Too much time and not enough time to do it in - sorry for the delay, folks.
It was snowing when he closed up shop. He looked up into the grey sky, trying not to feel anything. The snow always reminded him of Julie. Just another reason to hate this time of year. He shook his head and yanked the gates over the glass doors with a bit more force than necessary, and locked them vengefully.
It had been three years since she had died, and Blake had never really recovered. He hadn't lashed out, or sought answers at the bottoms of bottles, but had simply withdrawn into himself. He became quiet, especially on overcast days, or on days when it snowed. Julie had loved the snow. Blake had never seen her so happy, so alive, as when she was running around in fresh powder, making snow angels or throwing snowballs at him. She'd etch out their names on frosted surfaces, "Blake and Julie 4-ever," dotting the I with a heart. She'd had an inexhaustible supply of energy when making snowmen. Snow was magical to her, and so it had been magical to Blake.
And then the accident happened. She'd been hit by a drunk driver, and never made it to the hospital. It had snowed the day she died, slowly, as if the weather itself were mourning her passing. Blake hated the snow now, but at the same time, he'd have never moved anywhere that wouldn't get it in the wintertime. At least it made him think of her, happy and laughing. That was better than nothing. Better than the constant loneliness.
His small motorcycle repair shop locked up securely for the night, Blake trudged through the piling white powder home. The city was even busier than usual; rush hour was in full swing, and the snow wasn't helping. He lived two long blocks from his apartment, but even in that short distance he passed three fender-benders. He stopped in the pizza shop on the first floor of his building, tossing a five at the cashier for a New York slice and a can of grape soda, and made his way upstairs.
His apartment was littered with clothes, old rags, and tools; not too different from his shop. Julie hadn't minded them, but she would try to organize them when he wasn't looking. He smiled, just a little, at that, and ate, mechanically. The place was too quiet without her around. Draining the soda in a single pull, he wandered into the bathroom, stripped, and showered. The old pipes groaned and sputtered, but after a second they cooperated. Blake's landlord might not have been the cheapest in the city, or the easiest to deal with, but he damn well made sure things worked they way they should. The scalding hot shower was a blessing after coming in from the cold.
Towel around his waist, Blake wiped the fog off the mirror with his hand, staring at his reflection. Julie had always thought him handsome, calling his features "hawkish." Blake didn't really see it. She'd also liked to trace her finger through the valleys between his muscles built from long years of hauling heavy engine parts. He ran his fingers through his short brush of hair, flicking droplets of water everywhere, and decided he could go one more day without a shave.
He paused at his chest of drawers. Normally, he'd just throw something on and spend the rest of the night in front of the TV, but tonight, he hesitated. He didn't feel like staying in tonight, he decided. It was unusual, but he wanted to get out, maybe take a walk or something. After that shower, he shuddered to think about going back out into the snow, but he finally decided, Fuck it, and layered up again. Yanking his heavy, oil-stained work boots back on, he trudged back down the four flights of stairs and back out into the cold.
The wind had picked up since he'd come home, and it wormed its way down the back of his jacket, finding every single bit of leftover shower water and turning it to ice. Blake shivered and pulled up his hood, turned, and headed down the street.
He had been born and raised in the city, so he'd never once gotten lost - but Blake was sure lost now. He'd been lost in thought as he'd slogged through the snow and hadn't paid any attention to how far he'd gone or how many turns he'd made. It wasn't a big deal, of course, any street corner would instantly tell him exactly where he was by the street signs, but it was getting awfully cold awfully fast, and he decided he needed to stop in somewhere and warm up before heading back. Unfortunately for him, most places in this neighborhood had been boarded up, and it seemed like only one streetlight in three was still functional. He didn't even see cars here, and every street in this city was packed with cars, all the time. Where the hell was he?
Finally, he saw a shop with lights on. It didn't even matter what it was, he decided, he needed to get out of this wind for a few minutes. A quick glance told him it was some kind of antique store, but the sign was so worn and faded he couldn't make out much more than that. The bell above the door chimed merrily as he opened it.
