Rae stood in front of the T&W Bistro and looked around for Connor. After trying on the two dresses she owned, and wondering what to do with her hair, she’d ended up running late to meet him.
“Hey Rosie.” Rae turned around to find Connor standing before her. “Wow, you look beautiful.”
Rae blushed a little; he always knew just what to say! “Thank you, it seems we match tonight.” She touched the collar of his red shirt. “You look great.”
Connor smiled and reached for a kiss. Rae willingly walked into his arms. “I reserved us a table outside, where it’s not so loud. I hope that’s okay.”
“That’s perfect.” The hostess showed them to their seats and after explaining the menu went to get them their drinks.
“I love this place! Thank you for making reservations for us.” Rae smiled at Connor, unable to contain her excitement, which was partly because of the Bistro, but also a large part because she was with him.
“You’re welcome; ready to order?” Connor waved to the waiter that Rae, in her excitement, hadn’t noticed hovering behind her. Handing them the menu, he placed two glasses on the table and poured them each a glass of wine.
“She’ll have the Sushi del Oriente. And the Duck Asparagus. And I’ll have the Buddha soup and the Le Burger, please.” Connor didn’t even glance at the menu.
Rae choked on her glass of chardonnay. “No. No, no. I don’t want the sushi. Please, can I just have a spinach salad instead?” Rae glared at Connor over her wine, while he just smiled at her. The Sushi del Oriente was commonly referred to as the proposal meal, served wrapped in 24-carat gold leaves and five 0.20-carat African diamonds and costing well over §2,000. There was no way she was eating that, especially not with Connor ordering it for her!
“Don’t you like sushi?” He asked innocently.
“You are not funny, Connor.”
He’s a little funny.
Rae rolled her eyes. Look who decided to join them – her BFF Rebecca.
Connor and Rae made light conversation throughout the meal and once the dessert plates were cleared off the table, Connor leaned forward and said, “Okay, Rae. We’ve had a great meal and there’s still one more place I want to take you, but you said you wanted to talk.”
You can do this, Rae. Be strong. For the both of us.
Rae frowned, both at Rebecca’s wording and at Connor. “Yes, well. We’ve known each other for about two years now and you graduate next week. Congratulations on that by the way. I’ve met your family –” At this, she looked up at him, “And you’ll soon meet mine.”
Connor smiled and nodded his head. She took that as encouragement to continue. “But aside from the basics, you really don’t know me. And I think, before we get serious – ”
“I don’t know how much more serious I can get, Rae. I – ”
“Connor please,” Rae cut him off. “I need to tell you about who I am and what I’ve been through before you say anything else. Please, just let me finish.” She saw him frown, but he sat back and waited for her to continue.
“The day after my sixth birthday, my parents and I went to the park. Mom was feeling restless, because she was pregnant with Adeya.” Of course, to him, she and Adeya were close to the same age. Definitely not six years apart.
“We were ten feet away from my grandparent’s house when we were hit from behind by a drunk driver. We lost control of the car and crashed into the front gate. I was pinned in the back by the impact of the car and mom hit her head on the side window. Dad managed to get out and free mom.”
Rae took a deep breath and looked into Connor’s eyes. “Before he could come back and get me out, the car exploded. I died that night, Connor.” Rae fell silent and waited. She had never told another soul that story. Everyone in Starlight Shores knew her history, and until Connor, there hadn’t been anyone she felt needed to know.
“Wow, Rae, it’s a miracle you survived that explosion! I’ve heard of people who died for a while and came back. Did you see a light at the end of a tunnel?”
Rae blinked. He didn’t get it. “No, Connor, I didn’t survive that explosion. I died. My body burned in the fire from that blast. There was nothing to come back to.”
“That – that doesn’t make any sense. You’re here, now. I’ve felt your skin against mine.” Connor shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?” Rae looked down at the tabletop, not wanting to see his reaction to that question. He was going to think she was crazy.
“Umm, well I believe in the soul, so I guess, theoretically, yes. I’ve never seen one, but there are more things in this world than you or I will ever see. Are you trying to tell me you’re a ghost?”
Rae’s head snapped up. “Connor, I want you to keep an open mind, okay?”
Connor still had his frown firmly in place, but he nodded.
