Maybe Jaxon is going to be the perfect hero because so many different men have inspired him. Not like Lucky who is the definite inspiration from one particular cutie pie. Jaxon has one’s voice, one’s hair, one’s body, one’s devilish side and one’s angelic warrior’s spirit. When I close my eyes I don’t see him as one, I feel him as all. He’s like a whisper, teasing me about writing his story and daring me to use That word. He’s also a beautiful hummer, with soft and rough hands. Maybe Jaxon isn’t lost on me, like I sometimes fear, but is everything and every way and will be all those things for you. The reader. Not my reader, but his. I’m sorry, that’s just who he is. You don’t belong to me, my friend. You belong to Jaxon James. Or you will if he’ll stop teasing me and let me finish his story. Ornery, just plain ornery. 😉
Good Morning! It’s early (4:50) and I’m already up and at it. Namely because of the fellow named above whose story I’m currently writing. But also because it’s Friday and I love a good TGIF shoutout so here’s mine to you!
Will stood hips to oven handle, his face soaking up the rosemary-fragranced steam fogging his glasses and warming Honey’s small apartment. One hand stirred circles around a large pot. The baby portabellas bobbing around in Memaw’s butter sauce had to be perfect tonight because everything else he had planned was rotten.
He left their last supper in the kitchen to check that she was still asleep on the living room floor. There was his perfection. Tangled in blankets, earphones in her ears. Beautiful, sweet, tangled mess. His wife. Only his, no one else’s. But her feelings had changed according to the thoughts she’d scribbled down and then tossed in the shredding box. Damn himself for picking that day to knock a few items off her “De-Clutter-fying” list, impatient to have her all to himself.
Stretching his belly over the floor beside her, he rested his chin on his stacked fists and breathed in her strawberry hair.
A song began in his head. It belonged to her immediately.
He hummed the melody and whispered the impromptu words. “I never should have made you lie. The only girl who ever saw me can’t stand the sight of me. But you won’t cry. No you won’t cry.”
She brought a hand up and nails with weeks old violet chipped polish rubbed at her nose. The black cord of her earphones caught on her jewelry-less wrist. No bracelet to go with her non-existent necklace matched the rings they kept hidden in her sock drawer.
He untangled the cord, freeing her bare wrist. She could sleep anywhere. On a pile of suitcases at LAX, through his last concert. Jealous, he whispered, “I won’t make you lie anymore, Honey.”
The sound of bubbles popping low brought him back to the kitchen. Scorching butter sauce singed a tiny blister on his stirring hand as he hovered over the pot, pissed. “Ow, holy shitake mushrooms…,” he hissed, trying out the new cursing term she’d asked him to use when at home, just in case she was faking sleep and listening. He licked the drop and tasted a hint of burnt oil over his burnt skin. To save the flavor of her meal, he quickly added a spritz of apple cider vinegar. Skipping the ladle, he poured the sauce directly over her plate of steamed asparagus and rib eye. Not particularly well done, not perfect. But not rotten.
And then he went to the kitchen cabinet, pulled out a napkin and scribbled the words of the song he’d just composed. The ballad for the woman she’d been before he’d broken her.
He placed the note near her messy head with her plate, a clean napkin and a set of the thick silverware they’d stolen from an overpriced Mexican restaurant back when they’d been partners in crime.
It would be the last time he left her like this. They’d made two decisions as newlyweds. Their marriage had to remain secret. And goodbyes were just too hard.
He left through the front door, lucky drum sticks fisted in his hand. No more lies and no more goodbyes. Standing near the apartments’ pool, he searched for a better way. No, she’d been clear. Loving him hurt her. The secret wasn’t their shared adventure anymore. It was her constant pain and reminder that she would always be invisible to everyone but him. And with him gone so often, it wasn’t enough anymore. Good, sweet girl, she’d lasted all this time. He’d love her forever for that.
* * * *
Will, please come back, she thought, as she slipped away from her body.
