Free Short Stories:
Slow Dancing with the One I Love
originally published in Dirty Little Secrets
By: Jae El Foster
Copyright 2006, 2019
Travis sat on the edge of his bed, mourning the death of his partner, whose body still lay beside him. Ben was snug under the covers. His eyes were shut, as if he was sleeping. Travis knew that this was not so. He had spent what seemed hours trying to wake him. He had shaken him, cried out his name, and then he had simply cried. Ben would never wake up again.
After two cups of coffee and more than a handful of cigarettes, he made his way to the telephone. His fingers did not want to press the digits no matter how he tried, but somehow he managed to call for help.
“I can’t wake him up,” he whispered to the operator. “He won’t wake up…”
Paramedics and a coroner arrived within fifteen minutes. An autopsy was ordered, and Travis was told he would know the cause of death in a few days. Until then, he could start notifying people of Ben’s passing and begin the funeral proceedings.
It was two days later when he learned the results. Ben’s heart had simply given out. He had died peacefully, most probably without even a splinter of pain. Overwhelmed with a bit of happiness, Travis cried from the news. Ben had died painlessly, but Travis suddenly realized all of the pain had been left for him. The person that he loved more than anyone else in the world had died and left him alone.
He would never again hear the sweet laughter of his love as they enjoyed popcorn and a comedy on late-night television. He would never again feel the warm touch of Ben’s hand or his welcoming lips. They could never cry together, dream together, or love together again.
Travis wondered if he could ever love anyone else at all…
The tearing ache in his heart kept him locked in his room until the day of the funeral. It was Sunday and he was forced from bed and into the shower by Jackie, Ben’s older sister.
“If you think I’m going to let you just sit there and waste yourself away,” she warned, “you are sadly mistaken!”
“I just want to sleep,” he begged, dropping down to his knees in a raging sob.
“There will be plenty of time for this later. Right now, we have to get you cleaned up and dressed. What would Ben think if he knew you missed his funeral?”
“He would probably think, ‘Man, I guess maybe I shouldn’t have died’!”
It was a poor attempt at humor – if it was that, even. Still, Jackie was motivated and had a goal, and Travis was powerless to stand in her way. Before he could second-think her again, he was cleaned and dressed in a freshly pressed black suit.
“I can’t wear this,” he whispered, shaking his head. “Ben hated black at funerals. He preferred red.”
“If you show up wearing red, everyone will think you’re a whore,” she smiled, dabbing a bit of sweat from his temple.
There were a great many people at the funeral. For Travis, it was overwhelming. Always the one to provide a smile to a saddened face, he failed to do this, as he was the one who needed a smile. Many friends offered this, and so much more, but it did not help. These were not the smiles he needed.
He only needed Ben’s…
It was after the third speaker when he excused himself to the restroom and ducked out a side exit. In a frustrated fury, he raced himself home, locked all of the doors, drew every curtain, and shut off every light. Then he undressed down to his tank top and boxer shorts and mechanically moved up the stairs to his bedroom. Here, too, he shut the door, locked it, and drew the curtains.
Closing his eyes, he drifted off to sleep while praying for his own death to arrive.
When he woke again, it was night. With the curtains closed, no moonlight drifted in through the window, and he was sealed in total blackness. He had not eaten or drank a thing but gallons of water in over two days and his bladder cried for released.
Stepping to the floor, he found it rather cold against his bare feet. It sent shivering goose bumps crawling up his legs, then his spine, and finally hitting his brain causing an instant headache.
In the bathroom, he neither flipped on the light nor checked to ensure that the toilet seat was lifted. He simply let his stream flow, hearing it splatter a time or two against the porcelain commode. When he finished, he tucked himself back inside his boxers and moved slowly from the room. The toilet went unflushed.
Back in the bedroom, he stared out the window at the full moon shining brightly from above. He yawned deeply and climbed back into his bed. It was as he began to drift off to sleep when he realized the curtains had been pulled.
Still… somehow, he managed to slip back to another dreamless, restless sleep.
In the morning, he woke again to the sound of the telephone ringing. He could hear the machine in the room below him pick up, and he waited with tired ears to hear the voice of the caller.
“Travis,” Jackie taunted via telephone. “I noticed you stepped out a bit early yesterday… I’m just calling to make sure you are okay. We are all quite worried.” Her tone was that of a high school counselor. “Okay, then… I guess I’ll try again later!”
It was still another five seconds or so before she gave up and the line went dead.
“Ug…” he groaned, rolling over onto his stomach and hiding his head underneath his pillow. The pillow smelled sweet… much like Ben’s hair after he would freshly wash it. With a tear in his eye, Travis looked to the window. The curtains were still pulled fully open, just as he had noticed last night. He had thought it may have been a dream, but he hadn’t dreamed in nights…
“Why did you leave me?” he asked softly, looking out into the sky. “Why didn’t you take me with you…?” Again, he cried.
It was upon another sniffle when he felt the comforting hand rest on his shoulder. With a frighten jerk, he leapt from the bed and back to the floor. Looking frantically around, he saw nothing.
“Who’s there,” he asked. His eyes roamed every inch of space he could see. “I felt someone touch me, and damn it, who’s there?”
His questions were the roar of an angry lion.
When no one answered, he blamed the touch on the drafty old house and he let his nerves relax.
Now, staring down at his big empty bed frightened him a bit. He realized that he had slept in the same spot where Ben had died, and he had not changed the sheets. Kneeling slowly down, he sniffed them. Like the pillow, they still held his scent.
In fact, the whole room seemed to smell of Ben now. He could smell him in the curtains and coming from the air vent. He could smell him on the wood of the dresser and the walls. He could smell him with every step on the hardwood floor he took as he quickly fled the room.
