A story about a boy and a girl….and a skeleton, in a suit, named Abe….in a bar….in purgatory. Oh, and it’s a romance.
Written by Gregory Patrick Travers
A man opened his eyes from the darkness and found himself alone. He had no recollection of his past and not the faintest clue as to who he was or how he had arrived in his present situation. It was as if before he had opened his eyes just moments previous, there had been nothing at all.
The crate in which he was encased moved slowly down the elevator shaft, deeper and deeper until the hard pitter-patter of raindrops crashing against its roof softened, dissipating into dead silence, while the red and blue lights that had been bleeding through the cracks in the wood faded to empty blackness.
The crate came to a stop with a shake and a thud. Rattling chains sent the elevator door chugging upwards, revealing a large underground room with a long, rather busy bar, dead in the center of things. It was hard to tell just how large this subterranean bunker was, as the shadows surrounding the bar were so deep and thick one could not tell just where the room began and where the room ended. In fact, if it were not for the glowing balls of light that gently hovered over the bar and its patrons, there would be no way for one to find his way at all!
The man walked carefully over to the bar, still very confused and thus, very cautious. With no empty bar stools in sight, he wedged himself in between two other patrons, hoping to signal the bartender and get some answers…or a drink at the very least.
Asking any of the gentlemen beside him for answers to their location seemed futile as they made it very clear with their body language upon his approach that they were not looking for any friendly conversation. The man to his left, whose face was hidden by a milk-white fedora pulled low over his head, was dressed in an impeccable matching tuxedo with a blood-red pocket square poking out from the breast pocket. He turned away and kept his eyes down on his drink, still yet to be sipped. It was a green concoction of sorts, one that everybody across the wood was sipping on at some completion or another. Everybody except him…and the man to his right.
This man was dressed far less elegantly than the tuxedo-wearing anti-socialite to his left. And though he wasn’t hiding his face under any hat, his shaggy mane and beard did a good enough job of that for him. This one did not share the calm confidence that was evident in the man in the suit. This one was nervous, shifty-eyed, and perhaps just as lost as the man who’d just arrived.
“Where the fuck is this bartender…” the shaggy-haired man muttered himself, nervously running his fingers through the thick mess of hair over his forehead.
As if out of nowhere, the bartender appeared before them. The young, trim and handsome man, whose smile seemed too convincing to be trusted, placed two short glasses on the bar and from a martini shaker poured out the same green liquid that the rest of the patrons seemed to be enjoying into their respective glasses, filling each to the very rim.
“Excuse me—,” said the man who had just arrived. But when he looked up from his drink, the bartender had vanished as quickly and mysteriously as he appeared, leaving them with drinks but no answers.
Instantly, the shaggy-haired man tilted his head back and swallowed the juice in its entirety. He slammed down his empty glass and gave a long sigh of refreshment while wiping a few leftover droplets off his beard. Soon afterward, his eyes blasted open with a terrible, frightening look of regret. It was if, like out of some Shakespearean tragedy, he had been poisoned!
He stumbled around in his stool for a moment, frantically trying to catch his breath. Then the look of regret transformed into a blank stare of sedation and he stopped his fighting. He stood eerily still, like a wax sculpture or a stone statue. Following that short phase, a third stage began in which man began to weep uncontrollably. This was the hardest to watch for the man standing beside him, to see a full grown man so strong and mature lose all control of his emotions in the childish manner in which he did.
“Please…,” he sobbed. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…”
Suddenly, a hole opened up beneath the stool in which the man wept, sucking him down to a wild pit of fire below. The hole closed and the man was gone, his bar stool sitting empty, with the exception of a small stream of smoke floating up towards the glowing balls of light. None of the people at the bar seemed to notice. No one except the man who had just arrived, the man who had seen it all happen in front of his very eyes, the man who now stared down at his own drink with heavy second thought.
“Memory overload,” said the man in the suit next to him. “He drank too fast.”
Looking up from his own glass, the man whose face had been hidden under his milk-white fedora was exposed, revealing a face that was not a face at all–but a skull with the hollowest of eye sockets, cheekbones with tremendous peaks and valleys, and a dark, empty mouth which was guarded by two rows of slowly rotting cartilage that one might have called teeth at one point or another. This stylishly dressed skeleton motioned to the now empty bar stool and smiled at the very confused, very bewildered newcomer staring back at him.