* * * *
Was she awake yet? Did she realize he was gone gone? Would she believe he’d done it for her? Did she know…a hardcore fear scared the crap out of him as he skidded to a stop before he had a chance to drive himself crazy with any more second-guessing. A Camaro whizzed by. The driver had all kinds of appreciation to show for the accident he’d almost caused.
Had he left the teapot on? The damned teapot. Yes, he’d filled it, turned the burner to medium and left a box of chamomile on the counter to go with her meal. Racing back to her apartment, being chased by the fear of burning it down, he knew it was a weak excuse. How could a hot tea pot cause a fire? The box. He saw it. Inches from the burner. It was the box that could do it. He had to go back or she’d burn and die. And then he’d die.
“Honey, are you awake?” he asked creeping in the front door.
Nope, there she laid, knocked out cold. He’d been gone what, fifteen minutes? He picked up her plate and poked a finger into the steak. Cold and squishy. He walked the plate to the kitchen and angled it so that the meat slid into the trash. Then he remembered the lame excuse he’d made to end up back here. The teapot—on top of the fridge where the two coffee drinkers always left it. The box of tea—what box of tea? There wasn’t one. “What the hell am I doing?” he asked himself, hands rubbing his face north, south, east and west. And then in circles. Trying to leave her is driving me fu–effing insane.
Something like a hiccup pulled him to the living room. But it was just him and her and she was still out cold. He had no idea when she’d wake up or how long he’d stay once she did. He whispered to her in the softest voice he could manage. “If you wake up right now Honey, I’ll carry you to bed and never leave your arms baby.” He waited. Not a single muscle in her perfect face twitched. It was a sign.
Visions of his band mate and good friend limping through the hotel lobby one night, badly beaten and bloody, reminded him of why they’d decided a private married life away from the band was their only option. He’d die if any hateful monsters ever got their hands on Honey they way they’d done with Trista. The band had amassed a scary ass cult following, loyal as they were. But their views and those of the locals in some places had mixed about as well as a flame and gasoline and hurt a woman Jaxon loved.
He popped his knuckles, watching Honey again but not touching. “I have to go baby. You sleep, just stay sleeping and resting and know that I love you and don’t want to hurt you anymore. I understand what you wrote.” But he didn’t get up and leave. Something kept him there, grounded with her.
* * * *
Kill me now! How in the hell do I get back in? After what would have been a deep breath had she been inside her body and not stuck in a constant unbalanced hover, she forced herself to think through what had happened when she’d slipped out. All that came was heaviness but she had no heart to contain its pounding, no head to swell under its intense pressure. All her useless body parts just laid there on the ground, looking perfectly at rest. Was her skin warm to the touch? If Will shook her, would she just lay there, like a rag doll? Why wasn’t he touching her? He never behaved that well. She never wanted him to.
Well, not before.
Just then a lightning stab of extreme pain cut through her and the memory of when she’d slipped out flashed bright. A weeping man had been singing the saddest song in her ear as she lay there on the floor. Will had said he was cooking dinner. She’d needed time away from him that day and he’d come home early as a surprise. But who yells at their husband for cooking dinner? He’d done several sweet things for her that week which made it hurt a trillion times more whenever she snuck away to write in her journal. All that crap about hating the feeling of being invisible. What a bunch of junk. She now knew what it felt like to have zero effect on anything around her.
Something flickered beside her.
A few seconds later and crisp heat surrounded her airspace. Red and yellow images smoldered in what looked like burning reels of old home movies, but floating without the need for a screen. Finally taking on more distinct shapes and realistic colors, she recognized the body shapes of four men standing closely together. If this was some kind of message meant for her, she’d guess these were Will and the other three guys from Sin Pointe. She couldn’t make out their faces but it wasn’t like she needed to. Spikes poked up from the far left one’s head and she knew it had to be Will’s mohawk. She adored his hairstyle and knew he had no choice but to wear it that way, making him the first to be recognized. Always.
