Sometimes you really can't help breaking promises. Sometimes you have trouble convincing yourself that you can't help it. But I'm in no mood to go there just now, so I tried to remember any story of mine that referred to a promise. I opened a folder of my many past stories, prepared to even run a search for the word "promise," but right there, almost the first piece I saw, was this one, and right away I remembered that a promise was involved, and came pretty close to the beginning. Just the thing!
This is one of the very few stories of mine that have never been published. I wrote it so long ago that I'd have to update it quite a bit for it to be usable, but I may get around to it someday. It's a ghost story, not really erotica in spite of the beginning, but I had it rejected at least once because a publisher thought that anything about lesbians must be erotica, or even porn.
In any case, it's just what I need now. The whole story is too long to bore you with here, though, so you don't get to see the ghost parts, but you do get a bit about trying to find an excuse to break a promise.
In the Flesh
The fuchsia-topped cupcake was still there in the morning. Worse, so was I. Last night some darkness all too close to my own had roiled beneath the surface of her mind, some pain as sharp-spiked as her day-glo fuchsia hair; now she was all matted bed-head and muted mood. I didn't care enough to probe.
Waking up was all I could handle. Waking from dreams of Allison, vibrant, sensuous, her breasts warm against mine, her thigh teasing my crotch... But Allie was gone.
I had thought I would hold some part of her forever, all those times I cradled her essence, shielded her, bore what I could of her pain; until that final time, her own will driving me (Go for it, Lexie, do it, Love, now, please!) when I pressed the pillow over her face and felt the life drain from her body...her spirit fade…fade…into infinite distance. Leaving me empty, and alone.
The message light pulsed in counterpoint to the throb in my head. Last night I'd ignored it; now I resigned myself to the inevitable.
"Lexie? You're still in New York?" I had a sudden, gut-wrenching hunger to hear Allie's husky-sweet voice--but it was only Janet calling, trying for casual and not quite making it. "Let me know when to meet the train again, okay?" She drew a shuddering breath. I dropped the receiver and burrowed under the pillow.
When I came up for air last night's little distraction had the phone. I’d expected her to take a stab at my wallet once I'd zonked out. Maybe, if I were lucky, a stab at me. She hadn't even picked up the bills on the dresser.
"Don't you wanna know what else she said?"
God, an emotional voyeur. My head pounded. When Allie and I were young there was no such thing as too much wine--too much anything. I curled into a ball of black misery.
"If you don't get back today she's gonna come find you. And then she said, 'Lexie, you promised!'"
"I didn't promise her!”
The musk of sex hung heavy in the air. I lurched into the bathroom, hoping she'd get the hell out. No such luck. When I stumbled out of the shower she eyed me in obvious hope of earning an honest bonus.
"I didn't think you'd be so...well, I've never been with a silver butch before."
"Yeah? You want some referrals?" A year ago my hair had still been dark. Six weeks ago, for the memorial service, I'd let Janet crop it down to the new gray. The only touch I would accept.
"You must work out or something."
"I split a lot of firewood. You don't get calluses like this at a health club."
A flush tinged her neck as she glanced at my hands, reminding me briefly of Janet. Inconsequentially I wondered whether I'd left enough wood to get the house through a Vermont winter. Janet is strong enough, and willing, but a klutz with an ax.
"The good life." I said. "Right. Fresh air, organic veggies, exercise..." I'd tilled gardens, shoveled snow, rousted bales and boxes; and all I had to show for it was the strength to carry Allison in my arms, when it came at last to that, and never stumble.
I had the right to stumble now.
"Get dressed...Nyx, is it?" Her body didn't particularly appeal to me. Fashionably bony, marginally perky; perky leaves me cold. In Allison's bountiful joys I could lose myself. But Allie was gone.
Diversion had been my goal last night, not pleasure. I couldn't remember what impulse had driven me toward Nyx, but the kid had done well enough. In reward I'd impelled her to a mewling extremity that seemed to astonish her. By her look at my callused hands, she wanted more.
Then she astonished me. "You get into people's heads, don't you."
"What, because I knew how to push your buttons?" Kids never believe in the value of experience.
"Besides that." Her neck reddened again. "I felt you at the trade show, checking me out."
She must have some rudimentary talent herself. "Yeah, well, reconnaissance never hurts," I said. "It wasn't women you were trolling for, but I figured you might settle."
