how fast she was moving, but there seemed to be no need to rush. Unlike her disastrous near-hook-up in Vegas, Gracie was surely buzzed, but far from intoxicated. She knew exactly what she was doing, but apparently her years of celibacy had taken their toll and overpowered her conservative sexual nature. She needed me as much as I needed her.

Gracie couldn’t keep her hands off of me, and it was only once we were behind closed doors, inside our hotel room, that I saw a tinge of anxiety cross her face.

“Are you okay, sweetheart?” I asked, approaching her slowly.

“Yes,” she replied, the sound hardly more than a whisper.

I reached out to brush a curl from her forehead, and the girl rubbed her face against my palm like a cat, emitting a tiny sigh of pleasure which made me want her even more…if that was possible. I had to clear my throat to speak.

“Are you sure that you want this?” I asked. “We’ll only go as far as you want to, Gracie. I don’t want you to do anything you’ll regret.”

I’d said these exact words to many other women, but was surprised to realize that this time I truly meant them. I knew that I cared for Gracie, but until that moment, I didn’t realize just how much. A shudder of fear passed through me. Fear that she would say ‘no.’ Fear that she would say ‘yes.’ Fear that such a night might never come again.

Gracie considered her response for a moment, casting her gaze toward the patterned hotel carpet. Then, what felt like an eternity later, she lifted her big, brown eyes to meet my gaze with an unmistakable smile.

“I want this,” she said, stepping forward to press our bodies together. “I want you, Blake.”

I winced at the name.

Call me ‘Chuck’…please…

Gracie pulled her slinky, red dress over her head, and I reached down to stroke her smooth, white skin…forgetting all about my name…

I lay by Gracie’s side as she slumbered, a million conflicting emotions flooding my system…until a shock of awareness streaked through me, making me shudder. Blake was beginning to retake control! I grit his teeth to keep from groaning as I struggled out of bed and onto the carpet, grateful that Gracie had had enough to drink that she slept through the action. I was very rapidly losing the ability to coordinate my movements, and I was only able to get Blake’s body into his trousers and one loafer before I had to flee the hotel room.

Stumbling down the hallway and into the elevator, I had to curl into a tight ball on the floor to keep the body’s true soul from casting me out. Once on the ground, I crawled awkwardly through the lobby and into the parking lot, where I was thrust out of my living host faster and harder than I ever had been, before. I lay sprawled on the blacktop, panting and utterly spent, as Blake stood up on wobbly legs. He looked as exhausted as I felt, running his hand over his naked chest, and scanning the parking lot, in complete dismay.

“You couldn’t have given me more time, could you?” I panted, bitterly. “Couldn’t have let me hold her a little longer…let her wake up beside me…”

Not hearing my rant (of course), Blake stood trying to piece together his memories and failed. He felt his pockets with trembling hands, and discovered the ticket I had placed there, then stumbled off toward the valet podium to retrieve his car.

“I guess I shouldn’t complain,” I thought aloud, watching my former body hobble away. “Hours…I had hours…with her.”

Having only maintained control of a living body for a fraction of the time I had kept Blake’s, I could not have guessed just how much energy the experience would require. I felt my spiritual vision fade, and heard the sounds of the world become hushed and muffled, as my consciousness began to slip away. Was I actually falling asleep?! Could the dead sleep? Or was this some sort of “second death” from which I would never awaken? It did not matter. As my mind drifted off, I knew that whatever happened to me…it would have been worth it.

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