Blake could only stare. The whole place was filled, top to bottom, with every manner of thing he could imagine, and some he couldn't. Statues, musical instruments, small wooden boxes, lizards and frogs sculpted out of metal wire and costume gems, books, jewelry, toys - there was no end to it.
"Something I can help you find?"
"Jesus!" Blake jumped at the voice that had come from directly behind him, crashing into a nearby shelf. Nothing fell or broke, but the whole thing wobbled alarmingly. "Sorry. You scared me, man."
Blake managed to get his feet under him and, making sure the shelf wasn't going to collapse, turned fully to address the shopkeeper. The first word that came to Blake's mind was "plain." There was no other way to describe him. Short, dark, slick hair combed to perfection, dark eyes, and a thoroughly uninteresting face. He was neither good-looking nor ugly; instead, he had the sort of face one would instantly forget the moment it was beyond one’s field of vision. He was dressed in a plain but immaculately-kept gray suit.
"Are you looking for anything in particular? A gift, perhaps?"
Blake tried in vain to place the man's accent. He thought he'd heard every one there was, with all the different people in the city, but not this guy's. Whatever it was, English was clearly not his first language. Maybe not even his second. "Uh, I'm just... looking around."
"Something for yourself, then."
"I'm not really-"
"You are lost." It wasn't a question.
"Well... yeah, actually. Heh, funny, isn't it? Born and raised here, and somehow I get turned around and-"
"I did not intend the physical sense."
"Allow me to show you something, Blake."
"Oh, no, I... wait. How'd you know my name?"
The man in the grey suit just stared back at him with dark, unblinking eyes. "It is in my best interest to know things."
Blake stopped, deflating. "Know about that, too, huh?"
"You loved her." Again, it was not a question.
Blake couldn't help himself. He told the strange man everything. All about her. He didn't even know why he was doing it. It just came out, a stream of words and memories that didn't stop for a long, long time.
Eventually, though, Blake ran out of things to say. For what seemed like an eternity, the man in the grey suit just stood there, studying him.
"Allow me to offer you a gift."
His mouth dry from talking for so long, Blake watched the man in silence as he roamed the shelves of his store, searching. After a moment, he returned, holding a candle.
"It is said that, sometimes, in the darkness, one may find... consolation... by the light of a single candle. Light it, in memory of her. It will ease your burden."
"I don't, uh, have my wallet on me..."
"It is a gift." The man thrust the candle into Blake's hands. He had no choice but to take it. "But should you require my services in the future, we may then discuss payment. Is this acceptable?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess so..." Blake was so bewildered by the strange man that he didn't even notice he was being led by the arm towards the door. "Hey, wait a minute, I-"
The door closed. Blake heard the lock sliding into place. The lights in the windows went dark.
Blake frowned. "You could have said it was closing time!" he yelled. There was no response.
It took a while, but Blake eventually found his way back home. The wind was howling, now, and had fought him every step of the way. The snow had come at him at a steep angle out of a pitch-black sky. He shivered when he finally arrived at his building, and stomped snow off his boots all the way up to his floor. Once inside his apartment, he shivered again, and unzipped his jacket. In the inside pocket was the candle.
Blake frowned as he took it out and studied it. A long, white taper, with a rounded bottom; obviously made for a holder. The wick was pure white thread, it had never been used. Blake shook his head. "Weird guy," he muttered. Exhausted from the trip, he dragged his feet to his bedroom, dropping clothes along the way and tossing the candle onto the nightstand. Bed, he thought. A nice, long, deep sleep. He might even sleep in tomorrow, open up the shop a little late.
He flopped facedown onto this bed, the springs creaking in protest. He waited for sleep to come, but it wouldn't. He tossed, he turned, he pulled the covers up and kicked them off. "Fuck," he muttered to the ceiling.