She turned away from the image to see his real life form laying there, his cheek resting on his arm. The scarred side of his head where no hair would ever grow again because he’d been burned so badly as a teenager still shined in the dull light of the room.
Somehow, she shut everything out to focus on one answer to one question.
Why had her heart turned against him?
She hadn’t wanted it to. Ever. It had just happened. Night after solitary night. Her mind had changed her heart. It had been one thing to agree to complete secrecy when visions of him being her world so she could take care of and adore him rained out all other thoughts. And of course she’d thought the band at least would have known about them. But no. “No one can know” apparently meant no one could know. She’d lasted three years. And then against her will, she’d begun to hate their life while still loving him. Forcing those two feelings to coexist had proved impossible. Until an hour ago when she’d felt a bubble pop in her brain and she’d slipped from her body.
Will’s head rose up and away from her as he balanced in a squat on his knees. He was picking her up and now in his arms, they were heading to their bedroom. Well, her body and her husband were on their way down the hall.
Focus. Focus and follow. You want to be there more than anything else on this planet. She felt a pull and as if riding on their air current, she followed behind.
He set her down. Then kneeled at the side of the bed and fixed her hair so that her ear and neck were bare.
If she was like some magic carpet floating in the air, then the sight of him doing that would have been like her being slapped up against a wall or beat with a broom to get the dust out. Whenever Will did that, her response had always been to stretch her neck in his direction, offering it up for a nuzzle.
I have nothing to offer you baby. I’m stuck. I can’t get back and you’re so close to leaving me I can feel it.
She might as well let go and find that hot stretch of air again with the creepy yellow and red images. Maybe it would suck her up and spit her out where she belonged. A special place reserved for the weak.
Let go. You don’t belong here and you don’t deserve him. He won’t want you. He’s read your disgusting letter. Now go on.
Who knew emptiness could fuel something without any form to action? Inching away this time was easier. The hot space was still there in the living room, though the images had changed. And although she’d expected to be transported once she’d made up her mind to leave, it didn’t happen. Apparently her hell was to be tortured with these visions of Will.
Will sitting at his drums.
Will proposing on one knee.
Well, at least she knew it wasn’t the band’s future she’d been seeing before because this was a moment from the past she’d never forget. Fresh from a show, he’d met her in their private hotel room, sweaty, guyliner thick and running down his flushed cheeks. No shirt. Just his suspenders, belts and jeans. The whites of his eyeballs showing unusually as he tugged back on his platinum mohawk in obvious nerves, inching his scalp and brow back too far.
Stop. What is happening? Why this image?
But she ached for that one back when the next one flashed before her. Will trapped in a burning room, slapping at the side of his head and his mouth working so furiously, it was obvious he was screaming for help.
She opened her mouth to shout, “I’m coming baby!”
* * * *
Man, Honey was a sound sleeper and all but he’d whacked her head coming down the hall and she hadn’t budged. It had to have hurt. He’d fully expected her to wake up and actually use a bad word. But no, she’d let him lay her down and continued to softly inhale and exhale, just like a baby. Anyway, how many times in the last twenty minutes had he planned to leave her sleeping? What the hell was his problem? He knew the importance of ending this cruel game of playing house. What they had was real but then he’d gone and twisted it into pretend. He should be gone by now, forget the food and the song. Her neck. He should be flying down that highway, meeting up with the guys in LA, feeling like crap but sticking to his plan to be a big boy and let her go.
So why the hell couldn’t he leave?
A screeching echo bouncing off the walls in the hall nearly made him crap his pants. He ran to the corner and grabbed the bat they’d made on a secret honeymoon trip to the Louisville Slugger museum. It was a miniature, the only weapon she’d agreed to. Crap, he was gonna have to beat whoever it was up close and personal. But he was good with little sticks so he fisted it in his dominant hand and slowly made his way to the hall.
The empty hall.
He crept further, toward the bathroom.