Back in the bathroom, he flipped on the light and twisted on the cold water. Splashing some against his flesh, he stared up at his own reflection. His eyes were dark and bloodshot, as if he had not slept a bit. In actuality, that was all he had done. His skin was paler than normal, and it almost appeared gray. It had thinned greatly from lack of nutrition. His hair was messy and disheveled, standing up here and sticking out there. From behind him, Ben stared with a smile.
“Shit,” he cried, spinning around on his bare heels.
Ben or no one else stood there. He was alone in the bathroom.
He was going crazy. It was the only explanation. Ben’s death had done something very bad to him, and now he was going nuts. Everywhere he turned, he could smell him… and now he could see him, too.
Twisting the faucet off, he rushed from the bathroom and down the large case of stairs to the first floor. Here, the house felt rather warm.
He could hear the air conditioner running in the background. It hummed gently, as if it were successfully cooling the whole house. However, it felt like he was in a sauna, fully dressed in winter clothing.
Travis pulled his now sweaty tank top from his body and threw it carelessly to the floor. His boxers were sweaty also, and they clung terribly to his skin. Still, he left them on, in case he was frightened from the house…
He did not know why that thought came into his mind. This was his home… it was Ben’s home. There was nothing frightening here. There was art, antiques, black and white photographs, and their wedding tuxedos hanging on one wall… Everything was lovely and comforting. On the mantle, Ben’s photographs brightened up the room, and his diplomas and certifications hung by a corner above the potted rubber tree.
Still… it was so hot…
Feeling very thirsty, he edged across the foyer and down the hall to the kitchen. The refrigerator was nearly empty, but all he wanted was water. Taking the jug in his hand, he let it fill his body with coolness.
As he turned around, the jug fell from his hands to the floor, spraying water across the tile. His eyes nearly bulged from his head as he saw the hot plate of food sitting at the table. A fork and napkin had been placed beside it. Hot coffee was in a mug, and orange juice sat ready in a tall glass.
There were things there that had not been in the house for days.
“What is going on here,” he questioned as he slowly moved to the plate. Somebody has been in my house!”
Although not the least bit hungry, something inside of him made him pull out a chair, sit down, and begin eating. Once he had finished, he wondered if he had even chewed it, as every last bit of the eggs, sausage, toast, grits, and fluids were completely gone.
“Jackie,” he whispered, slowly shaking his head. “Damn her…”
He could blame the food on Ben’s sister, but he could not blame her for what he heard next.
From where he sat, he could see clearly into the living room, and he stared blankly at the entertainment system as the stereo somehow flipped on. He could not believe it, but music began to softly flow from the speakers in into his weary ears. The song was “Simple Minded,” and it was the song he and Ben had claimed as their own. They had danced to it on their first date, and they had danced to it at their wedding. They had made love to it more times than he could remember, and they had been the only ones to know about it being their song.
Easing from his chair, Travis tripped his way into the living room. He could see the stereo very clearly now, and there was no one else in the room. He eyed everything suspiciously. The stairs were still empty, and the room had cooled somewhat. Rather unusual, however, were the tuxedos on the wall. There was only one of them there. Ben’s had been removed.
“Who’s here?” He screamed, feeling quite angry. Someone was trying to mess with him. “Come out now and I won’t whoop your ass as badly as if I have to hunt you down!”
“Don’t be angry,” the voice called from behind. It was faint and wispy, but it was distinctly Ben’s.
The glowing man stood only feet away from him, dressed stunningly in his wedding tux. Travis took a whimpered breath and fell down onto the floor.
“Don’t be frightened, either,” said the ghost. “You haven’t been treating yourself very well since I’ve been gone…”
“Simple Minded” played continuously in the background…
“You… you died,” Travis whispered, wondering if Ben was really there. Maybe… possibly… had he finally gone crazy?
“You can’t blame yourself for losing me…” Ben whispered, moving a step forward.
“I blame for your leaving me… I don’t blame myself…”
His words had been honest, but they had been painful. Still, the apparition did not move away. Instead, his glow intensified.
“I… I never got to say goodbye…”
Ben listened lovingly as his partner spoke, and when he had finished, he embraced him in a hug warmer than anything he had ever felt. When he stepped away, Travis was also dressed in his tuxedo.
As the music continued to coo from the stereo, Ben offered a magical hand. “Could I have this last dance?”
Travis found it impossible to refuse. Taking the luminous hand in his own, he moved closely to his husband and feel weakly into his arms. Ben held onto him, leading him slowly across the floor. Closing his eyes, Travis felt as if nothing had every happened, and that this moment was the only moment of his life. The floor disappeared from beneath him, and as his eyes re-opened he saw that they were floating.
In the air, they danced to their song until the sun had set far beyond the horizon and the moon became leader of the sky again. Then, as the last chord of “Simple Minded” rang into they air, they landed back onto the floor and Ben took a step away.
“I have to leave now,” he said, batting his blue eyes and cocking up his chin.
“Will I see you again?” asked Travis, taking the ghost’s hand back in his.
“You will… but not for many years I hope. You are young,” he whispered, “and you have a lot of love left to share.”
“I love you,” Travis cried, pulling the spirit back to him. He kissed him long and deep for too short of a time, and when he looked back into Ben’s eyes, the ghost faded away. The tuxedo fell empty down to the floor.
Travis continued to mourn the loss of Ben for many years, but he had learned to live again, and because of Ben, he had remembered how to love. Ben’s spirit wasn’t seen again in the house. Yet, late at night when his dreams were empty and his heart was full, Travis would dress in his tuxedo, turn on “Simple Minded,” and slow dance with the memory of the one he loved.
Copyright Jae El Foster, 2019