“Okay, so say there was a scientific method of bringing people back from the dead, except they couldn’t fully come back, just their spirit – their soul, or a small piece of it. Now say, someone discovered that method, the next step would be to conduct an experiment, to prove that this method worked.” Rae cleared her throat, she should have asked for another glass of wine.
As if reading her mind, Connor signaled to the waiter, who brought them another bottle of chardonnay. Taking a large, grateful gulp, Rae continued. “What would prevent a grieving mother, who wasn’t ready to let her daughter go, from signing up for these experiments? What would this woman have to lose? Worst case scenario, it didn’t work. She wouldn’t lose out. So say this woman takes part in these trials and she gets what she wants?”
“So, you’re telling me that your mother did this? She brought you back to life?” Connor asked, incredulous.
Sighing, Rae finished her glass of wine. Connor hadn’t even touched his. “Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. My mother, who loved me so much she kept a piece of my soul bound to this earth, and Dr. Gates, the wonderful man who was brave enough to even run these trials. They and a slew of technicians and other scientists and doctors – they all believed in something that others thought was impossible and they birthed…me.” Rae smiled a little. She always joked with Dr. Gates that he was her third parent and she had, over the years, come to think of him as sort of a strange uncle.
The waiter cleared the wine glasses and Rae realized just how late it was.
“Come on, Connor. I’ll prove it to you.” She stood up from the table and waited for a dazed looking Connor to stand up. “Did you drive here?”
“What? No. I, uh, I took a cab.” Connor looked down at the tabletop. When he looked back at her, he seemed to have come to some decision. “Alright, Rae. Say I believe what you’re saying – that you’re a ghost.”
“No. I’m not a ghost, not anymore, at least. I’m flesh and blood. Skin to skin, remember?” Rae reached up to touch his cheek, but Connor flinched. He might as well have struck her. With a heart that felt weighed down with grief, Rae let her hand drop back to her side. “I need to use the restroom. Will you be here when I come back?”
While Rae went into the restaurant to use the ladies’ room, Connor stood outside and tried to decide whether he thought she was crazy or not. It at least explained why she never dated; he couldn’t imagine having to tell someone that you died every time the relationship started getting serious. He frowned. He couldn’t imagine how alone she must be feeling.
He closed his eyes. Was he seriously considering this? That his girlfriend of all of zero seconds was a ghost? He felt that stirring in his gut again. This always seemed to happen when Rae was near. Opening his eyes, he found her standing in front of him, a wary look in her eyes. He hated that look. He’d worked for two years to remove that look from her face. The last thing he wanted was for her to be afraid of him.
“You said you could prove it?” Yes, he was going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, he didn’t regret this later.
“Yes. Back at my place.” Her voice was shaky. Peering closely at her, Connor saw that she’d been crying. Damn, had he made her cry? Clearing her throat she asked, “Would you mind driving, please?”
On the way there, neither of them said a word. Connor didn’t know how to take what she told him and reconcile it with what he knew about the world. Before he could think of a way to bridge the growing distance between them, they were pulling up in front of her house.
After parking in the driveway, he asked himself again, what was he doing here? Could he really believe that she was a ghost? He knew that sometimes, the ones you loved could push you to extremes, but – wait – did he love her?
Connor looked over at the woman getting out of the car. Damn it, yes, he did love her. Almost from the moment he’d met her. Taking a deep breath, he got out of the car and walked behind her.
“Listen, Rae. It’s getting –”
“No. Please, just come inside and let me show you. Please, Connor.”
“We’re going to watch a movie?” Connor sat down and looked at the screen. Definitely not what he was expecting when she’d said she was going to prove it.
“Sort of. When my mother told my dad she was pregnant with me, my father wanted to document the whole thing, especially since he’d missed the beginning of it.”
“What? Oh, that’s a long, boring story.” Rae smiled and rolled her eyes. “Anyway, he was constantly taking pictures and for my sixteenth birthday, he made me this slideshow. This is my proof.”
She turned the TV on.
Connor sat there and watched Rae’s life flash before his eyes in snapshots; her and her mother walking out of the hospital, her first birthday, her first words, and her first steps, her sixth birthday party. “Wow, is that a POTUS?”
Rae looked over at him. “Yeah, we’ll talk about that later.”
Connor looked at her and smiled. His confident little rose, whose mother just happened to be a world famous movie star; maybe he should watch one of her movies. When he turned back, his jaw dropped. “Rae. What the hell is that?”
