First appeared at Wild Child (wildchildpublishing.com), March 2005
House parties used to have such delightful possibilities for wickedness, Amy thought to herself, brushing her hair. In her youth, the men would have been fighting each other for the privilege of sneaking into her room as everyone retired to each other’s beds for the evening. She sighed and regarded her reflection in the glass, tilting her chin up to firm its lines. Even now, it wasn’t impossible that someone might make the attempt. Please, God, let it be someone worthwhile. Because otherwise, I really need my beauty sleep.
Sleep was the last thing on the minds of the couple in the next room. Amy got up and opened the French doors to the balcony even wider, intensifying the pleasant sounds that wafted in on the cool autumn breeze. She was so intent on her eavesdropping that it took a moment to register the soft click behind her, as the door to her room latched closed.
Amy paused briefly to enjoy a frisson of anticipation, then turned, very slowly. She knew she looked good in the moonlight, the pale illumination silvering her blonde hair and imbuing an otherworldly glimmer to her ivory skin.
The man at the door gave a gasp of surprise, or perhaps appreciation. “I—I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I thought this was my room.” He gave a laugh and advanced toward Amy. “Or rather, I was fairly sure the room next door was mine, but since it’s so very obviously occupied…” He gave a charming shrug, and once he reached the river of moonlight flooding in from the balcony, Amy was hard-pressed to suppress a gasp of her own.
“Of course. You thought this must be yours instead.” Sweet heaven, the man was gorgeous. His hair was as long as hers, like a hippie—no, this was the 1980s now—what did they call them? New Romantics? Amy didn’t much keep up with the ever-changing fashions of youth, but had to admit that this particular style suited her visitor admirably. His long chestnut hair spilled over a dark blue velvet jacket, and the lace at his throat and wrists added a touch of elegance that had been missing in the dreadful disco years of the last decade. “Well, if that is your room next door, they might be finished with it soon. They’ve been at it for quite a while already. Care for a drink while you wait it out?”
He threw back his head and laughed, the long hair curling down nearly to his waist. “Yes, I’d like that. I’m Charles, by the way.”
How sweet of him to provide a name. “Amy,” she replied.
Their neighbors’ moans punctuated the easy silence while Amy poured them each a snifter of brandy from the decanter on her bedside table. Of course there were two glasses, even though only one guest had been assigned to the room. English house parties are civilized that way.
They took their drinks out to the balcony, and sized each other up. The man just got better each time Amy looked. And…younger. He couldn’t be twenty-five, she realized. Maybe not even twenty-three. But please God, at least twenty. It was not a question she wanted to ask. She sipped her brandy, and from nowhere, the stranger’s exact age occurred to her. Twenty-two. How on earth did she know that? There was a nagging familiarity about him, she realized now. Perhaps they had met before.
“I’m sorry, I’ve been staring,” Charles apologized. “It’s just—you’re so--” He smiled at his own foolishness. “I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.”
Starting before you were born, Amy thought ruefully.
There had been a time, long before hippies, when men had worn their hair in such cascades, and preened and strutted in velvet. Centuries before. “Well, I certainly don’t mind hearing it from you,” she murmured, shivering as the answer to her puzzle slotted neatly into place. There was a portrait, in the gallery here…
“You’re cold.” Charles slid an exploratory arm around her. “Cold as the grave.”
You should know. A portrait, in the gallery, of just such a one as this. And a plaque below with a name that matched one of the elaborate tombs in the chapel graveyard. Sir Charles Wetherfield, 1627-1649, aged 22 yrs 3 mos 12 daies. God grant hym reste. God may not have been so accommodating after all.
The arm around her shoulders, the hand stroking slowly down her own arm felt real and solid enough. Of course he wasn’t a ghost, but it was a pleasant fantasy. And would, conveniently enough, make him the elder after all, despite the youthful resiliency of his flesh, the freshness of his complexion. His hair was soft and thick beneath her fingers as she turned into his embrace, and the sounds made by the couple in the next room provided delectable mood music as Charles bent his head to her, lips inquiring.
Oh…God. Amy wasn’t bereft of lovers, even now, but it had been some time since she’d been kissed so damned well. There are those in sport, in business, in life, who set their eye on the goal and drive towards it with relentless focus. And then there are those who know they’ll get there eventually, but not instantly, so why not enjoy the trip? Charles was evidently one of the latter. He nibbled and sucked at her lips before teasing his tongue between them for the merest taste.
Amy moaned at the same time as the woman next door. Charles raised his head and smiled. “Nice harmony, but she was a little flat. You,” he said, hands traveling slowly up her torso, “are most decidedly not.” Amy was a bit self-conscious that her breasts were not as high and firm as in her prime, but Charles didn’t seem to mind in the least.
“Nice,” he breathed. “Oh, nice.” Her nipples hardened beneath his touch, and he kissed his way down the pale column of her throat and made a moan of his own as his lips brushed at her through the silk of her nightdress.
