By Christina Harlin
Continued from December 4, 2008
There was the briefest moment of hesitation from her and then she sighed and melted against him, her slim pale arms winding around his neck and her lips parting beneath his. Blake, who had half-expected her to withdraw and slap him, or teleport him to another awkward scenario, hauled her into a deep and penetrating kiss. He could drown in the sweet golden smell of her, the long languorous stroking of her mouth against his. His hands molded to her back, feeling the tawny smooth skin beneath the very thin film of her golden gown, then stroked up her bare shoulders to wind into the heavy silk of her hair. Her tongue beckoned his to penetrate deeper into her mouth, and she arched her back so that her body—
Then someone turned a page. Dimly he recalled that they were standing in the room with his ex-fiancée, who was waiting on her husband. Holly heard it to, because abruptly she pulled back, disentangling herself from him with an “Oh my goodness. Well. That was . . . my apologies, Blake. I really shouldn’t have. That is, it’s not professional. That is, it’s been a rather long time since I kissed anyone, and I shouldn’t have.”
Blake glanced to the oblivious Tabitha, then back to Holly’s face. He was breathing hard and there was a deep hungry ache in the pit of his stomach that he hadn’t felt in years, and that he wasn’t sure he’d ever felt so strongly. If Holly had been watching him for as long as she said, the relationship must have been strangely mutual because he felt as if he’d known her for years. Something occurred to him and he asked, puzzled, “A shark and a bicycle?”
In another pop of changing reality, they were standing on a busy city sidewalk, snowflakes drifting around them as shoppers moved back and forth in a Christmas Eve rush. The world was alight with holiday decorations, music and excited voices. Blake felt as if he’d been dropped into a movie scene.
“I was a photojournalist for a newspaper in an eastern seaboard town,” Holly explained. “Someone caught a shark down at the docks, so I drove down to get a shot of it. But word had gotten out and people were coming from all over to see the shark, especially kids. A girl on her bicycle was so excited that she shot out in front of me through an intersection and I swerved to miss her, and drove right into a bus.”
Blake, who had never heard anyone relate the tale of their own death before, was at a loss for words. He almost told her he was sorry, but then said, “It was a traffic accident. You died in a car crash.”
“But you say that it was an unfortunate incident with a shark and a bicycle.”
“You just say it that way to make your death sound more interesting, don’t you?”
Holly pursed her lips. “No I don’t.”
“Sure you do,” he teased. “What’s the matter, does everyone you work with have a more interesting death?”
“Can’t be that interesting,” she muttered. “Took you half an hour to ask about it.”
“I think it’s so cute that you embellish your death.”
Holly glanced around them with her fair cheeks flaming. “You should be nicer to me. I’m doing you a huge favor.”
“Showing me the error of my ways?”
“No, giving you time to shop.” She gestured at the glowing windows of the department store in front of them. “I have a certain amount of play within the time/space continuum, and I want you to be able to take real presents to your niece and nephews tomorrow.”
“Am I solid now?” He referred to his whole body, though certain parts of him felt more solid than others, thanks to their embrace of a minute before. He waved at a passing stranger. “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas!” the stranger called back.
Blake started in surprise. Then he said to Holly, “I can’t go shopping in my bathrobe.”
“You can shop in your bathrobe, or you can go to Christmas dinner empty-handed.” Holly produced something else out the folds of her gown. A handful of cash—a lot of cash. “Here, use this.”
“Ghosts use money?”
“It’s not mine. I just took it out of your bank account. Now, think like a kid, not like an adult shopping for a kid, and try to enjoy yourself.”
At first Blake did not enjoy himself, because department stores were unfamiliar to him and the atmosphere of last minute shoppers was oppressive. Luckily, so hurried were the employees and shoppers that no one seemed to take any notice at all of his strange attire, or that fact that he was accompanied by a beautiful woman in a long golden negligee that was, if anything, less appropriate than his own pajamas. Maybe they could not see her? It was not until he observed, with something like horror, the consumer nightmare of toy department that he felt the gleam of inspiration. “Wait. This is wrong. We need camping supplies.”
“Camping supplies?” exclaimed Holly.
“Logan is a budding outdoorsman. And can you do me a favor? Go to the luggage department and find a complete set of luggage for a young woman, something with a designer label. Tracy is a jetsetter.”
“Tracy is nine.”
“Then pick out something lightweight.”
“Are you encouraging these kids to run away from home?” Holly asked dubiously.
“Meet me in art supplies in fifteen minutes!” he cried, rushing away toward the outdoors department.
Holly did as he asked, turning up in art supplies as scheduled with a harried young clerk wheeling six lovely little fawn-colored pieces of luggage. Blake at this point looked like a man about to go on a hike, with a rugged backpack, rolled sleeping bag and outdoor lantern slung over his shoulder. “We need an easel, a big one, some canvases, a set of oil paints.” These were for Henry, his nephew the aspiring artist. “A drop cloth too,” he said, in deference to Henry’s mother. With these bulky purchases and an additional clerk in tow, they went to a cashier to pay.