The sound screeched again, but this time he felt it go by as a whoosh across his chest and knocked his glasses down the rim of his nose. He rubbed at it, knowing he’d gone crazy for sure. But whatever the hell it was had flown back down the hall toward Honey’s bedroom. Hell no, that was not happening. He ran back to her bedside, ready to attack the air if he had to.
Her body moved of its own will. For a split second, she glowed. Her exhale felt like fire against his cheek.
Another screeching sound tunneled its way down the hall. What the hell? Was it time to start praying for forgiveness? For real, he’d quit Sin Pointe, get a job as a handyman and never leave her side if this craziness would stop. Racking his brain for an explanation, he remembered finding a stack of otherworldly type books stashed in her bookcase she’d said had been handed down to her by her grandma. But compared to some of the crazy stuff the guys messed around with, he hadn’t given her books a second thought.
His phone rang. He ignored it. It rang again. Jaxon would want to know where he was and why he was late for their recording session. “Dealing with the devil, literally“, probably wouldn’t go over too well. He answered, knowing if he didn’t, Jaxon’s questions would grow from Where are you? to Who are you with? Things he wasn’t willing to share.
“Hey man, I’m not gonna make it tonight.”
“No? How come? I wanna lay that drum track down.”
“I know. Listen, I’m not feeling too good.”
“Hmm. All right, man. Is uh, Honey, okay?”
He was having a heart attack. And a stroke. And his secret wife’s apartment was fricking haunted. And now his best friend was some kind of mind reader. The ball in his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth as he was forced to swallow the massive amounts of spit churning out.
“What did you just say?”
“Yeah, hey, you don’t sound good. Give me Honey’s address and I’ll come hang out.”
“How do you know that name?”
“Will, I’m sorry, man. But we all know you’re married. Come on, did you really think you could hide something like that?”
Jaxon had a good point but he still wanted an answer. He’d been anally adamant about keeping the secret.
“Are you fricking spying on me?”
“No. Not me. Listen, do you know how many notes I’ve found in hotel rooms talking about Honeythis, Honey that? A guy gets curious.”
He ignored most of what Jaxon said. “What did you mean, not you?”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist, but I asked Benny if you’d ever mentioned a girl named Honey to him. He said no, I said okay. I thought that was the end of it. But you know Benny. Says he got bored that night and the next morning handed me a fax of the wedding license in William and Honey Cordero’s name. Will, are you still there?”
He blew out hard, disgusted at the band’s genius webmaster. “Yeah. But I gotta go.”
“Hey, when will I see you?”
“I don’t know man. I have sh–crap to fix right now.”
They hung up on his promise that he’d think about talking to Jaxon again someday next week after kicking his and Benny’s asses. On the plus side, he no longer felt as winded from the poltergeist that had flown past him. Oh no. He ran back to Honey’s room.
She laid unnaturally still, her eyes open, her hand dead on her chest.
“Honey? Baby, are you okay?”
She managed a slow nod, up once, down once.
“The apartment is about to catch fire,” she said in a voice so unlike his Honey’s, he didn’t want to hear it.
* * * *
That last image she’d seen. That one had to have been from the future because Will had never shared the details of his accident with her. It had been too painful the time he’d come close. Teenage Will wouldn’t have worn his hair in the spikey mohawk yet. She hadn’t realized what she’d been seeing until she raged herself back down the hallway, full of fear and pain for him. Her husband.
But now he didn’t believe her, she could tell. He was paler than usual, his white-blonde hair blending too well with his complexion.
Was she entirely back inside her body yet? She tested a leg. Nothing. She had to know that her heart was beating. It thudded beneath her still palm. She felt herself staring and tried for a blink that didn’t work. Okay, so she must be almost there but not quite whole yet.
Will sat there at the bedside looking like his Sin Pointe wax figure some crazy fan had sculpted of him and left at the studio. The supposed “secret” studio.
He sat there mumbling, “They know.”