“That’s me, in Egypt, telling my sister a ghost story.”
He took the remote and paused in on that shot. “There’s something ironic about a ghost telling a ghost story.”
Connor felt like his world was fracturing, but only slightly, so he wasn’t so bad off, right? Dear God, a fricking ghost!
“Rae, that’s you, isn’t it? As a ghost?”
“Hmmm, let’s see, yes? There is so much I have to explain, but now do you believe me?”
“Oh yeah, completely. I am officially a believer. But you have to admit, this is a little crazy, no? How are you…you know, alive?” Connor finally managed to pull his eyes away from the screen long enough to look at Rae.
“A genie?” She said in a small voice.
“A genie. Yeah, sure, why the hell not? My girlfriend died, became a ghost – that liked to travel the world,” he gestured at the picture on the screen, “and then had a genie change her back.”
“Am I your girlfriend?”
He stared at her. Didn’t that just shift the focus of the conversation! “Um, I don’t know, maybe? Do you want to be?”
“Yes. Desperately. I love -” Rae stopped and he felt like the earth was once again shifting off its axis. He held his breath. Forget about being a ghost or whatever the hell she was, if Rae told him she was in love with him, she could be a vampire and he wouldn’t give a damn. Connor closed his eyes and waited; waited for her to finish her sentence – those three words feeling like the most important things in the entire universe. He waited for her to finally say what they both knew but were too afraid to say. He waited for her to end this game they’d been playing for two years. Everything else spoken tonight had just been filler, a preamble to this moment, to those three words. He sat, and he waited.
As Connor closed his eyes, effectively shutting her out, Rae felt a sharp pain in her gut. He was going to reject her, again. She didn’t think she could take it. She had bared her soul to him and he hadn’t believed her. What more could she do? What more had she expected from him? She wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened to her. Rae started to get up; the sun was rising and she was so tired, so very tired of everything. Rebecca had been wrong.
“Wait,” Connor grabbed her hand, “Where are you going?”
“It’s morning, we’ve been up all night and I’m tired. Maybe we’ll finish this conversation some other time, okay?” Rae could feel her throat starting to close up, but she refused to cry. It was not his fault that she was messed up and it wouldn’t be fair to make him feel bad or obligated in some way.
“Rae, sit down for a minute.” When she didn’t move, he added, “Please?”
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Rae sat back down, but refused to look at him.
“Rosie, you were about to say something and I’m waiting to hear it. I’ve been waiting for two years to hear it. So please, finish the sentence.” He reached out and lifted her chin.
Looking into those honey-colored eyes, Rae was shocked by what she saw there. Acceptance and love. So much love that it was almost unbearable to continue to look at him. But he wouldn’t let go of her face and she couldn’t look away. She was ready to become lost in his gaze forever, just as long as he kept looking at her that way.
“Rosie,” he said softly but firmly, “Say it.”
“I love you.” There was no hesitation, her voice was strong and sure and she hoped everything she felt in her heart was conveyed in those words. “I love you so much.”
The grin that spread across his face would stay with her for the rest of her life and her afterlife. Then he leaned down and kissed her.
It started as a soft kiss, as if it was their first, but then his lips became firm and there was more heat in it. He leaned over and put his arm around her shoulders and an arm over her stomach, caging her in – as if she might try to escape. She had no plans to go anywhere.
Well, that wasn’t quite true. Pulling away, Rae stood up and before he could protest, dragged Connor up with her. “Come on.” As he grumbled, she turned the TV off and pulled him with her to the back of the small house, towards her bedroom.
Connor had only been there once before, when she’d moved in. He and several of his friends had helped her bring her furniture over from the dorms and storage. It had been a fun day; he’d joked about moving in with her and teased about the wallpaper and knick knacks left by the previous owners. There had been no jokes when they were setting up her bed, however, as if both of them had been too aware of where they were and who’d been in the room with them. And now, almost a year later, here they were again.
She sat down on the bed, suddenly extremely nervous and unsure what to do next. She’d missed Sex Ed, since she’d still been a ghost at what should have been her freshman year of high school. So although she knew what was supposed to happen, she didn’t really know what…was supposed to happen.
Rae mused about all the things she needed to tell Dr. Gates to add to his online curriculum, but when Connor stepped up in front of her and started undoing her hair, every single thought in her head just flew away.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered before lifting her face and kissing her gently. “So, so beautiful.”
