Something woke him.
Jasper lay, buried up to his chin beneath the heavy wool comforter in the special burgundy duvet cover Timothy had bought when he moved in.
“We deserve something special in the bedroom, don’t you think?”
“More special than the sex?” Jasper had quipped.
Timothy had swatted Jasper’s ass, knowing it would get him in the best kind of trouble. A trouble both of them enjoyed.
Timothy lay beside him now, fast asleep in the cold air. An occasional snore punctuated his soft breathing. Jasper smiled, appreciating the warmth of his partner’s body, listening to the wind smacking a branch against the rooftop.
He heard no other sounds. A single shaft of light broke the right-hand edge of the black-out curtains, the same way it always did. He could never seem to get the curtains pulled evenly closed, no matter how hard he tried.
So why was he awake? Jasper scanned the quiet bedroom, the sleeping Craftsman
bungalow. Nothing. But now that he was awake, he may as well get up and pee.
Swinging his legs out from the covers, he hissed as the cold air hit his naked legs. He stretched his toes out, feeling around on the soft rug for his slippers. Couldn’t find them. Oh well. He’d be back in the warm bed again soon enough.
Jasper grabbed his flannel robe from the bedpost and eased into it, belting it around his belly. He padded his way through the bedroom, navigating around the heavy furniture by that single shaft of light. He followed the soft glow of the bathroom nightlight down the hall, halfway there, he heard a noise. A soft rattling of keys, knocking against a wallet chain.
A noise he hadn’t heard since nineteen ninety-two, when gay men, hip hop heads, bikers, and punks all tethered the leather wallets in their back pockets to a leather snap tab that held their keys by a heavy chain. When you slipped your keys into the front pocket of your jeans, they clinked against the chain.
There it was again.
Yeah. They clinked against the chain in just that way. And when you also had a drilled AA chip clipped to the chain, the sound was even more specific.
The soft noise came from the kitchen, a jingling counterpoint to the click and hum of the refrigerator.
As Jasper approached the kitchen, the smell burned cloves smacked him in the face. He stumbled against the wall, shoulder displacing one of the framed photos he could barely see. Dark shapes. Rectangles and squares. Ghosts of moments, happy and bittersweet.
Ghosts of moments, like standing outside a nightclub South of Market, waiting for the most handsome man he’d ever seen to finish the goddamn clove cigarette and kiss him again.
The most handsome man, muscular. Hard. With a scratchy beard and a wicked smile.
Of course. It was Solstice Eve. What was it about ghosts and the longest night? Last year it was Nanna, coming to visit him. This year it was…
“Danny.” The name was another ghost in the dark hallway, the shape of it on his lips, once so familiar, the taste of it like a kiss made of cloves and nicotine and smoke.
Danny always loved the Winter Solstice, as much as Jasper’s nanna had.
On Solstice Eve, he would drag Jasper out in the damn cold dark of the longest night. They would race through the city on the growling bike, Jasper tucked behind the wind block of Danny’s back, to meet up with his witchy friends all the way to the ocean at the western edge of San Francisco. Whooping and laughing, the group of men would stumbled down the dunes, build a massive fire on the sand and dance.
Danny would strip down to his skin and run, arms and legs flashing ghostly white, into the freezing cold brine. He bellowed as the water smacked his chest and then dunk himself under. Those few seconds when he disappeared always made Jasper nervous.
But Danny would surface, sputtering and laughing. Whooping with the joy of being alive.
His face when he returned to the fire would be lit up brighter than any Yule tree. Jasper would wrap him up in a warm blanket and then, feet buried in the sand, kiss Danny’s salt water mouth until they both were breathless.
After that? They would head back to Danny’s apartment and fuck until sunrise.
Jasper froze, there in the hallway. He should go back to bed. Back to Timothy’s slender warm—and very alive—body. Instead, he stood, toes curling on the cold wood floor that Timothy was always complaining about. He wanted a carpet runner. Jasper was holding out. He liked the wood. He liked the cold. He liked…
He rubbed a rough hand over his face. “Do your job, man.”