“Maybe you should sit down,” said the skeleton, taking a second to straighten out his golden cuff-links.
“I think I would rather stand,” said the man.
“However you prefer,” the skeleton replied. “But would you like to know where you are?”
“Yes, please,” said the man.
“Well, okay then,” the bone-man smiled. He paused a moment for dramatic effect and then leaned forward and shouted, “You’re dead!”
He remained still, waiting for a reaction, but the severity of the skeleton’s animated reveal was lost on the newcomer.
“Of course. How silly of me,” said the skeleton. “One cannot understand the weight of death without first knowing the meaning of life. Perhaps you should take a sip from your drink, it will help clear some things up for you.”
Obviously, after seeing what had happened to the other gentlemen who had drunk the green drink, and seeing that the skeleton had yet to drink from his cup, he was reluctant to follow through on this request. Still, the skeleton pressed on.
“Just a small sip,” he said. “It will help, I promise.”
And so, still cautious but desperate for some sort of answer as to who or what he was, he took a small sip from his glass, swished it around in his mouth for a moment, then swallowed it down.
His eyelids squeezed shut and his eyeballs fluttered violently back and forth underneath them. And then, they opened.
He looked back up to skeleton and said, “My name is James. I-I can remember things now…”
“It is very nice to meet your acquaintance, James,” said the skeleton, extending his bony hand. “My name is Abe.”
“Nice to meet you, Abe,” said James. “That is quite a convincing skeleton costume. It looks very real.”
“Realer than most, this for sure,” said Abe with a nod, “So, tell me, James…What do you remember? Do you remember where you’re from?”
“Seattle,” said James. “Seattle, Washington.”
“Ah, yes…The home of the great Kurt Cobain! He was a lot of fun that one, but rather in a hurry I must say…not one for small talk. But I digress, please; tell me, how did you enjoy Seattle?”
“Mostly I remember the rain…” said James. “It always rained. I remember sitting by the window, wanting to go outside and play, and my mom saying I couldn’t. I had to wait until there was no more rain…sometimes it would be weeks before it stopped.”
“Ah, yes,” said Abe. “I hear living women can be quite stubborn. What about your dad? Why didn’t you just ask him?”
“I never knew my dad,” said James, hanging his head. “That really bothered me. Especially going over to my friend Peter’s house and seeing how much fun having a dad could be. Peter’s dad had this really cool Dodge Charger he would always be working on in the garage. Me and Peter would hang around and pass him the tools he needed from his toolbox. Sometimes, after his dad had gone inside for a drink, me and Pete would sit inside the car and pretend we were racing…”
Then James’ smile faded, “My mom died of cancer when I was nine…I remember sitting in the seat beside her hospital bed…I was angry that she wasn’t trying to get better. I felt she was going to leave me, just like my dad did. On the day she died, I was there sitting beside her. She took my hand and squeezed it, tighter than she ever had before, she said, ‘When the hourglass drops its last grain of sand, I will fear not the dark if you’re holding my hand.’…and then she was gone.”
Then, his eyes widened as if he had come to a startling realization.
“Oh, my god,” he gasped. “I’m dead, aren’t I?”
Abe frowned sympathetically, “You and everybody here.”
For the first time, James took a good look down the busy bar. What he saw was something more horrible than he had ever seen before. There was a man huddled over the bar, lost in his own thoughts, with a large knife in his back. Another seat over there was a younger girl, who looked very pretty with the exception of the ruptured, bloody flesh across her wrists. Her eyes suspiciously shifted back and forth across the bar. Her eyes turned and connected with James’ as he gazed.
Her eyebrows furled. “What?!” she screamed at him. “What are you looking at, huh?!”
James, embarrassed, looked back down to his drink.
“Where are we?” he asked Abe softly, stuck stiff, afraid to look up again.