His eyes found the slim shape of the candle on the nightstand. He shrugged, and flung the covers back. "What the hell," he grumbled. Digging around in the nightstand produced a squarish faux-crystal candleholder; Julie had loved candles, so they and their holders were still everywhere. He crammed the candle in and put it on a dish to catch the wax. Don't wanna burn the place down, he thought. Finding a lighter took longer, he had to go all the way into the kitchen for that, stubbing his toe on the couch and firing off a curse on the way.
The lighter was old, and took several tries to produce a flame, but the candle took it quickly. Blake stared at it for a while. It was brighter than he would have expected; the single flame lit up the whole room in a warm glow. The man at the shop might have been weird, Blake decided, but he'd been right - the flame was strangely comforting. He felt, somehow, a little more peaceful. A little less depressed. Julie would have liked to see that. He crawled back into bed, thinking of her as he finally drifted off to sleep.
Several minutes passed. Blake mumbled and turned in his sleep. He did not see the candle's flame suddenly dance as something nearby disturbed it...
Blake felt something tingly and cool high on his cheekbone, and his face crumpled against the sensation as he awoke. "The hell...?" He touched his cheek; there seemed to be no cause. Attributing it to an errant breeze, he tried to go back to sleep, when he felt his whole back experience a similar feeling. Arching his back away from it, he rolled over, trying to see what the cause was - and stared directly into a pair of eyes.
"Shit!" He flung himself backwards, rolling off the bed and landing hard on the floor. His hand snatched the baseball bat he kept under the bed and he shot to his feet. "You picked the wrong place, motherfu-"
There was no one there.
Blake gaped at the empty room, stunned. There had been someone there, he was sure of it. Eyes didn't just appear out of nowhere. He stood perfectly still, listening, waiting... nothing. Slowly, so slowly he thought he was moving an inch an hour, he lowered the bat to the floor. Must've been a dream, he told himself. Losin' it.
This time, he saw the candle dance, making the shadows around the room shake and sway; this time, he saw the faint shape standing next to it. Already edgy, Blake panicked, snatching up a pillow on pure reflex and hurling it across the room.
The candle's flame stretched thin, but the shape near it remained. The pillow had passed right through.
The sweat on Blake's skin suddenly turned to ice. "What the fuck?" The shape was a person, he realized, because it had arms, and hands that it raised to its face. He saw the eyes again, and they were full of amusement.
More details clarified before Blake's eyes, as if the shape had been in a fog that was now lifting. The shape slowly gained definition: small, thin body, a woman's body, with curves. Long, full-bodied hair as dark as her eyes. A face that he had seen every time he had closed his eyes for the last three years.
"Julie," he breathed. She was there, but wasn't. It was hard to focus on her when he looked directly at her, but whenever his eyes moved, she was there. Nearly totally transparent, it was as if he were looking at a drawing of her, or a simple painting. All he could see was the vague hint of shape and form, outlined in blue.
She appeared to laugh, because she raised her hands to her face again and he saw her smile, but he heard no sound. She nodded, grinning.
His legs failed him. He fell back against the wall and slid down it. He couldn't breathe. "What... what the hell..." Not this, he begged. Anything but this. He still saw her in his dreams, he didn't need to see her when he was awake, too!
He was awake... wasn't he?
Julie - or the hallucination of her - gave him a sympathetic look and shook her head, making her hair dance around her body. It moved slowly and drifted away from her, as if it were underwater, and it streamed out behind her as she moved towards him. Blake watched, fascinated and terrified, as he watched her pick her way carefully around the piles of clothes and junk scattered around the bedroom on her tiptoes... just like she had done when she had been...
He felt himself edge away from her as she knelt by his side, unwilling to take his eyes off her. He slid further away along the wall as she leaned towards him. His breaths came out in ragged gasps from a dry mouth, and his heart thudded in his chest. Her face came closer, closer... and kissed him, softly.
His hand came up to touch his lips. He'd felt that. It had been a cool pressure, and his skin tingled a little, but there had definitely been something there. That's what had woken him up, he realized - she had kissed his cheek as he slept. She had pressed against his body in bed.