She went to shake him but her arm felt dead. She needed his strong arms to pick her up again and get them out of there. But he was in no shape to do it. A sad hopelessness threatened to steal her spirit again. If he didn’t leave now, he would die. The sirens wouldn’t sound for another hour. She had seen this too. They’d picked this unit because they’d fallen in love with it one day driving by. It was within a couple hours’ drive of the studio and he’d paid extra to make sure the two adjoining units stayed vacant. But he had no control over the kids she’d envisioned messing around in the nearby hillside. Their bonfire would have ignited the dry brush by now and the fire would be climbing the embankment butted up at the edge of her apartment’s outer wall.
As if presenting the proof, a flame shot up past her bedroom window. The glass shattered next. “Will, get out of here!”
He looked like a lost child. “Don’t leave me, Honey.”
Oh sweet dear God. He was speaking. “Sweetheart, I can’t move. But you need to get out now.”
“They know. I can’t protect you now.”
She had no idea what he was talking about but in an eerie way, he was right. He couldn’t protect her. But he could run and get himself out. “Baby, look at me. Get. Out. Now. I love you.”
She stared daggers at her dead foot, willing it to kick him off of the bed. It didn’t work.
“You love me? But I’m killing you.”
Yes, at the moment he was because he could get out and save at least himself. What had he seen that had freaked him out so badly? It should have only appeared that she’d been sound asleep one minute and then awake the next.
“Will, I need you to listen to me. Something I can’t explain happened to me tonight. I think you might be aware of this. But listen baby, I’ve seen this fire and what it’s going to do to you if you don’t get out.” Still no movement to leave on his part. She’d have to try harder. “I think I was supposed to…pass on to the other side tonight baby. But I saw a vision of you trapped in this fire, in this bed. I think I held on to warn you. Baby, it’s too late for me, but you can get out if you leave now. Please baby, please leave.”
He blinked like his eyelids had died and come back as hummingbirds. The strong arms she knew so well, toned by years of banging away at his drums, scooped her up in the next minute. It was a good thing because the flames were dancing their way over to her most likely flammable mattress. In a half second more, they were out of there with Will racing them down the hall.
Until he tripped.
And they fell.
And he hit his head trying to cushion her fall. No, her arms and legs still didn’t work. “I love you, Will,” she whispered. “Forever.”
* * * *
“Is he gonna be okay?”
“That’s what the doc says.”
“Does he know?”
“About Honey? No.”
What don’t I know about my baby? Will’s head throbbed like he’d gone apeshit and beat his own skull as a drum. But if that was the case, he wouldn’t be looking at himself from across the room and his head would look bashed in, not wrapped like a mummy with creepy nose holes.
“Will, I thought we agreed on Oh Shitake Mushrooms.”
“Are you hurt?”
“No baby. Not anymore. It was fast. I’m okay; you don’t have to worry about me now.”
She floated past him then slowly made her way back. She must be pretty new to this freaky floaty stuff too. He preferred her in a more solid form and the strawberry halo flowing effortlessly behind her was too beautiful for the likes of his eyes to see.
That time she ghosted past him on purpose, not because she couldn’t control her direction and speed.
“Honey…are we dead?”
She came back to face him, sort of. “No baby, you’re okay. But we need to get you…”
He interrupted her. “I let you die?” Where was his heart when he needed it to implode? His fist that begged to punch a hole through the wall?
“No baby. You don’t have that power. Only He does.”
“He? Are you talking about God?”
“Well, what the fuc…”
“Shh, fudge baby. Remember we agreed?”
“Didn’t he know we’re supposed to go together?”
The strawberry hair of his angel hung in long looping waves, reminding him of the ribbons they’d wrapped themselves in for their Halloween costume party of two one year.
She shook because she couldn’t cry tears without ducts and moisture to produce them.
“Don’t cry, Honey. Please. Listen, I’ll just stay like this. Whatever this is. I’ll stay with you like this.”