“You’re in hell,” answered Abe plainly. Then he shifted in his seat. “Well, not yet,” he corrected. “That guy you just saw get sucked into a pit of flames–he went to hell. But here is more like limbo or purgatory. It’s the souls weigh station, you could say. That drink in front of you contains all the memories of your time as the living. Once the drink is drunk and you have seen the mistakes of the life you’ve led, the hole will open and you will fall into eternity…into the fires of hell.”
“But I’m Catholic…” said James.
Abe laughed, “Oh, that doesn’t matter. Down here we have Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Mormons…You see, the living have always been so concerned about who will be waiting at the gates of heaven, they never cared to realize that hell doesn’t discriminate.”
“So who goes to heaven?” asked James.
Abe pointed his bony finger up towards the glowing balls of light that floated above the bar.
“The souls that made it to heaven are these things. They light up the room so shit-bags like you and me can find our way to the bar…to the drink.”
James scratched his head. “Yeah, but if you couldn’t find your drink that means that you couldn’t drink your drink. And if you never drank your drink, you’d never have to go to hell.”
Abe’s rotting mouth broke into a smile. “Now you’re talking my language,” he said.
“Is that why your drink is still full?” asked James.
“Yes, sir,” Abe replied. “I’ve been here for quite a while and seen many people come and go. Because I have no real sense of time, I don’t know just how long I have been down here, but I have seen many fashion trends. When I first arrived, everyone was wearing robes…if that. Lots of loose baggage, I can tell you that!”
“But you’re wearing a suit,” James noted.
“Good point,” said Abe. “I’ve been updating my style as the fashion of the dead has evolved. I was given this little ditty as a gift from a man named John Dillinger. He said he had spent his whole life taking things from people; it was time for him to give something back. A real nice guy that Mr. Dillinger…Of course, my vocabulary also had to be updated throughout the ages. When I got here everyone was all, “Thou” and “Thee”. “Gay” meant “happy” and “fag” meant “a bushel of kindling.”
Abe put his finger into his drink and gave it a stir, “See, though I have no memories of my own life, I have been around long enough and heard enough stories from the other patrons that I have pieced together a pretty good picture of what the living world is all about. Maybe I have an even better idea of how the living work because I have heard generations and generations worth of stories. Stories from the rich, stories from the poor, stories from the pretty, stories from the ugly…Good God! I should write a book! Oh, but who would read it…”
James had stopped listening for quite some time. Something had pulled his attention back to the elevator in which he arrived. That something was a girl. This girl was something of a mess; her bangs fell carelessly over her brow, mud stains splattered across her jeans and a large tear across the side of her shirt…but she was the most beautiful thing that James had ever laid eyes on. He just could not look away. Her eyes though were glued to something written on her inner forearm. Even as she stepped towards the bar her eyes remained lost over the words written on her skin.
At last, she looked up from her arm and scanned the bar. When she met eyes with James she stopped dead. They stood there for several moments staring at each other from a distance, stuck in a strange tractor beam that seemed to be pulling them towards each other. Step by step, she approached, but not fast enough for James it seemed. He got up from his stool, moved by his desire, or his need rather, to be as close to her as possible, as fast as possible. Only that would extinguish the burning fire in his stomach.
There they stood, face to face, toe to toe, eye to eye, examining each other, both of them trying to figure out what it was that was causing this attraction far too strong to be overlooked.
“Hey,” said James.
“Hey,” said the girl.
James motioned to the bar stool that had recently freed up. She smiled and followed him over, taking a seat. Just as their smiles seemed impossible to break, so seemed the same for the silence, as both of them were much too afraid to say the wrong thing to say much of anything at all. The tension broke as the bartender appeared to deliver the girl her drink, then, disappeared all the same.
As the two of them looked down at the green liquid, a bulky, hair-filled arm suddenly nudged between them and a heavy hand slammed down against the wood of the bar. In only a quick second, James had found himself boxed-out by another man much bigger than himself.
The man looked down, leaned in close and said to the girl, “Hey, babe. Welcome to the bar. My name’s Dusty.”
The girl nodded and smiled, but James could see she was scared and uncomfortable.
“You’re probably pretty confused,” said the Brut calling himself Dusty. “I mean, you’re new, you don’t know anyone…shit, you don’t even know yourself yet. It would be real easy for someone to come along and feed you a pack of lies…take advantage of you.”
