Always trust your gut, especially when it tells you it’s time to let go. If I had, I never would have proposed.
Kayla was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. From the second I laid eyes on her, I wanted to make her mine. I should have known it would never work out. On our very first date, when she mentioned Daniel, I should have turned tail and run the other way.
Daniel was her former lover. Not her ex, mind you. No, it wasn’t by choice that they parted ways. Fate, as Kayla tearfully informed me, had decided to do that for them. I guess what happened was old Danny boy got a flat tire on some stretch of highway or other. As he was down there trying to fix it, a semi whizzed by. The other driver never even saw him. The way Kayla told me, they could only really scrape so much of him off the pavement.
I remember watching her cry as she remembered all the gory details. What should have stuck out as a red flag turned into a moment of manly hubris. I saw her pain and thought---no, I knew I could take it away. I would be the one to save her, pull her out of the pit of despair, and teach her how to love again. I would be her hero, kiss her tears away, and turn our lives into some shitty pop song cliche. Oh well. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.
At the time, though, not even his picture, displayed prominently in her apartment, could dissuade me. When she took it down and put it in a drawer so we could make love, I was encouraged. Progress, I thought.
We made love for hours, and I managed to forget all about “the other man.” As soon as I drifted off to sleep, however, everything came flooding back. That was when I had the first nightmare.
In my dream, I woke to see a figure standing at the foot of my bed, illuminated in the darkness of the room. It was him. Daniel.
He stared me down, fading in and out like static on a television. I tried looking away, but no matter where I looked, there he was. I tried closing my eyes, but every time I opened them again, there he was. He was inescapable. And every time I looked, he got worse. Wounds formed. Tire tracks appeared, gruesomely flattening parts of him. Every time I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
Finally, all I could do was sit there, frozen in fear, with my eyes locked on his. Slowly, he lifted one of his mangled arms and reached out for me. He was just about to make contact when I woke up with a start.
My eyes darted around the room, looking for any sign of anyone who shouldn’t be there. Of course, there was no one. Only Kayla lay beside me, completely undisturbed. Even with her mouth hanging open to let the rhythmic, squeaking snores escape, she was beautiful. The sight of her calmed me. I thanked my lucky stars, settled back in, and was asleep again in no time.
I woke up feeling great. In spite of the nightmare, I’d had my best sleep in a long time. Kayla sat up beside me and kissed me good morning. After a brief recap of the night before, and a few more pecks, she leaned over, opened her drawer, and fished out Daniel’s picture to put it back where she’d had it.
Oh well, I remember thinking. At least she kissed me first. It was a small consolation, and it couldn’t hold up to the way she tenderly brushed her fingers over the picture frame.
I couldn’t let it get to me, though. I couldn’t let myself lose sight of the goal. Every mention of Daniel, every sighting of his picture, every nightmare just reminded me that Kayla needed me. I was good for her. I reasoned that, if I was having nightmares about the guy, then she must be suffering even more. I just had to rescue her from this dead man’s clutches.
And, to be honest, the moments when Daniel wasn’t haunting us were great. Before I knew it, a year had passed and the time just felt… right. I proposed to Kayla at the little coffee shop downtown where she and I (and Daniel) had had our first date. To tell you the truth, I was mildly surprised when she said yes, and seemed happy about it.
If only I had known what she was planning.
“Do you think we should light a candle for Daniel during the ceremony, or afterwards at the reception?” she asked.
I choked on my Skittles. She was joking, right? “Excuse me?” I replied.
“The candle we’re going to light for Daniel,” she said. “When should we do it?”
I searched her face for a hint of irony, but there was none to be found. Instead, she beamed up at me as if her question had been every bit as normal as “What color should the Maid of Honor wear?”
“Honey,” I said, “we’re not lighting a candle for Daniel at the wedding.”
Pain flashed in her eyes. “Why not?”
I sighed. “Because it’s our day.”
“So what?” she spat, her lip quivering. “He’ll be there in spirit.”
Every muscle in my body tensed. “Baby,” I began, reaching for her wrists.
She pulled away violently. “No, Troy!” she shouted. “You don’t want Daniel at the wedding, do you?”
I wanted to shout, “No! Of course not! Why would I? I’m fucking sick and tired of sharing you with a fucking corpse!” but none of it came out. I searched for the right words. “It’s supposed to be our day---”
“Yeah,” she cut me off. “Our day to do it how we want it.”
