“Benjamin? How have you been?” Luciana squeaked as she clicked her way over in heels to her former high school sweetheart and held out her hand for a shake.
He hugged Luciana to her surprise. “I go by Ben, actually. More fun.” His old southern accent from their hometown hung in the air, but Luciana had lost hers long ago.
Ben glanced around. “And I’d be a lot better if we weren’t trapped in a white void.”
Luciana undid the hug and sighed. “You can see it too, huh? I thought I just forgot to take my antipsychotic meds again.” She clicked her tongue in disapproval.
“Still clicking every second, I see,” Ben said with a smile.
Luciana laughed and took a few clicking steps to prove his point. “It’s the best way to really grab attention in this patriarchal society that overlooks women, thank you very much.” After she surveyed the void, Luciana said, “Well, it’s a little weird, I’ll give this infinite white void that.” Squinting, she added, “and super bright. Do you think we could find a light switch around here?”
As he walked in a random direction—or no direction, since they’re in a directionless void—Ben frantically waved his arms around, hoping to hit something. He also clapped twice just in case the void had clapper lights. Nothing. “Can’t find a light switch if there’s no wall.”
Clicking her way around a circle with her hands on her hips, Luciana started spinning questions. “What was the last thing you can remember?”
Ben snapped his fingers twice while thinking of it.
“Still snapping, I see,” Luciana said.
“What can I say? Dating you gave me a few usual habits•
Furrowing his brow, Ben tried to answer his question, but he couldn’t recall exactly where he had been. A little strange, it was almost like his mind was trying to block out the memories. “Ah, I was at work— I think. Jeff just made this big bowl of chili for dinner—I think. He should have rung the fire alarm because it was hot! Jeff raided the three closest supermarkets for everything spicy.”
Raising an eyebrow, she asked, “Chili at work? Isn’t that unprofessional?”
Ben worked his thumbs in between his spenders and T-shirt. “Not if you’re a fireman on break eating flamin’ chili with the boys.” He let the spenders snap back into place.
“A fireman, huh? Sounds dangerous.”
“Not as dangerous as your outfit,” Ben teased, looking at her black pencil skirt. “How do you move in that thing?”
With a twirl—and a wink—she said, “Years of practice.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Ah? Lighting scented candles for a bubble bath at my parents’ house. I was visiting them for the weekend.”
“Awe shoot, you were in town? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Luciana shrugged. “No reason in particular. I had just got there.”
“So, what do you do now, Lucy?”
“I’m a lawyer—and I go by Luciana now. More professional.” She clicked her tongue. “Gotta hand it to you, Ben, you’re good at keeping up the casual conversation even in a mysterious white void. You always were a smooth talker. That’s why the ladies in high school all liked you, anyway.”
Ben held up his right hand with a big, fat, silver ring on it. “The guys too.”
“You’re gay and married?”
“Yes to the married, no to the gay. I’m pan. Did you ever marry?”
Luciana gave him a dry ha. “Yeah, once. Now I have an ex-husband and sole custody of two kids.” Quickly changing the subject, Luciana tapped her right heel on the ground creating three satisfying clicks. “You think we can break through the ground?”
“Only one way to find out.” So, like a kangaroo that downed twenty energy drinks, Ben bounced up and down. His spenders jiggled with every move.
“So you had kids, huh? I always thought you didn’t want kids. I mean, that’s what you told me when—“
Luciana cut him off. “I know.”
“It just seems odd considering how against having kids you were.”
“I was seventeen, Ben, what did you expect?”
With a humorous tone, Ben said, “At one point: kids. But you know how that goes. Your girlfriend looks up how to make homemade pregnancy tests online, she mixes her urine with toothpaste, then accidentally forgets about it long enough for her annoying little brother to use it to brush his teeth, only to get your period a week later.”
Luciana cracked a smile at the sore subject. “Yeah, we did kind of panic over nothing.”
Ben held up a hand to his chest with a hurt expression on his face—still jumping. “Panic? Oh no, not I, ex-darling,” he said dramatically. “I prepared. I spent a full month’s wage on baby stuff.”
“You didn’t have to do that, you know.”