The girl squirmed in her seat as Dusty took another step closer.
“I’ve been here for a while, babe,” he said. “I know the 411…that’s directory assistance. That means I know where it’s at. I could help you. I can keep you safe and tell you all about who you are. You don’t even need to drink, I’ll tell you everything, babe. For instance, I know that band that’s on your shirt…”
He pointed to her top which had ‘The Wrecks’ printed in bold letters.
“Yeah,” he continued. “They’re not really my style. They’re more pussy rock for kids who like to slit their wrists…”
“Hey! Asshole!” shouted the pale, young lady with the ruptured flesh across her wrists. She had been eavesdropping from a few seats down as the man with the knife in his back was not really much for conversation.
“My point exactly,” said Dusty. He turned his attention back to his prey. “Anyway baby, that stuff is kids’ music. I’m into more…adult stuff, if you catch my drift.”
“Can you go away?” she asked, turning away. “Can you leave?”
He grabbed her by the arm and spun her back towards him.
“Hey!” barked James. “That’s enough! She said get out of here!”
The man turned around and met James eye to eye. Or perhaps chest to eye would be a better description as the man was at least twice James’ size.
“Oh yeah?” said Dusty, giving James a hard shove that sent him tumbling into Abe. “And what’s a little pussy like you going to do about it?”
Some of the nearby patrons stopped their conversations and looked over.
“He won’t have to do anything,” said Abe. “You just broke the cardinal fucking rule, ya big oaf. You’re outta here!”
And sure enough, two uniformed security guards dressed in black appeared behind Dusty and apprehended him, pulling him away towards the shadows. His confident facade melted into panic and terror, for he knew where they were taking him. He had seen it happen once before.
“Wait!” he cried. “I shouldn’t have done that! I’m sorry! Give me another chance!”
But his cries fell on deaf ears and before long Dusty had vanished, dragged into the shadow black by the two uniformed security. The patrons turned back to their conversations and things were quickly as they had been.
“Bar fights might go over well in the land of the living,” said Abe. “But down here, fighting among the souls is forbidden.”
“Where are they taking him?” James asked.
“Back up with the living,” said Abe. “To wander the earth for all eternity–as a ghost!”
“That’s not fair!” exclaimed James. “This guy grabs girls and starts fights and he gets to go back with the living? He gets out of hell?”
“As a ghost,” Abe repeated. “No one sees a ghost, no one listens to a ghost, and most people don’t even believe that ghosts exist. No one will love a ghost, no one will hold a ghost or kiss a ghost. Now, and for all eternity, he will have no one. Loneliness is all he will ever know. He will watch people celebrate their joys and their achievements but will be cursed never to be part of it…never to be acknowledged. This is a fate worse than hell. Sure, hell is hot and the work is thankless and never-ending, demons feed on your displeasure and drink upon your despair, but at least you suffer with your peers. At least you’re part of something. At least the devil knows your name.”
The girl leaned forward and softly whispered, “Excuse me…would one of you mind telling me where I am?”
James paused for a moment, trying to figure out the best way to break the terrible news that Abe had broken to him.
“Maybe you should take a sip of your drink,” said James. “It will help.”
She looked at him doubtfully.
James laughed. “I get it. I felt the same way…but trust me. Just take a small sip.”
Taking his advice, she put the glass to her lips and carefully tilted it upwards, swallowing a tiny mouthful. Her head dropped and shook as one would when they sneezed. And like a sneeze, it was over in only a second.
Her eyes now open; she looked up and said, “My name is Natalie.”
James smiled. “Nice to meet you, Natalie,” He said. “My name is–”
Before he could finish, Natalie cut him off. “Your name is James,” she said. “But everyone calls you Jimmy…I-I know you.”
Even she seemed surprised by this.
“Oooo, the plot thickens!” moaned Abe, doing his best ‘spooky skeleton’ voice. But even for a spooky skeleton, it wasn’t very convincing.
“I’m sorry, I don’t remember you, though I wish I did,” said James. “How do you know me?”