His job. As if Danny could ever be just another job. Just another ghost to send on its way.
The chain clinked again. Jasper half swore he heard the snick of a cap being levered off a bottle of soda.
Jasper straightened up, wrapped the robe more firmly around his sagging belly, and padded, slowly, toward the kitchen.
Sure enough, half caught in a shaft of the Winter Solstice moon through the window over the kitchen sink, there was Danny, sipping on a shimmering bottle of soda. He always liked his caffeine any way he could take it.
Leaning against the kitchen counter, with one denim clad hip cocked, black leather boots crossed at the ankle. Jasper could see the outline of them under the jeans, just below the knee. They were the sort of boots a man could worship, if that man was so inclined.
Once upon a time, Jasper was that man. These days, he was the one getting his boots polished, but with Danny? Damn. Jasper had made those suckers shine.
Jasper walked closer. Danny shimmered around the edges, not quite solid. He smiled again, this time flashing cigarette stained teeth.
Hey, Lover. Danny’s voice was an echo in Jasper’s ears. For such a big man, he had a surprisingly high, musical voice. They used to laugh about how the fucking choir boy had turned into a big, gay, Daddy.
Hey, Daddy. Jasper swiped at his eyes. Tears. He was crying. He hadn’t cried for a long time. But then, he hadn’t called anyone Daddy for even longer.
See you’ve got yourself someone, now. Hope he’s being good to you.
Jasper nodded and wrapped his arms around his chest. He and Danny stared at each other. Danny took a sip of ghostly beer.
“What do you need?” Jasper finally said out loud.
Just wanted to check on you. Make sure you’re happy. But that wasn’t all. Jasper could see it on the slightly blurry lines of Danny’s face.
Danny was always so bright, he was practically incandescent. Not that he didn’t have his demons, he did. But damn, his laugh was as big as Jasper’s belly was now, and when they kissed, it felt better than being in a mass of sweaty bodies, high on ketamine, packed into a pulsating night club.
Even as Danny’s body wasted, his personality was still huge.
They fought a lot that final year or so.
Danny didn’t want Jasper hovering. Wanted him to go out. To head to the clubs South of Market and bring back stories. Or better yet, sneak someone in to fuck in front of him, as Danny lay in his bed in the small Buddhist hospice run by a drag queen monk. The plum lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma mottled his face above a now scraggly beard as he creaked out a smile.
“Come on, Jasper. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Jasper never would. Just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it to himself, or to whoever he found to go through with it.
And no matter how much Danny asked, Jasper couldn’t do it to him.
Couldn’t bear to play the big Daddy, when his Daddy, his beautiful, loving Daddy, lay there and watched.
Jasper’s sense of adventure died before Danny did.
First time Jasper heard the confident smack of those lug soles on the concrete, followed by the clink of that wallet chain, he felt a thrill run up his spine.
Even in the worst depths of Danny’s illness, when the boots stood empty at the foot of his hospice bed, wallet chain looped over one post, leather club vest over the other, Danny never failed to move Jasper.
He kept that chain. Had it made into a necklace that he still wore. Timothy called it his Daddy bling.
Jasper never told him it was his Daddy’s bling.
“I’m pretty happy,” Jasper said. And realized it was true. Just a year before, if asked, he might have said he was content. Pleased with his life. Oh, dealing with the ghosts was sometimes harrowing, and other times just a pain in the ass, but…
He had a Craftsman bungalow on the Berkeley/Oakland border. He had the bars when he felt like it, which wasn’t often. He had a thriving furniture restoration business.
Jasper always liked working with his hands. When you’re a ghost talker, an anchor to the manifest world was a boon. The feel of solid wood beneath his fingertips became as necessary as his morning coffee.
And then Timothy came along, and that puzzle piece that had gone missing when Danny died slotted back into his heart. Jasper moved from content to happy.
“But I still miss you.”
And that was the simple truth.
And he still wore a necklace made of heavy wallet chain.