There was something she was trying to remember, about that other Charles, the one in the graveyard. Why had he died so young? Morbid thought, really, while his namesake was lifting her now in his arms, carrying her to the bed—and a nice touch that was. There had been an argument over a woman…no, his own wife. Had she been unfaithful? Or wronged? Whichever, the experience had not turned him against womankind. Velvet brushed her bare thighs as he settled between them, silken hair spilling over her flesh as he kissed her abdomen with reverence, tickled her navel with his tongue. Rubbed his face, so young and smooth, with just a whisper of stubble, against the skin of her thighs, reveling in her.
She felt as languid as a river on an August afternoon, and nearly as wet. But there was no hurry; the night was young. He paused to remove the velvet jacket; Amy’s hands showed slim and white in the moonlight as she helped him with his shirt. His eyes were deep and shadowy in the dimness, and she wished she could see their color.
“I think I saw you once, in the gallery,” he said. “I spoke to you, but you didn’t hear.”
Her hands froze at their task. There had been a time when she’d come to this house often. Unhappy in her own love life, she’d spent hours dreaming about other times, other days. And especially about the chestnut-haired Cavalier in the portrait, the beautiful young man who had died so tragically. She trembled, remembering something her friend Celia had told her long ago, when she’d been caught up in the spiritualism fad. Older, more powerful spirits can physically manifest themselves so well you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. But to this extent? A pulse beat beneath his skin, his breath on her flesh felt warm.
He skimmed the silk nightdress from her body, and she trembled again, this time in helpless longing. Whoever he was, whatever he was, this would be an experience to remember.
“I can hear you now,” she said. “Was there something you wanted to say?”
Youthful he might appear, but the man recognized a prompt when he heard it. He looked down at her with intent concentration, a slow smile spreading over his delightful face. “You’re beautiful, Amy. So very beautiful.” His voice was rough with desire.
She lifted an arm to gather him in, and he settled into her embrace. His young, perfect body was even better than her imagination had conjured in those long hours before the portrait: taut, supple skin encasing a vigorous strength. If there were still amatory noises from the room next door, they were drowned out now by their own passionate duet. Amy had a wicked hope that they were keeping others awake, and then she was beyond wishing or hoping or thinking, caught up in a sensual, spiraling swirl of emotion and pleasure.
They made good use of the night, each admitting surprise at the ease with which they conversed, now sharing their minds, now their bodies. Not long before sunrise, Amy was certain that this was the mate of her heart, the one person God had created to love and be loved by her.
Too bad circumstances made it impossible.
His words echoed her thoughts. “This has been incredible. People use that word, but I mean it—beyond belief. Is there any chance we could be together tomorrow night?” Charles lifted his head, frowned at the cold light growing in the east. “Tonight, I mean.”
“That would be lovely.”
“But not…today.” It wasn’t a question, and his sigh was wistful. “You’ll be gone with the sun, won’t you?”
Amy laughed. “Pot, kettle. I’ve never been with another spirit before, and your skills are well beyond my own. Is there a way we can be together on the other plane, without manifesting on the earthly one?”
He blinked at her. “But I’m not—I’m just—I’ve had a crush on you since boyhood, ever since I read about what happened to you a hundred years ago. And now that I’m famous, I’ve managed to wrangle invitations here, where you died. I was hoping it was true that you still haunted--”
“You’re not Charles Wetherfield?” But the light was growing, and his eyes, well-shaped as they were, showed not the intense blue in the portrait she admired, but a soft gray-green.
“Charles King, of Charlie and the Cavaliers—but I don’t suppose you watch Top of the Pops, do you?” He laughed, and stroked her arm, his fingers lingering. “Please tell me it’s not impossible—that somehow we can make this work. Even if I’m not capable of traveling beyond this plane at the moment.”
“But your hair! Your clothes! You must have seen the portrait.”
“Yes, of course. I told you I’ve been here before, at a party with my manager. He noticed the resemblance at once and convinced me to play it up. We’re going to use it on the next album cover, and I’m trying to negotiate with the owners of this place so that we can record here. I’ll buy the bloody house if I have to, if you just tell me that this was real. That—that maybe you could care for me.”
Now his youth did show clearly, in the stumble in his words, the plea in his eyes.
“If the age difference doesn’t bother you.” She lowered her eyes, and would have blushed if her manifestation skills had been up to it.
“You’re magnificent, Amy.” His voice was tight with emotion. “And you know—if you’re worried about the age difference, about me growing old and ugly while you remain just as perfect as you are—I’m a rock star, love. Not a profession with a particularly high life expectancy. Just ask Janis, or Jimi, or Keith…”
His meaningless list continued, but the sun had nearly crested the horizon, and she had to go. There was just time for the merest brush on his lips, and the whispered promise to return, and then Amy slipped away for her beauty sleep at last.