What meant most, I lost years ago.
The chill of the early morning fog reminds me of what’s been taken away from me and the memories hurt more than they have in a while. Visions cloud my brain and buried pain throbs inside my gut. I ache.
With a tight fist at my chest, I pull the brown collar of my sweater closer around my neck. With the dew, the past arrives to haunt me and I reminisce about what was ripped, never to be restored.
After his death, I found solace in our quaint, cozy town. I moved under the false pretense that I would heal but stayed to recall his life, instead of his death. To relive our love and the passion we shared.
Friday nights, we powered-off our phones at the door. The mornings were spent strolling naked, making love in the middle of the day. In the evening, we shared a glass of wine lifting our vision to the stars over the moonlight. It was heaven and a release from our hectic lives.
But, the chaos we tried to avoid took him and I would never forget.
In robot mode, I come inside forced to find something to eat. My brain and stomach have an all too familiar conversation regarding food. As the middleman, I end up choosing sides. Lately, it’s been fifty-fifty. Today my belly beat my head closing the argument with a grumble.
Striding to the kitchen my orbs bounce at each of its corners. He’d wanted subtle updates and luxuries in our historic, country home. Except in the kitchen. That was his and he’d spared no detail or expense.
“I miss you,” I mumble.
Remembrances wash over me. He’d wear nothing but an apron tied at the back. With elbows hoisted on the chilly, granite countertop I’d twiddled my fingers ready to taste whatever he was ready to cook up soon after the sizzling oil infused with the garlic.
Devouring him with my eyes, he’d match my own desire. Smiling, he would’ve turned off the stove with a groan and make his way to me without breaking his stare ...
My body aches for him and my ears wait to hear his laugh. Heck, I’d take him on a bad day. One of those where we argued about leaving the lights on in a room he’d walk out of, or the water running in the shower without being in it if it meant his fingers would curl around the doorknob to push it open.
Running a knife along the skin of a Golden potato, it slips and I cut my finger. I raise it to my mouth and suck at the maroon drop that slides towards my wrist.
“I need you,” I murmur. “Why did you leave so soon!”
The ruby droplet falls off my wrist and mixes with my tears and the ingredients in the pot.
“Why?!” My voice cracks. “Come back to me, baby.”
In the end, my brain beat my stomach. I drag to the sofa, roll into a ball, and wallow in sadness.
I wake to clank sounds coming from the kitchen.
Did someone break in?!
My lids flutter and I turn my head confused. My heartbeat’s at my throat and I search for anything I can use to protect myself. Nothing but a heavy crystal vase on the table.
I spring out the door.
"911, what is your emergency?"
“There’s someone in my home,” I whisper.
“Is there somewhere you can hide until we arrive?” The female voice on the other end sounds concerned.
“Yes. I’m outside.”
“Keep out of sight. The police are on their way.”
It was close to 11:30 a.m. and I wonder who’d want to break into our home.
An excruciating fifteen minutes of waiting follows an equally torturous twenty-five minutes of searching followed by an embarrassing fifteen more minutes of describing what I heard.
“Smells pretty good in there, ma’am.” The good looking officer comments as he leaves.
“What?” I furrow my brow.
His smile stretches. “Whatever you are cooking, smells delicious.”
For the first time since he’s been here, I see him. His deep brown eyes twinkle a shade lighter under the sunlight and his coffee-colored hair has strands of copper. He reminds me of someone I can’t quite place.
Except for the uniform, he looks like he belongs in a nature magazine with his tousled, curly hair and relaxed look. Dark stubble speckle his cheeks and jaw. The short sleeves and fitted shirt, make the fact he has a flat stomach and tanned biceps difficult to miss.
He is handsome, in an outdoorsy kind of way that fits perfectly with the scenery around us.
“The fresh garlic smells amazing. Do you grow it?”
What is he talking about?
“What? Oh-Yeah, we—I grow my own garlic.” I took an exasperated breath shaking my head to clear it. “Are we done here? Am I safe?”
The officer blushes. “Yes, we couldn’t find any trace of anyone being in your home. No broken glass, no forced entry, nothing missing ... You’re safe.”
“I heard noises. You checked everywhere?”
I rub my face. “Thank you.”
“If you feel unsafe, you can call me directly.” He hands me a card with a number written in pen on the back.
“Thanks, officer—” I looked at it to get his name. “Um, Park Ranger, Ocampo?”
Why did his last name sound familiar?
“You’re welcome. They were short-handed down at the station so they asked me to take a look.”
I blink perplexed.
“You know how it is in sleepy towns like this. Only a few of us and—They thought it might be a raccoon—”
“Sorry, I tend to ramble a bit when I’m nerv-”
“What?” What is he babbling about?