The hand on his lips trembled, but he made himself stretch it out towards her. She did not move, except to smile and to raise a hand in return. Slowly, lightly, their fingertips touched. A giddy laugh bubbled up from Blake's throat - there was that same sensation. He didn't know what, but he was definitely touching something. Their hands pressed together, palm to palm. Blake tried, but could not push through it. Her hand stopped him.
"I don't understand," he whispered. "How...?"
Julie grinned, and pointed. He followed her finger across the room, to the candle.
"The candle!" He turned back to her. "That's why you're here?" Again, she nodded.
He felt a thrill ripple through his body, but it suddenly stopped. "Julie," he said slowly. "Why won't you say anything?"
Julie mimed zipping her lips, adding a twist at one corner to indicate a lock. "You can't," he concluded. Again, she nodded, sadly.
"Well... well, that's okay," he said. "I just... I can't believe you're here. Oh, God," he caught her up in his arms, hugging her tight. It was like hugging someone who had spent too much time outside on a cold day. "I've missed you so much." Her arms wrapped around him, squeezing in reply.
When he let her go there were tears in his eyes and streaming down his cheeks. She looked like she was crying, too. She reached out and brushed his tears from his face with a touch as gentle as a breath. "I don't get it get it. I mean, are you here here, or do you have to..." He had been about to say "go back," but couldn't quite get it out. Again, Julie pointed at the candle. It had burned down somewhat, and wax dribbled down the sides. He nodded, understanding - she could only be here for as long as the candle lasted.
He was determined not to waste it. He pulled her close, and she leaned into him, cuddling him. He didn't know what kind of power this candle had, or why it had come to him, and he didn't care. He had Julie, his Julie, back for one precious night.
He talked. He talked about nothing, about everything. Telling her about things that had happened. Telling her how much he missed her, how much he loved her, holding her tight the whole time. She didn't move, made no move or motion of protest, and held him back just as tightly.
Eventually, he just ran out of things to say. Even if he'd had all the time in the world to tell her how much she had meant to him, it would have never been enough.
They sat there, clinging to each other. Abruptly, he chuckled. She sat up with an inquisitive look. "I just can't believe you're here," he said. She grinned, then looked away.
"What? What is it?"
She looked back at him from under her lashes, biting her lips. She had only looked at him like that when she wanted something. He found himself smiling. "What do you want?" he teased. He would have gladly given her anything in the world.
She clasped her hands to her mouth, but she was smiling, still looking at him with those gorgeous eyes of hers. He recognized the gesture. "Oh. Oh! You want to... uh..." She nodded. "Uh... can we even..." She nodded again, enthusiastically. "We can?"
Julie rolled her eyes and darted forward, pressing her lips against his. His big hands found her sides, holding her, and he abruptly realized she was naked; she had always been naked. He had been so shocked to see her, so happy, that he'd never even noticed. But he sure as hell noticed now.
Her tongue played with his, making it tingle. She pelted his face and chest with kisses, pushing him back until he lay on the floor, crawling on top of him. He laughed at her enthusiasm, and welcomed every second of it. She sat on him, straddling his waist, more a pressure than a weight, and pressed her lips and her naked chest against his. Blake felt his body respond. He ached to make love to her again. Fortunately, he didn't have to wait long. Their lips met and their tongues danced again, but then Julie rolled off of him, and reached a hand down to help him up. Wondering how somebody - something - so light and insubstantial could possibly provide the leverage, he was amazed to find that she somehow could. Once standing, Julie wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down into another kiss. His big hands found themselves on her tiny waist like they always had, this thumbs on her hipbones, his fingers splayed to touch as much of her body as possible.
Julie once again broke the kiss, and locked eyes with him. Making sure he was watching, she slowly sank to her knees, her fingernails leaving icy streaks down his chest, until they reached the waistband of his plaid sleeping pants. For seemingly no reason at all, Blake suddenly felt giddy, and laughed a little as he stumbled slightly against a shoe. Julie gripped his waist, steadying him, but Blake had to execute a quick quarter-turn in order to maintain his balance.