Not knowing what to do or say, she closed her eyes and waited.
“Rosie, look at me.” Lifting her eyelids to stare back up at him, she marveled again at how expressive his eyes were. There was enough light from the rising sun to see them clearly. They were deep pools of honey and she was so ready to get lost in them again, to get lost in him and everything his eyes promised her. “I love you Rae. I’ve loved you from the moment I met you and that will never change.”
When Connor reached for her, she went, all too willingly.
“This is the small house your parents retired to?” Connor looked over at Rae with disbelief. Her parents’ home must have been on at least 60 acres of land, at least from what he could see from the road. After all the grief she gave him for his parents’ house – she was so going to pay in kind!
Rae stole a glance at him from the driver’s seat. “I never said small, and there are still some things we need to talk about, so get ready to learn more about me than you ever wanted to know. Fair warning though, my mother tends to be overly affectionate towards me and by association, anyone who is friendly with me.”
Connor lifted an eyebrow in question. The way she emphasize friendly had him wondering just how many guys she brought home to meet her family. No one for the last two years, at least – or so he hoped.
Rae pulled up to the driveway and cut off the ignition. She turned around to look at him and leaned in for a kiss. One that he gladly gave her. Leaning back, he smiled at her. “What was that for?”
“Think of it as an apology for anything that happens today and a reminder of why you’re with me.” With that, she hopped out of the car and headed for the front door. Laughing, Connor got out and followed her.
“Mom, Dad! I’m here and I’ve brought Connor.” Rae shouted as she walked into the house. From the back of the house, Rae’s parents walked over to greet their daughter and meet her new friend. Connor guessed he should feel worried, but parents loved him as a general rule. After hugging both him and Rae, Aaliyah – as she demanded he call her – went back into the kitchen to finish dinner.
“Dad, I’d like you to meet my boyfriend, Connor.” Rae’s slight pause before saying his name had both her father and Connor raising an eyebrow. He didn’t know who she was trying to warn, him or her father.
“Connor.” Rae’s father held his hand out for Connor to shake.
“Mr. Torres. It’s very nice to meet you.” Connor took the older man’s outstretched hand.
“Like my wife said, first names only in this house. Please call me Antonio.” And just like that, the tension was gone.
Connor and Antonio spent the rest of the evening discussing sports and the current state of the country. At first, Rae joined in the discussion, but as soon as politics came up, she walked away to help her mother get dinner ready.
After they all ate, Rae looked up to find Kate asking Connor to read her a bedtime story. Kate never spoke to strangers, but as she watched, she realized how much of a natural Connor was with children. The two of them headed in the direction of the sitting room, no doubt to find a book on quantum physics or something, yeah – her baby sister was weird that way.
As the night wound to a close, they said goodbye to her parents and went back to her house.
Lying in her bed, Rae listened to Connor talk about her family and how much they loved him. She was sure this was true, but he was getting insufferable. “Connor, I’m sure my mom likes you, she likes everyone. My dad, though…him not so much.” That shut him up. Looking up at him, she smiled serenely.
“Your dad loved me. Admit it, Rosie.” Connor wrapped his arm around her and nuzzled her neck. “Admit it.”
Rae would have said anything at that moment and he knew. It wasn’t fair how much of an effect he had on her. “Connor, my family is royalty. You’re going to have to try a bit harder.” Ha! That stopped him, but wait – she didn’t want him to stop the nuzzling, just the gloating.
“Your family is what? Rosie, you have to stop doing this. I’m still wrapping my head around the ghost thing – which you never finished explaining.” Rae snorted at that. They most certainly had been sidetracked. “Now you tell me you’re royalty. Jesus, Rae.” Connor placed his head on her shoulder and took a deep breath.
Rae wrapped a leg around his, perhaps to hold him to her in case he decided to run. “It’s not a big deal. My mom is a princess, she was supposed to be Queen, but she didn’t want to, she abdicated, met my dad, fell madly, passionately in love, and had little princes and princesses. Although, I prefer not to be called princess – except when dad says it.” She grinned down at him as he shook the head still on her shoulder. “It’s not a big deal Connor.”
“Says you,” came the muffled reply.
She laughed and suddenly found herself on her back looking up at him. She reached up and wrapped her arms around him.
“I am going to enjoy learning all about you.” Connor leaned down and kissed her.
Wasn’t love grand?