He holds my eyes for a moment too long making me feel aware of myself. I force a smile and stroll away. As I walk through the door I understand what Ranger Ocampo meant regarding the smells in my kitchen.
I follow my nose and stop dead in my tracks. Wesley’s semi-naked self, is in my kitchen. His lower half covered by an apron. His butt hanging out. He holds a wooden spoon in one hand and a cast iron pan in the other. He stirs a sauce of some kind and I smell spices and tomatoes.
He turns. “Babe!” His evergreen eyes shine.
My knees buckle, my consciousness slips and darkness consumes me.
A while later, a groan escapes me, my head spins and I wake from a terrible dream. Afraid to open my eyes and not see him, I take my time. Cracking an eye open I look around skeptically.
No sign of Wes.
I pop the other and feel half relieved. The other half wishes the vision of him is real. With a sunken heart, I push myself off the sofa.
"Hello, sleepyhead.” A smiling Wesley came in with a cup of fragrant tea.
"Wake up, wake up, wake up!” I'm nauseated.
“We need to talk.”
I hyperventilate. “Go away! I’m going crazy. Why? Why now?!”
“Babe, snap out of it!”
I shake my head, “No-nononono-no.”
"Brianna! Focus.” He shakes my shoulders, “Come back to me.”
That's what it took. Four insignificant words that meant the world to me. I bury my head in the crook of his neck.
“Why’d you leave me! Why?”
He hushes me. His voice is soothing and even though I love I can touch him, it isn’t reality. He was dead, is dead. Ripped from my life. I’m either going crazy or ... Let’s face it, crazy is the only explanation.
“It was my time, hon.”
“Are you dead now?”
"How does it work? What are you? Is it truly you? Are you here to stay? Why are you back? I need to know! I need to understand.”
Wes chuckles. “You and I have unresolved issues.”
I look away. We do.
“Are there rules? Do you ask questions? Do l?”
“I love you.”
With a full heart, I reach toward him and loop my arms around his neck. He intakes air before his lips crash into mine.
“I’ve missed you so-so much, Wes.”
He slightly moves away and I moan reaching out to him but he lifts his hands to hold me in place.
“Before we take this further, we need to talk.”
I shake my head like a teenager who can’t accept her punishment.
“Babe, you were better. What’s happening?”
I shrug. “I know. I was but the last couple of days I’ve —regressed.” More a couple of months, but who’s counting?
“Honey, you’re only lying to yourself. I know it’s been longer.”
I fiddle with my intertwined fingers. “Are you okay where you are? Happy?
“Yes. I requested to come. This isn't fair to you.”
“What’s not fair is that you were taken by a drunk driver in the middle of the day. That’s not fair.”
“It wasn’t but it happened. I’m here to help you transition.” He stands from the sofa careful of his next words. “You chose to keep this house, I respect that but that’s kept you from releasing me. You need to.”
“I’m gonna stop you there. I’m not interested in anyone. I never will be. Do you understand me?”
“I’m never coming back. Do you understand me?”
The room fell silent. Neither agreed with the other.
“This may have been a mistake.”
"No! Don’t go. Don’t leave me yet!” My eyes fill with tears.
Taking my hand, he raises my cut finger to his lips and kisses it followed by the band on my ring finger. A warmth spreads inside of me. I can’t blink. If I do, he might disappear once my lids reopen.
“We need to say goodbye properly, love.”
“I adore you. That will never change. Do you understand?”
Once again I nod.
“I can’t come back. Our time together was precious but it’s time to move on. Find someone else who makes you happy. As happy as you made me all those years.”
His mouth moves to my wrist and with his tongue, he teases the soft skin. “I’m safe. I feel no pain.”
His fingers slide up my arm to my shoulders. His face, millimeters from mine. I feel the warmth of his breath on my cheek before he feathers my lips and caresses my nose with his.
Our kiss deepens and I understand I need him as much as humans need trees to breathe. Pressing closer, he licks the shell of my ear making it difficult to concentrate. It’s been an eternity since I’ve felt the warmth of his body vibrating with mine and the time we have, won’t be enough.
I want to feel good. I need to. I’ve felt nothing but grief since he’s been gone. I need him, once more, to keep sane.
He scoops me in his arms. “Breathe deep, baby. Relax.”
I let the air seep slowly. The feeling of his mouth is delicious and dizzying. Like a pair of teenagers, we make out with abandon and when we make love, words get in the way ...
Warm water soothes us and I relax on his chest. His head rests against the white, tiled bathtub wall. A few candles glow amber and music plays in the background. The smell of roses and coconut causes us to reminisce.
”When will you leave?”