“That’s okay,” said Natalie. “I don’t see how you would. We never spoke to each other. You used to come visit a boy that lived across the street from me. Peter was his name. You guys would skateboard in front of the house and fool around with Pete’s dad’s sports car.”
“The yellow Dodge Charger…” gasped James. “I remember that!”
“Yeah. I would see you two out there when I was out playing jump rope with the girls. I thought you looked a little like Peter Pan, which I liked. I really liked all those old Disney movies; Snow White, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty…there was always some boy that came from afar to rescue a girl from her misery. I suppose, back then, I wanted to be rescued from my misery…”
She looked up to James, “But I don’t want to bore you with all that.”
“No, please, I’m interested,” said James. “What did you want to be rescued from?”
“Well, my mom divorced my dad and moved us to Seattle. I was this little girl who lost all her friends, didn’t know anybody, and didn’t have a dad anymore. I don’t know, that was hard for me, I guess. I just felt like my parents cared more about fighting and who was to blame than they did about me. I never felt safe with them…I just wanted someone to make me feel safe.”
She lifted up her hand to brush her bangs out of her face and as she did James caught a glimpse of the text written on the inside of her forearm.
He pointed to it. “What does that say?”
Natalie looked down. Her eyes widened when she noticed it, as if for the first time.
“Oh! Cool!” she exclaimed. “I got a tattoo! I always wanted one of these as a kid. Um, hold on, it says, ‘When the hourglass drops its last grain of sand, I will fear not the dark if you’re holding my hand.’”
She sat back and smiled, “Aw, that’s really nice…”
James was flabbergasted. “Where–Where did you hear that?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” said Natalie. “Why?”
“My mother told me that when she was in the hospital. I never told anyone that.”
Abe leaned over and said, “Not that you can remember, you haven’t. But there’s still quite a lot of juice left in your glass.”
James lifted the drink to his lips. “You’re right,” he said.
“Wait!” cried Abe. “I was just kidding! The more you drink, the closer you are to hell!”
“It doesn’t matter,” said James. “I have to know.”
“Know what?” asked Natalie.
James shot back a gulp of green juice, turned to Natalie and said, “Who you are to me.”
His eyelids closed, just like before. And, just like before, when they opened once again, he was full of new memories.
He turned to Natalie and smiled.
“I do know you,” he said. “You were a bartender at Duke’s, a restaurant by my place. But this was a long time after the days of skating in Peter’s driveway. In fact, by the time I first met you, me and Peter stopped hanging out altogether.”
“That sucks,” she said. “Why’s that?”
“Peter’s dad had promised him that if he graduated with a B+ average that he would get the Dodge Charger…I had been living with my uncle since my mom died and was getting into a lot of trouble. I guess Pete figured I was too much of a risk. Maybe he was right. I got expelled my senior year for fighting. Some guy pulled a knife on me, so I sent him to the hospital. Anyway, we lost all touch after that. I don’t know if he ever got the car or not.”
“What a shame,” said Abe.
“Fuck you, Abe,” said James.
Abe shook his head and said, “The attitude always starts when the adolescent memories kick in.”
James turned back to Natalie. “That’s when I met you,” he said. “I was working in my uncle’s shop, working on muscle bikes, chopping up the occasional hotbox, shit like that. Duke’s was just around the corner, so after work, I’d stop by for a beer or two. There you were, lighting up the bar. In the beginning, it was for the beer but after a while, I was coming in there just to see you…I just wanted to see you, y’know, hear how your day was. You made me smile…I know it sounds stupid, but it’s true.”
“Why didn’t you ask me out?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” grinned James. “You were always talking about these playboys you were dating; doctors, lawyers, shit like that. I mean, I was working in my uncle’s garage chopping stolen cars and fixing bikes. Wasn’t sure you’d go for a guy like me.”
Natalie rolled her eyes, “So I became a bartender did I? Ugh, how cliché…I never would have thought I would have done that as a kid…not after seeing what alcohol did to my parents.”
Jimmy laughed. “Oh, you did more than that,” he said. “A good girl you were not.”
She gasped and smacked him in the arm, “No way! What did I do? What?”
“Are you sure you want to hear this?” asked James.