For a moment, panic set in, because Julie suddenly vanished, but he could still feel her body pressed against his legs, and felt her fingers at the drawstring of his pants. It was a little unnerving to see the ties being pulled by an invisible force.
Blake looked behind him, and saw that he now had the candle to his back. He moved again, slightly, and his love reappeared, grinning mischievously at him. He looked back and forth, studying the angles. He must have been blocking her from the candlelight, he realized. He could only see her in it.
Julie soon got his full attention by pulling his pants and underwear down around his ankles. She stared hungrily at his now-free member, wrapping a hand around it and pumping it a few times to make sure it was good and hard before taking it into her mouth. Blake's whole body locked up and he closed his eyes. It had been too long, it had been way, way too long...
His legs failed him, but fortunately he was able to fall onto the bed. Julie never stopped for an instant, and he watched her head bob up and down and her hair drift aimlessly in helpless fascination. The inside of her mouth started out pleasantly cool, like the rest of her skin, but soon it became as hot and wet as it had ever been. Too soon, he felt his climax build. He gave a wordless cry and shot his load in her mouth. Julie never stopped for a moment, swallowing every drop and licking and sucking his cock clean.
Blake fell back onto the bed, panting. No one had done that for him since Julie had died; he'd forgotten what it had felt like. Julie beamed at him as she crawled up onto the bed next to him, naked breasts swaying and hair floating free. Blake could only grin back up at her. "Thank you, baby," he murmured. She kissed the tip of her finger and pressed it to his cheek.
The post-climax hit him, hard, and suddenly Blake felt more tired than he ever had in his life. He tried to keep his eyes on Julie, but they kept closing. After a moment he felt her shake him awake, frowning with worry. When she was sure he was awake again she pointed urgently at the candle.
The candle. Of course. It had already burned down noticeably.
"If it goes out, and I light it again another night, will you come back?"
Julie shook her head, sadly.
One night. That's all they had.
"Well... better make the most of it." Julie grinned as he sat up and tackled her. He saw her face light up with laughter, felt her legs wrap around his body. A few minutes of slow, wet kisses and feeling her small breasts in his big hands had him ready again. He felt her opening pressing urgently against him. He pushed himself inside her, and she bit his ear as he did.
He made love to her the way he had dreamed a thousand times of making love to her and in just as many ways. Slow, fast, hard, soft. Missionary, cowgirl, doggy. On the bed, off the bed. He even stood and held her against the wall as he pounded into her. He had never quite been able to do it before, he had never quite been strong enough. She weighed no more than a feather, now. She took it any way he wanted to give it to her, and when he was too tired to carry on, she took over, and gave it right back. Blake lost track of the number of times they brought each other to orgasm, or the number of ways. He came inside her again and again and again...
Blake woke with a start, the sun shining rudely into his face. He snarled and rolled away from the window, waiting for the pain in his eyes to subside. He didn't feel like he had slept at all. Grudgingly, slowly, he opened his eyes, and almost immediately did a double-take on the nightstand. The faux-crystal candleholder was completely buried in a mound of translucent wax. Fragments of memories of last night came back to him. They were hard to latch onto, as if they were memories of something that had happened many years ago. The remains of the candle crumbled under his questing touch. Had it all just been a dream?
Heart in his throat, he surveyed the room. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Everything was where it had always been. Nothing to show that - or if - she had ever been there. No evidence of an otherworldly visit.
Groaning, his muscles stiff and aching, Blake slowly got out of bed, and trudged to the bathroom. The pipes gave their usual complaints, but the water in the shower came, and he turned it up as hot as he could stand it. He scoured his skin; maybe if he scrubbed hard enough, the memories would come off, too. What a thing to dream about, what a cruel thing. That damn candle hadn't helped at all. He hadn't found any peace. He just felt empty.
Eventually, he decided that he should probably make his way to his shop. He shut the water off, piled a towel onto his shoulders, and slid the curtain back. His eyes drifted to the bathroom mirror, and his blood froze in his veins.
It hadn't been a dream.
It had happened.
There were words traced into the fog on the mirror's surface.