That was unfair. She'd been paid to make the fuck-me leather butt-sling with the gold zipper down the back look good to buyers for leather/fetish shops. I'd been the one trolling, checking out the pseudo-street-smart section of the show. None of that stuff is right for our...my...store. What tourists will buy in the Village or Soho isn't what they're after in Vermont. Always play to the customers' fantasies.
"My boss was pissed that you didn't place an order," she said.
"Did you tell him my card had my hotel room number on it?"
"He figured. He's not so dumb."
"So are you still trying to sell me?" She had some hidden agenda, all right.
"More trying to buy something. Some help. But...it could be dangerous, and I don't have much to pay with." If she'd planned to bargain with her body, she knew now that all the bargaining power was on my side.
I started to yank on some clothes. "If it's dangerous enough I just might bite." I felt her nudging at my mind and blocked her.
She picked up on my mood anyway. "What's the matter, you into suicide or something?"
Too perceptive. But Allison had made me promise.
"Just get on with it.”
"I need to find somebody. I mean, I know where he is, sort of, but...he isn't really there."
I sprawled on the chair and covered my eyes. Was this going anywhere? If there was ever a time for a cigarette! But I hadn't had any for fifteen years. Could ignoring the Surgeon General's warning be considered a suicide attempt?
"Tim is...was...my room-mate, a real sweet kid from Kansas. We helped each other through some tough shit, had sort of a trust thing going. Not much sex because of his medication, which didn't matter to me; I kinda like women better anyway, but there's more to love than that, isn't there?"
I grunted assent.
"It mattered to him, though. He stopped his meds and got so paranoid I couldn't get him on them again. Somebody told me about a doctor who treats that kind of stuff without pills, and I talked Tim into going, but after his second appointment he just...didn't come back."
"Did you check out the doctor?"
"Her office wouldn't give me the time of day. Neither would the police. Known crazies aren't high priority on the missing persons list."
"But you know where he is." I'd given up hope of anything useful, but it wouldn't hurt to let her vent.
She sat cross-legged on the bed. "Yeah, but...it's him and not him. A girl I know works at a health club near Washington Square. A couple of weeks ago she saw him there, and when she checked the club register he had a different name and an upscale address. I cruised that neighborhood till I saw him, but...he really, really didn't know me! He brushed me off, hard, and the doorman wouldn't let me past. And then, when I was almost home, I felt somebody following me, and started to turn around, and a knife whipped right by my neck and into the door! Clipped my ear right here."
The scar might have been from a torn-out earring. If anything, it had been only a warning; there are less dramatic tools than knives for getting rid of somebody.
"Lucky move, huh? Anything else?"
"I didn't wait to find out. Been crashing at my brother's place in Jersey."
"Why didn't you stay there? And why the hell are you trusting me?"
"I've gotta know what's happening! Besides, the modeling gig was lined up already, and my sister-in-law doesn't feed me for free." She let the spread slide from her naked body and flopped back, legs splayed. "Anyway, you were pretty up front about what you wanted." She wriggled her skinny hips.
"So are you, but I'm not in the mood now. Look, I'd like to help, but there's nothing illegal about multiple personalities."
"Tim had delusions, sure, but not that multiple stuff! And...something else. I looked real close to be sure it was him, and saw a humongous scar on the back of his neck going up under his hair."
Right. Maybe the guy's delusions were contagious. "Who told you about this doctor?"
"The bartender at a club in Chelsea. The Gay Cuntessa."
"No shit, they really call it that? We just used to kid about it when it was Marlene's, twenty years ago.” She gaped at me. "Hey, I haven't always lived in Vermont."
I hadn't looked there for diversion for fear somebody would recognize me and ask about Allison. Sooner or later I'd have to face it. If there had to be a later.
"Okay." I swung to my feet and waited for the pounding in my head to subside. "I'll pump the bartender and maybe go by the doctor's office. I'll take a stroll by your guy's place. But even if I get a chance to probe I won't know whether he's himself, since I've never met him."
"I could come with you...."
"I'll call if I need you. Get some room service. If I'm not back in twenty-four hours--well, tell Janet I was helping out a friend."
As good an excuse for breaking my promise as I’d ever find. I could walk now, cease to exist, loose ends as tied-off as they'd ever be. Janet would get the house and store. She'd kept the business going when Allison got too sick for me to leave; she deserved more than I could ever give her.