She had never been his. An unrealized longing for his best friend’s girl, he had harboured the impotent feeling since they were pre-teens. Her boyfriend played with and without her for many years, though there was nothing Adam could do about it. Tell, and it was a betrayal, one that nudged precariously into the territory of jealousy. So he merely waited, inert, until eventually the infidelities became too obvious for her to ignore.
His friend drove too fast the night she found out, the three of them en route to dinner. Finding woman’s underwear stuffed haphazardly under the passenger seat, Adam saw the fury unleashed in the small, black bullet of the car and it was fury that hurtled them into the light standard; the slick roads didn’t even denote the skid that killed her instantly.
Adam missed her by the hour, but beer made it feel better…temporarily. The approaching first anniversary would be one of mourning and he cursed the day where it fell. He could’ve stopped it all. If he would have manned up, he thought, he could have changed the outcome. She would have never been in that car on that night. The betrayal of fifteenth of March, likened to the one so often quoted, only this one ended on slippery asphalt as she was ejected from the tumbling car. But he may as well have plunged the knife into her breast himself. He felt like the Brutus of the age.
Adam opened his eyes for what felt like the first time in days. The shadows that played across his face lured him from the exhaustion buried in his bones, and while not quite ready to, he slowly cracked one eye open to adjust to the low winter light.
Rubbing his stubbled chin, his skin feverish, he didn’t want to leave the dream ripe in his memory, but it was only so long that he could last without basic sustenance. The woman that met him in the dark was more real to him now than the contents strewn around the area where he slept. Remembering their combined scent turned the corner or his well-formed mouth.
The space he used for the loveliest of preoccupations, fit neatly into the corner of the pint-sized apartment. Brushing away the mass of tissues that littered the coverlet, he nearly knocked over the water glass on the bed stand. Filled with bubbles from sitting idle for too long, he reached for it anyway and swallowed. It tasted stale.
Last night, after his fill of beer with his socially awkward co-workers, Adam went home to another solitary night in his apartment in the heart of the city. They were a steady group of friends with the conversation amusing and pathetic in equal measure, at least it distracted from this horrible day. They were “Technical Support.” Always the ones picked last for sports teams, a vital cog in the financial machinery, though largely unnoticed if things didn’t go wrong. A remarkable fifty percent retained their virginity into their twenties. Adam narrowly fell on the other side of fifty percent.
While not someone who toyed and played with women, he did have some experience in the arena. However, now, painfully, after exactly a year, he needed to move on from the one he thought had been the one. The mourning period over, the anniversary passed, it was vital he let her fall from the pedestal. She was dead, and he needed to live.
Opening the window to air out the room, he sat on the wide sill, remembering her, his back against the window frame with a leg bent, his arm resting upon his knee. The guilt of inaction still burned deep in his belly, but the surface denial had started to steep. When the moon emerged full from the cloudbank, the street became awash in familiar fluorescence, saturating everything in a cool blue rinse.
So bright, he thought, as he saw shadows of the railing intersect the brickwork when unexpectedly Adam heard movement. Coming from directly beneath him, it sounded as though there was someone crawling slowly up the fire escape. Padded feet scraping over metal rungs, ever closer, though looking down he saw no one.
Still the sound came, his tripping heart pounded when a shadow obliterated the moon and he saw her.
It was as though he had stared at the sun for too long and blindness set in, except for the inky prospect. Looking upon the brilliant ball hanging low in the sky, it reflected instead of generated light, he blinked his eyes and the shadow took shape to coalesce into something remarkable.
Lithe, with raven hair and vivid eyes, a woman appeared before him.
“Caroline?” He asked, stupefied but remaining faithful to the French pronunciation, the colour of his face drained to ashen. Unbelieving and quite convinced he was now hallucinating due to alcohol poisoning; he spoke again, “Is it really you?”
The silhouette stood motionless, so much so that the smallest track of movement, a nod, seemed grotesque.
“H-how?” Adam choked terrified, as he backed into the room, putting some distance between himself and the apparition.
The outline moved effortlessly, following, until Adam sat on the bed. The cloud that had darkened the night slid away and as the moonlight regained its strength, it solidified the mirage.
As in life, she was timelessly beautiful, but her truly stunning appeal had been her smile. There was never any measure of insincerity in it. Artifice wasn’t possible for her. Open, her candour caught some off guard, but Adam revelled in her honesty and he had made it his life to see that smile. Both selfless and selfish, he used to bask in the radiance. Each time he made her laugh, he would bring that memory back to the bed where he now sat shaking. It didn’t take much to gratify his needs and in his dreams he lived a lifetime by her side.
When she moaned, he knew where she was by the timbre of her plea. A curse, and she needed more. A prayer, and he would prepare to give her the salty gift she asked for. Whether the night called for playful passion, or simple sin, he would never have enough. She swam in his veins and was better than any drug he’d ever tried. It had been a difficult withdrawal since death took her and he thought once or twice about joining her as his atonement. But he wasn’t raised that way, there was nothing after or he may have tried.
“Why won’t you speak to me?” Adam pleaded.
The spectre put her finger to her lips and advanced. Adam skittered backwards, working his way up the bed as she continued, when he came to rest on his pillow. Her proximity chilled the air by a few degrees and he saw his breath in the otherwise warm room as she stopped, her face suspended a few inches from his own and smiled.