Jasper and Danny had a good life together. Jasper was twenty to his thirty-five, just as Timothy is thirty-five to Jasper’s forty-eight. Danny half supported Jasper through school, and they cooked elaborate dinners together, sometimes hosting dinner parties with friends. Their friends who had started out as Danny’s friends. Their friends who had faded away after Danny died.
They loved to go to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, walking through the stalls piled high with peppers in the summer and Sebastopol apples come fall. Sunday mornings were reserved for lazy sex, and then the newspaper over coffee and sticky buns.
With Danny, Jasper figured out how to be the man he wanted to be.
Jasper stood in the doorway, half afraid to step into his own kitchen. Half afraid that if he moved toward Danny, he would wink out. Disappear back into the moonlight that must have brought him here, on the longest night of the year.
He forced his feet to move, shifting from the cold wood to colder kitchen tile. Cross past the kitchen table. Take the coffee grounds out of the freezer. Measure them into the percolator. Jasper loved the scent of it, but it couldn’t compete with the lingering scent of cloves.
And he could still feel Danny. Jasper looked down at the stainless percolator, then over at him. Danny watched Jasper as if he was hungry. The way he had when they first met.
“I need water.”
Danny just stared, from brooding brown eyes.
“From that sink you’re standing in front of.”
Oh. He moved, brushing Jasper’s hand as he went. It felt as cold as Jasper’s feet, and he choked back a sob.
“I can’t do this, Danny. This… whatever this is. It hurts too bad.”
He filled the percolator, just to have something to do. To complete the task. Plugged it in. It began its low, cyclical moan.
Jasper couldn’t do his fucking job. Danny couldn’t expect him to.
“You can’t stay,” Danny said. His arms were like sticks by then. His skin jaundiced against the white sheets. Every system inside his body was failing. Jasper wouldn’t fail him.
“I won’t go.”
“I don’t want you here.” He grimaced. Jasper held out a plastic cup with a bendable straw. It caught the watery sunlight through the window sheers. There were green plants in the room. Jasper remember that. They got watered every other day by either the monks or hospice volunteers.
A gong sounded from downstairs. The air smelled of some fragrant incense that couldn’t quite block the scent of Danny’s illnesses.
“I don’t care,” Jasper replied. “I’m not fucking going anywhere.”
But he did. He went somewhere.
Danny went away.
“You left me,” Jasper said. The words were ridiculous. He didn’t even know where they came from. But they just kept coming. “I looked for you. I looked for you everywhere.”
The percolator moaned. The fridge clicked, and the motor turned over. Jasper was the one standing in the moonlight now. Danny was barely visible. A shadow within a shadow. But he looked the way he had their first years together. He was big. Broad shouldered. Filling out his leather jacket. Sturdy on his boots.
I know, Lover. I know.
Then he opened his arms. Fear and longing coiled in Jasper’s belly. He walked toward him, let Danny wind those cold, insubstantial arms around him. Held by a ghost, Jasper stood in the middle of his kitchen and cried.
“What do you need?” he sobbed out. Danny couldn’t hold him up, and Jasper knew it, but pretended that he could. Pretending that Daddy was back, even though Jasper was too goddamn old for a Daddy now.
I need you to let me go…that’s why I stayed away. I kept hoping you would let me go.
“I can’t! You can’t ask me to!”
But he could. And he was. And Jasper, of all people, should know better.
Jasper was a ghost talker. He fucking helped ghosts cross over all the time.
He was the fucking master at letting things go.
After Danny died, Jasper’s life fell apart. You hear people say that, but it’s hard to know exactly what it means unless you’ve been there. He drank too much. Fucked too many people he barely remembered. Didn’t eat. Ate too much. Didn’t sleep. Slept too much.
And then? He just went numb. Walked through the days until the pain lessened enough to get on with life.
And with Timothy, he finally really had.
But Jasper still wore Danny’s chain around his neck. A weight that tied him to the past.
Apparently, it also tied Danny, too.
Release me. Please?
Jasper sighed. A huge, shuddering, full body exhalation. Then he stepped away from Danny’s shimmering, half-solid form and wiped his face on the arm of his flannel robe.