“Yes!” said Natalie.
“Are you sure?” asked James.
Natalie grabbed him and gave him a shake. “Jimmy! Stop it! Yes!”
Finally, Abe could take it no more. “Oh, just tell the fucking story already!” he cried. “Jesus Christ!”
“Okay! Okay!” said James. “So, one night I come into the bar, right? It starts off just like any other night. I’m drinking my beer, you’re complaining about one of your creepy regulars and a shitty date you had the week before. You got a text from a friend asking you to come to a club…Somehow, you convinced me to go with you–”
Natalie interjected. “We went dancing? What’s so bad about that?”
“Well, I didn’t finish,” said Jimmy.
“Well, by all means,” she said. “Continue.”
“I will,” said James.
“Thank God,” said Abe.
“Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was going to say, on the way to club you stopped at your dealer’s house to grab some cocaine!”
Her hand shot up in defense. “Uh-Uh! No way!” she protested. “There’s no way in hell I did cocaine! Alcohol, maybe, but definitely not cocaine! I hated drugs as a kid.”
“Well, that may be so,” said James. “But like the skeleton told me–There’s a whole lot left of that drink. Why don’t you find out for yourself if you don’t believe me?”
“Fine,” said Natalie. “I will.”
She put her head back and swallowed a gulp. Her head dropped and shook. When she rose, she turned to James, half-smiling, and half-ashamed of herself, and said, “Ugh, that was my coke.”
James laughed and smacked his hand down on the bar.
“She remembers!” he shouted. “So, tell me, what was your grand downfall into the dark world of narcotics?”
She sat back in her seat and looked at him, “Well…you, actually.”
“What do you mean me?” asked James.
She looked down at her worn pair of Chucks, trying to put her thoughts together.
“Well…and this is kind of embarrassing, but…I had a pretty big crush on you in high school. You were a senior and I was a freshman. I would see you in the hallways or hanging in the front foyer…I thought you were such a bad boy. I mean, you smoked, you drank, you skipped class and got in fights…I guess that I just wanted to be the type of girl that a guy like you would like. I’d go fishing at the liquor store at lunch so I could have a Mickie in my purse for third and fourth period, I started smoking too…God, I wanted to impress you so much. And then, when you got expelled for fighting, I was absolutely heartbroken. I thought that was it. I thought I’d never see you again.”
“I’m sorry,” said James. “I didn’t know.”
“Don’t be,” said Natalie. “It wasn’t your fault. I was a stupid girl rebelling against the world because I was lonely. Anyway, after that, I started to sleep around a lot. I can’t tell you how many times I rode in the passenger seat up to Andrew’s Point, in some different car with some different guy that hoped I would be his conquest for the night…
“Oh, by the way. Peter did get his dad’s yellow Dodge Charger. I would see him up there a lot. He wasn’t the smoothest with the ladies though. There were many nights where his date would storm off and he would have to go roaring off after her.
“But that was my life. A free spirit, I suppose. Though sometimes I did feel chained to that lifestyle…Anyway, I got a job bar-tending at Duke’s and that’s when you started coming in. Your hands were dirty from working in the shop all day, you smelled like gasoline and cigarettes…how could I not want to fuck you, right? I couldn’t ask you out and you never made a move, so, when Shannon asked me to go to the club with her, I invited you. My heart was pounding so fast…”
“Really?” said James. “You seemed like you didn’t even care.”
Natalie blushed. “I have a good poker face. Something I learned through my years of drunken promiscuity.”
“Do you remember what happened at the club?” asked James.
“Of course,” she said. “Me and Shannon danced while you stood by the wall, as stiff as a board.”
James grinned. “I don’t dance, okay? That wasn’t something I was taught growing up.”
“Oh, you weren’t that bad,” she said. “I mean, I literally had to back into you and put your arms around my waist…but you got it.”
James smiled in reflection, “We had sex that night. I remember being scared I was going to get coke dick and fuck it all up….”
She threw her head back and laughed, “Honestly, I don’t even think the sex even mattered to me that night. I was just so happy that, after years of watching you from afar, I finally had you in my bed.”
“And that’s when I told you,” said James.