“Yes I did! You were content with feeding a baby mac ‘n cheese for their entire life.”
Luciana held her face in her hands. A warm blush covered her cheeks. “I thought it would be heart healthy since mac ‘n cheese made my heart happy.”
“Hey,” He snapped his fingers, “At least Mrs. Lionheart got that cradle for cheap.”
Luciana sighed and glossed her fingers over her stiff hair in a tight bun. “That’s one good thing to come from that pregnancy scare.”
Ben smiled back at her. And then the ground cracked.
Deep, cracks webbed out from under Ben. Warm blasts of air from the cracks sprayed in their faces. Instantly, Ben stopped jumping and froze with fear.
“Ohmygod,Ben!” Luciana squealed, clicked over, grabbed his hand, and pulled him back to safety. “Are you okay?”
He patted down his body with one hand. “Still in one piece.” Ben glanced down at their conjoined hands. “You know we haven’t held hands since prom.”
Immediately, Luciana released it. “Sorry, I’m sure your husband won’t like it.”
“Nah, Jeff isn’t the jealous type.”
“Jeff’s your husband? Jeff with the smoking hot chili?”
“Yup,” Ben said said with a big dumb grin. Reaching back to awkwardly rub his neck, Ben said, “So prom? It’s been a while since it’s crossed my mind.”
“There’s not much ‘prom’ to even cross your mind. We were late and locked out.”
“Yeah, but you looked so cute in your rain soak ball gown.”
“Only because you let the limo get away before we could get in. We had to run four blocks to the bus station!” Luciana laughed.
Though, of course, the bus was late so they spent half an hour cuddled together on the bench. Clothes too thin and wet to keep anything secret. Their heartbeats pounding through their fancy outfits. Loud enough for the other to feel and blush about.
“Run?” Ben laughed, distracting her from the memory. “You skipped the entire way. In heels! I still don’t know how you did it. Gosh, you were so carefree back then.”
Luciana tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and turned away. It had fallen from her tight bun and the back of her mind she schemed a way to fix it without the proper hair products.
“Meanwhile you were the stick in the mud who didn’t want to scuffle your shoes.”
“They were loaners from my uncle. You’ve seen the guy—he’s huge. I couldn’t risk it.”
The cracks increased beneath them. Cautiously, they took a few steps back. “Should we be worried about that?” Luciana asked.
Ben shrugged. “It hasn’t killed us yet, so nope.”
His face was completely devoid of worry. Like a sinkhole could appear underneath them and he won’t bat an eye. Taking a good look at their outfits, she asked, “What happened to us?”
“Come on, Lucy—Luciana.” He corrected. “We went to different colleges. We had to break up.”
“I don’t mean what happened to us as a couple—I mean as people. You used to be the uptight one who ate pizza with a fork so you wouldn’t stain your outfit. I stacked slices. Now, I don’t even eat pizza.”
“Like I said, we went to different colleges. We grew up.”
She sighed. “I guess we did.”
Ben’s expression softened. “Aren’t you happy about who you’ve become?”
Another strand of hair fell from her bun. Even her hair wanted to be free from the strict life she enforced. Luciana’s stomach turned as she thought of an answer. As if to aid in her discomfort, the cracks crawled their way over to her. “I—I don’t think I am.”
Ben offered her a hopeful smile. “It’s never too late to start over, Luciana.”
She returned his smile as the cracks moved under her, but Luciana made no move to get away. A silent tear fell from her cheek. “I think I’m ready to start over now.”
“So, you know where you are now?”
She nodded and wiped away the tear.
It was coming back to her. A scented candle that turned into a raging fire. The last face she saw was Ben’s as he pulled her from the flames. But he was too late. And while he had managed to make it out alive, he was only carrying her corpse in his arms.
And so there she was. At the place between life and death, talking to the only person who could ever convince her to move on like he did when they broke up all those years ago.
“Can you do me a favor?” She choked out.
The cracks widened and the void dimmed. “Anything,” he said.
“Can you watch over my kids?”
He nodded as the void went dark.
And just like that, her soul was reborn and the reincarnation process started again.
Who knows, maybe she’ll find him again in her new life.