“You can’t. You don’t have that power.”
Yes he could. He intended to gain the fudging power that instant. No one was making him leave her again. No lies. No secrets. No sins he was sure he was being punished for.
“Shh, don’t think like that.”
She’d heard that? “Honey, how did you know?”
“Perk of being your guardian angel.”
“No. Don’t you dare say that. I’m not leaving you.”
She nodded that he was. If he could only grab her and kiss her back to life, or to human. The sickest part of all this was that she did seem so alive. And so did he. Just inside out and backwards.
In the time it had taken him to think about getting closer to her for an attempted kiss, she’d moved farther away from him.
“Come back, Honey.”
As if hearing the pain resonating within his shredded soul, she appeared close again.
“Baby, go back. For now. And when it’s your time, I’ll be here waiting. I promise this time.”
“What if I refuse to go back?”
“Then your body will remain in a coma while your best friends—who are the only family you’ve got—are sitting outside your door, heartbroken. Unable to do anything for you because they don’t have the legal right to let you go.”
“And you? If you’re my guardian angel, won’t that mean you’ll at least have to stay with me, even like this?”
She shook again. “Is that what you really would want for us?”
“I don’t understand.”
“After everything, you’d want to keep us trapped here like this?”
No, he wouldn’t want that. He hadn’t wanted that in their life but it had turned out that way. But he couldn’t leave her. Not again.
“Baby, if you go back, just imagine all the things I’d get to see. It’d be like how our life should have been. Us, out there together in the open. All those wonderful things we did before we had to go into hiding.”
God, she had begun to absolutely glow.
“Would that make you happy, Honey?”
She nodded and her strawberry waves shook.
What choice did he have?
“Well, you win. But I don’t know how to get back.”
“I can help you with that part.” She drifted as close as their two forms could be and swung her head graciously back and forth, until he felt a light tickle in his midst. Her neck nearly formed into a solid, flesh and blood neck, creamy as he’d ever remembered her. She stretched it as best she could. Her offer to him. Without thinking, only allowing the swelling of his love for her to move him, he leaned in and felt his lips make sweet contact. A second later, he brought his fingers up to rub against his mouth but all he felt was gauze and a tiny mouth hole.
“No, not like this. Honey, where are you?”
A silence he did not enjoy filled the hospital room for too long.
Sorry, that’s the first time I’ve done that. Remember, I’m new at this too.
Whew. She hadn’t abandoned him. “Are you in my head, Honey?” God, this would take some getting used to.
Shh, yes. You should probably stop talking out loud though baby. You don’t want the boys to commit you.
So do I just think about you and you can hear me?
Yes. Just like that.
Honey, I’m afraid I might hurt you worst of all like this. You know I have a lot of fuc…fudged up shi…stuff running around in here.
It’s okay. I’m sure there will be times when I’ll need to give you privacy.
He might look tough, and a bit scary, what some would and had called a freak. But he was a big ole sweetheart on the inside. She now had first-hand knowledge of that. And the thing she couldn’t bring herself to tell him because right now he wouldn’t understand was that his selfless act of staying with her in that fire had bought him lots and lots of time. That he’d go on to live a long life, full of love and laughter—out in the open—and lots and lots of broken drum sticks. And yes, she’ be watching over him every step of the way. He’d think it was creepy right now. But eventually he’d be okay with it. And then when his day came, she’d be there to welcome him. She had plenty of time to learn how to kiss.
She couldn’t help but shake the day the bandages came off his hands. God, what a gorgeous soul he had. He sat alone in his new apartment, softly rapping his palms against an upside down pot. He hummed the world’s most beautiful song. She caught the dedication in his thoughts loud and clear. “This is for you, Honey. Thank you for saving me, baby. Guess I’ll see you on the other side.”
I’ll be there waiting. Now go do something fun. Live a little, would ya?
He smiled and tugged back on his mohawk, just a tad bit too hard.