“And I want Daniel there!”
The next thing I knew, I had a door in my face, and that was effectively the end of the conversation.
At the wedding, I couldn’t relax. She lit her candle during the ceremony. I felt like a cuckolded fool, and the glances I caught and the whispers I heard only confirmed that I was the laughing stock of the whole event.
And still I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this would be it, I hoped. Maybe this would finally be what she needed to put his damn picture away and leave his ghost in the goddamn ditch where it belonged.
As the night drew to a close, my hopes only climbed. With every touch and every kiss, I found myself more and more forgiving. At last, the festivities were over, and we were alone together.
“Are you ready?” I asked her between kisses. “You know the wedding’s not complete without….” I couldn’t finish my sentence without taking my new wife’s lips yet again.
“I have an idea,” she said. “Why don’t you go start a shower?” Her eyes glowed with a devilish glee. “You know how much I like that.”
She didn’t have to ask me twice. I practically jumped out of my clothing and sprinted for the shower. There, I made sure the water was just the right temperature. As it hit my palm, I imagined Kayla’s body, naked and glistening, thinking I’d never get tired of that sight, no matter how long we were married or how long I lived.
I was so lost in my own fantasies that I barely noticed as the minutes ticked by. It wasn’t until my eyes happened to land on the wall clock that I realized that a whole twenty minutes had gone by. What the hell? I wondered. Was something wrong?
Slowly, I pulled myself up and made my way to the bathroom door. I opened it a crack and got a clear line of sight into our bedroom. Immediately, I wished I hadn’t.
Kayla lay on the bed in the fetal position. Even from the doorway, I could tell she was upset. In her arms, she clutched that fucking picture of Daniel.
I lost my shit. I threw the door wide open. It hit the opposite wall and startled her upright.
“What the fuck, Kayla?!” I demanded.
“What is wrong with you?!” she shot back, as if I were behaving unreasonably.
“I’m waiting in the goddamn bathroom to fuck my new wife, and you’re in here cuddling with that fucking picture!” The hot and angry tears came unexpectedly. “When are you going to stop this bullshit?! He’s dead, Kayla! Dead!”
She jumped to her feet, still clinging to the picture. “How dare you?!”
“How dare I what?” I answered. “Tell you the truth? Somebody has to! He’s fucking dead! He’s a highway pancake and he’s never coming back!”
She screamed wildly, and the corner of the picture frame smashed into my jaw. The taste of blood filled my mouth. Rage blinded me. In a moment of pure, animal instinct, I struck out and made contact with the side of her face. Down she went with a thud.
Silence fell. For a moment, I just stared at Kayla. My plans for the evening had involved my wife and my cock, but not coldcocking her. I dropped to my knees and checked her for any sign of life. It was there, thank God, but I knew that whatever life she had left wouldn’t have me in it. As despair crept over me, I spotted the picture of Daniel, bloodied but unbroken, just a foot or so away.
Despair turned back into rage. In one swift motion, I seized the picture and jumped to my feet. With every bit of strength I could muster, I brought it down hard against the bedpost, sending shards of glass and splinters of wood flying it all directions. What remained in my hands, I threw on the floor with a triumphant scream.
My victory cry was short-lived. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. Turning my head, I learned that I was not alone.
Daniel stood there, looking as broken and destroyed as ever. Just as he had in my dream, he faded in and out. This time, however, he got closer and closer with every reappearance. I couldn’t move. My chest squeezed and pounded. Daniel flashed nearer and nearer, holding out his hand the whole time.
At last, he was an inch away from me. I wanted to scream, but couldn’t when he suddenly wrapped his arms tightly around my body. They had a weight to them, as if he were a real person of flesh and blood, but as stony and cold as death. They wrapped around me tighter and tighter.
And then, suddenly, he stopped. He was still there, but the tightening had ceased. Slowly, I realized that, while I was being squeezed slightly, I was in no pain. What the hell? I finally thought. Is he… hugging me?
My answer came in the form of a breathy whisper against my right ear.
A second later, a warm breeze swept through the room and Daniel was gone.
And so I was alone with my unconscious wife once more. Suddenly exhausted, I flopped down onto the bed and pinched the bridge of my nose to fight the oncoming headache. How was I going to explain this bullshit to a divorce lawyer? “Irreconcilable differences” didn’t quite seem to cover it.
Written by Jdeschene