“Yup,” said Natalie. She looked down at her forearm and grazed her fingers across the tattoo. “As the sun was coming up, I made a joke that you’d probably never come by the restaurant again. That’s when you said…”
Jimmy reached over and slid his fingers into hers, saying, “When the hourglass drops its last grain of sand, I will fear not the dark if you’re holding my hand.”
Natalie smiled and pressed her lips tightly on his.
“Okay! That’s enough!” yelled Abe, waving his hands in the air. “Geese! This is purgatory, not prom night!”
Natalie pulled away and opened her eyes. “What’s with the skeleton?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you what’s with the skeleton!” Abe grunted. “Look around you! You’re dead! Pits of fire are swallowing people down into hell and you two are kissing! Am I the only one who thinks that this is absolutely bat-shit crazy?!”
“I think I know what’s bugging him,” said James.
“Oh, you do, do you?” said Abe. “Well, please then, enlighten us.”
“You’re jealous,” said James.
“And why would I be jealous?” asked Abe. “I’m sitting over here with a full cup. Meanwhile, you two have already drunk more than half!”
James shook his head. “Sure, you’re safe over there with your glass untouched. You’ll have a seat at this bar for as long as you want, long after everybody has taken their last sips and disappeared into the flames of hell. But still, Abe, I pity you.”
“And why is that?” scoffed the skeleton.
“Because everything you know has come from the experiences of someone else. You don’t know who you are, who your family is, you don’t know what brings you joy or what scares you. Sure, you can say that you’ve never felt loss but you have never felt love either. You have never loved or found out what it means to be loved. You have no idea what it means to be connected to someone. Because when you’re connected to someone it doesn’t matter if your glass is half-full or half-empty, whatever comes your way, you’ll handle it–together.”
Abe stared down at his drink. For the first time in a long time, there was no quick or witty comeback.
James turned to Natalie and said, “I can’t even remember if we saw each other again after that night. Even if we didn’t, I’m happy I met you, Natalie. I really am.”
Natalie lifted her glass. “Curious to see where this goes?”
James smiled and lifted his glass to hers. “How far do you want to take this?”
“Fuck it,” she said. “All the way.”
“You guys can’t be serious!” cried Abe. “Don’t you know what’s waiting? Hell! Fiery, burning, hell!”
Ignoring the skeleton, Natalie leaned into James and whispered, “When the hourglass drops its last grain of sand…”
Then, they squeezed each others hand tight and shot back the rest of their drink until not one drop remained.
The remaining years flashed before their eyes. Indeed, they were spent together. Images of warm summer nights on the beach, drinking beer as sounds of laughter and tide crashing softly made up the soundtrack to their life. These memories blended into whole days spent in James’ room under the thin cotton sheets, lost in each others arms, locked into each others gaze.
And even as the relationship matured with responsibilities like their first apartment, promotions and less time at home, and even other suitors, their flame for each other burned just as high as it always had.
There may have been doubts at points, some vocalized more than others. There were fights; on some days it seemed they couldn’t bear to even look at each other…but no one made her laugh like he did. On their fourth anniversary, James came running into the bedroom dressed up as Peter Pan. Natalie almost peed her pants at the sight of her tough, motorcycle riding boyfriend in lime green tights. But that’s just the kind of man Jimmy was to her; the one who held the power to make her cry, but always made her smile. The one who made her feel as if she was standing on the ledge of a skyscraper and yet she was never afraid to fall…because with him she was safe.
On the night that James proposed they drove up to Andrew’s Point after going to see ‘The Wrecks’ play at a club downtown. They sat on the bench, his leather jacket wrapped around her as she rested her head against his chest. That’s when he asked her to spend the rest of her life with him…and she said yes.
Almost on cue, out of some cheesy romance, it started to rain. Before long it was pouring down, pounding against the pavement violently. The two of them jumped on the back of James’ bike and headed quickly down the mountain. Natalie squeezed him extra tight as they came whipping around a sharp bend. That’s when they were blinded by the headlights of a sports car…a yellow Dodge Charger.
The car slammed on its breaks, losing traction and drifting into their lane. Jimmy swerved to the right, Natalie screamed into the night and then…