“Soon.” He kisses the top of my head. “We needed a resemblance of closure.”
I nod. “How is it where you are?”
“The best way to explain it is it’s a different dimension. The beings there are pure energy and we work collectively as a unit.”
“Our purpose. Next life. Whatever it, might be.”
Before today, ghosts and spirits were something I talked about on Halloween, bedtime stories, or saw in movies.
“It’s not for humans to understand. Though if they did, we’d live at peace instead of doing what we do.”
I yawn. “I’m more at peace now, you know? Knowing you’re not in distress or suffering helps me heal. Thank you.”
“I’ll be at peace too. I was worried. For an entity, that’s uncommon. It was tearing me the way you were handling things.”
I turn around to face him and kiss his lips.
“Hungry? I don’t need food but you haven’t eaten all day.”
“Come to think of it, I’m famished!”
Sitting with elbows propped on the breakfast bar, I come to the conclusion this will be the last meal he makes for me. Appreciative, I pay careful attention.
Every smile, every wink. The way his black hair gets in the way of his eyes and he shoves it with the back of his hand ... I take every. Single. Thing. And place it in a vault so I may remember forever.
After I eat, Wes holds me until I fall into a deep slumber. A smile on my face. The smile that’s been missing in my life.
I stir as the first rays of sunshine reach me through the bedroom window. Lazily I stretch but panic when I see Wes is no longer with me.
Tears form at my rims.
“You didn’t think I’d leave without saying goodbye, did you?”
He hands me a steaming cup of coffee.
“I do need to go, but I’d never leave while you were sleeping.” He sits on the bed. “I have to kiss you one last time.”
I tilt my lips and he grazes them with kisses.
“Please tell me you’ll take care of yourself.”
I knew this was it. Our last goodbye.
“We’ll be together again. But it’s not your time. For a very long time, it won’t be. There will be someone else. Give him a chance.” He winks.
He kisses me deep and I kiss him with all I have and a little more. Then, he is gone. I hold the warmness of the mug to my chest. When I lay back down, for the first time in three years, I peacefully sleep.
A few weeks later, feeling elated, I’m brewing a strong cup of espresso. Wesley’s visit healed me and left me feeling good about life and the future. I have closure. His visit taught me I need to live while I’m still here.
The doorbell rings. A chipper and relaxed Mr. Ranger smiles. He looks as rugged as the day we met.
“Ranger Ocampo, how are you this morning?” I smile into his eyes.
“Ma’am.” He tips his head down. “No uniform today. Please call me Max.”
“Maximiliano Ocampo?! Maxi? Oh my goodness! I thought you looked familiar!”
“Bri?! I thought it might be you! When was it? Ninth? Tenth grade?"
I give an ear to ear smile and nod. “Yep. It’s me.” I catch a whiff of his cologne and admit it smells divine. It’s been a while since a smell like that aroused me.
“Why didn’t you say anything last time?”
“I wasn’t sure and you seemed distant. I didn’t—” Wrinkling his nose he shakes his head. “I didn’t want to pry.”
“Wow, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I didn’t hear back from you. I figured, she’s either doing good and doesn’t need me, or she’s not and she can’t call me.”
His teasing smile forces me to stare at his lips. He has nice lips. I remember the small birthmark below his nose. His lashes go for miles.
"Why thank you, Max. I didn’t know the department made house calls.” I tease back.
“The department doesn’t, but I do.” He shrugs sheepishly.
“Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee? I have a full bar. Cappuccino, espresso, regular. We could catch up?”
“I’d love a cup.”
There’s laughter in his voice and I like he’s relaxed and lighthearted around me. I move out of the way and wave him in. Wesley’s words resonating in my brain, give him a chance. Is this who he meant?
I hear Max’s voice coming from the kitchen.
“Now that’s what I call a brew station. You know, you may have some talent in the kitchen but I could give you some serious competition.”
He turns to face me. “I hope my intentions are clear. That means I’d like to cook for you someday.”
“You always wore your emotions on your sleeve.”
He beams proudly. “My biggest flaw.” He grows serious. “Actually, I came by to see if you’d like to have dinner with me Thursday.”
“Hm, let’s see how this coffee thing goes and I’ll let you know,” I kid.
“Oh! You’re gonna love me.” He makes a funny face.
I snort and cover my face with one hand. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Told you. Tell me, why did we break up back then?”
“Too young? Different colleges ...? Bad timing?”
“Ah, all that, huh? I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you immediately.”
“We look different. You certainly do. You weren’t much of a workout fanatic back then.”
He blushed. “True.”
I watch him take a seat at the breakfast bar looking comfortable. He fit well into my home. Maybe he’ll make his way into my heart.