As they waited in the long line he said to Holly, “Can you use a little of your mojo and somehow magically transport this stuff to the trunk of my car?”
Holly seemed about to argue until she looked carefully at the sparkle in his eyes. Then she relented. “I can probably arrange that. Christmas Past is still in the greenroom in case we needed him again.” When they got to the counter Blake unloaded the supplies on his back, and Holly could see one actual toy among all these things: a stuffed animal poking its head out of the top of the backpack.
“What is that, a fish?” she asked, stroking its peek-a-boo nose.
“It’s a shark,” said Blake with a wink. “That one is for you.”
When she returned him to his own bedroom, Holly held the toy shark with a red ribbon decorating its neck. She exclaimed, “I haven’t gotten a Christmas gift since . . .well, since my last Christmas alive.” She gave the plushy shark an affectionate squeeze. “But it’s mean of you to tease me, still.”
“I’m not teasing you, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about how you died. You gave your own life rather than hurting that girl on the bike.”
“Oh, my,” said Holly. “Well really it was just a reflex, I didn’t have time to think it through that carefully.”
“Now who’s selling herself short?” Blake’s gaze was warm on her face. “So you have to leave me now?”
“Yes,” she replied with a sigh. “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is due in about five minutes, to really drive our point home.”
“It is necessary? I understand what you’ve been saying. I have to embrace my passion, and once I do, I’ll be able to embrace everything in my life. I get it.”
“Regulations state that you have a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come,” insisted Holly. “These lessons don’t work well unless there’s a really good jolt at the end of it.”
“I got a pretty good jolt when I kissed you.”
Hurriedly Holly looked away. Blake took a step toward her and said, “How about we give Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come the night off, and you spend the rest of it with me?”
She pretended to be shocked, but it didn’t come off well against the rapid rise and fall of her chest. “Blake, we only just met.”
“No we didn’t. You’ve been watching me for a long time, and I’ve felt you watching me. You’re that voice I’ve been hearing, the one that has been telling me that I should try to be happy.”
Her eyes flew to his face. “How did you know?”
“Because every time I’ve heard that voice, I’ve smelled sugar cookies.” He came another step closer, reached out and took her chin in his fingers. “You’re the most beautiful ghost I’ve ever seen.”
He lowered his head and kissed her gently, the stuffed shark squishing between them. Holly relaxed into the embrace, a moan deep in her throat that made Blake want to chase it right to its source and pull it long and slow out of her. His mouth left her lips to trace a hot sweet line down her neck to the hollow of her throat. As he did, Holly murmured, “You’ve only met two ghosts, and the other one was Christmas Past.”
Mr. McSharky was given a comfortable place to wait on Blake’s dresser as Blake guided Holly to his bed, following her down onto the rumpled blankets she had pulled him from earlier that night. He pushed a strap of her golden gown off one creamy shoulder, dropped a hot kiss there and said against her ear, “I have been wondering all night, what kind of underwear a ghost might have on under something like this.”
“You’re kind of a kinky devil, aren’t you?” asked Holly with a giggle, then she rolled him over and was sitting astride him, her gown slipping off her shoulders, her hair ablaze in the dim glow of his bedside lamp. Just as she was about to wriggle out of her gown completely, there came a sharp knock on his bedroom door.
Holly and Blake jumped, looking wildly to the source of the noise.
“Who is it?” shouted Blake.
“Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come,” replied a voice with a heavy Brooklyn accent. “I’m your three o’clock.”
“We’re not finished,” said Holly, straightening her straps. “Could you come back in a couple hours, Marv?”
“A couple hours!” cried the disembodied voice through the door. “Holly, come on, what’s takin’ so long?”
With an apologetic look at Blake, Holly climbed off the bed and rushed to the door. She opened it a crack, giving Blake a glimpse of a bulky figure in a black cloak and hood. “I really don’t think we’ll need to do the future thing tonight, Marv. Blake has promised that he’s going to embrace my passion—his passion, and, um, find joy.”
Marv peered out from under the black hood at his coworker. “Fine time to tell me. I coulda gone to the Who-Saves-Santa mystery party.”
“You can still make it in time for the reveal,” Holly brightly suggested.
Marv harrumphed and, grumbling, “I knew this one only needed a good—” he vanished from sight, leaving glittering dust motes behind him. Holly closed the door and turned back to Blake, propped on his elbows on his bed.
“Come back here,” he pleaded.
She did so, effortlessly losing her gown as she crossed the room. As to underwear, it seemed that this particular ghost wasn’t in the habit of wearing any.
“I promise I’m not the man I was,” said Blake.
She slipped onto the bed beside him, curled into his embrace. “You’re only saying that because I’m here to help you. We’ve got to fix you good.”
“Speaking of which, what are you doing for Christmas tomorrow?”
“My schedule is wide open. I only work one night a year.”
“That’s good. Cause it might take a long time to set me straight.”
“There must be a finale tonight,” said a stern Holly. She warned, “Prepare yourself for the jolt of a lifetime.”
He couldn’t help himself. He had to say it. “God bless us, everyone.” Then Holly stopped his laughter with a kiss.
Happy Holidays, and thanks for reading!