Jasper looked at him. Danny was gorgeous. Broad shoulders. Beefy arms. Solid legs in tight jeans. Chest and belly broad beneath his leather jacket. Boots and wallet chain.
“Give me a sec.”
Jasper snuck back down the hallway. Timothy snorted.
“You okay?” His partner’s voice was quiet, still mostly asleep.
“I’m fine. I’ll come back to bed soon.”
Timothy rolled over. Once his breathing was even again, Jasper slowly lifted the necklace from the top of the dresser where it rested among his wristwatch and a couple of rings he rarely wore.
It clinked softly and lay heavy in Jasper’s palm.
The last time Danny and Jasper had sex—really had sex—before he became too sick to do much more than cuddle and kiss, Danny started to cry.
It took Jasper awhile to figure out it was happening, and by the time he did, he was too far gone, too close to orgasm to claw himself back from the edge. And Danny made sure of that. Kept pumping and stroking, left hand gripping Jasper’s neck. It was hot. Totally hot.
But instead of growling and nasty talk in Jasper’s ears, he heard what sounded like an animal in pain.
They both came, collapsing in a heap onto the bed.
Jasper held his best, most handsome Daddy. Rocked him.
Danny sobbed in Jasper’s arms.
When Jasper padded back into the kitchen, Danny was still there, waiting.
Jasper held out the chain. It glimmered in that shaft of Solstice moon. Each heavy link nestled next to the other. Links of memory.
“I’m afraid to let it go. Afraid I’ll forget too much…” Jasper said, voice pleading.
Danny smiled and shook his head.
Right. How could Jasper forget? How could he ever forget him? The way Danny smelled? The way he tasted? The way his beard felt against Jasper’s skin? His laugh? The way his brow furrowed when he read the news? The silver threading through his hair?
Jasper’s gut tightened. He was a ghost talker, and he knew what needed to be done.
Rummaging through the kitchen junk drawer, he drew out a pair of needle-nose pliers. Then he poured himself a steaming cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table.
Link by link, he had to unmake Danny’s chain.
Danny. Feeding him chocolate ice cream.
Danny. Singing an old Donna Summer song at karaoke, dressed head to toe in leather, sounding like a disco angel.
Danny. Sheet wrinkles on his cheeks, lips smiling, rolling over to greet him on a summer’s morning.
Danny. Getting drunk for two weeks after his mom died. He went to meetings every day for six months after that. Started over on getting his chip.
Danny. On his motorcycle.
Danny. At the record shop he ran for years, turning some young punks onto Klaus Nomi and Diamanda Galas.
Danny. In the Castro, arms stretched out wide, pointing to the Pride flags lining Market Street.
Danny. Fists flying. Beating the shit out of the suburban gay bashers who’d rolled up South of Market, baseball bats in hand.
Danny. Knuckles soaking in ice water, wincing as Jasper cleaned the gash over his right eye.
Danny. Moving in for another kiss.
When there was a pile of metal on the kitchen table, Jasper rose again. This time, he gathered Danny into his arms.
Some ghosts needed revenge.
Some ghosts needed comfort. Reassurance. The knowledge that the people they left behind were really okay.
Most ghosts needed closure. That’s the main thing Jasper helped them with. That’s what Danny was asking for. And he deserved it. Jasper knew that.
Danny deserved whatever Jasper had to give.
“Thank you, Daddy. For all the years. For all you taught me. For everything. I’m okay now. You can go.”
I love you.
Jasper’s arms tightened and tightened around him. Drawing Danny closer and closer.
Until, standing there in the moonlight in his kitchen, in this home he shared with Timothy, Jasper realized he was hugging himself.
Danny’s ghost was gone.
Jasper looked out the window. The moon was westering, growing lower in the sky, but still just as bright as before. The longest night was almost over.
Jasper felt… okay. At peace even.
He would finish his cup of coffee, then crawl back into bed snuggled against Timothy. Living in the present. Warmed by life.
But when he turned, there on the table, next to the pliers and the coffee cup? There was one link left, winking in the setting moon.
There was no answer, but Jasper didn’t need one. Danny had left one small piece of himself behind.
And that, along with the memories, was enough.
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