Astrid was peering out the window and I saw her head swiftly disappeared behind cheery yellow curtains when I pulled into the driveway. I imagined her sprinting from her bedroom window to the master bathroom to do some finishing touches to her makeup; maybe take a last critical look at the outfit she was wearing, trying to decide if she should wear the other one she had sprawled across her bed.
It didn't matter though. One thing I'd come to realize in the year since we started dating was this; I go to pick her up I'm going to wait. It doesn't matter if I arrive an hour earlier or an hour later; it was simply a fact of life that any man who has dated for any period of time knows. I'd grown quite accustomed to it. Besides, it provided time for Mr. Lucard and I to talk.
I parked my car, strolled down the walkway and up the steps. I rang the doorbell. While I waited I noticed Mr. Willis, the Lucard's neighbor watering the grass. I waved; he waved back then proceeded to the backyard in search of more thirsty grass.
I heard the clickity-click of high-heels rushing down the hallway. Shortly afterward the door opened and Mrs. Lucard greeted me with a warm hug and kiss on the cheek. She quickly ushered me into the living room, assuring me that Astrid would be along shortly. Astrid's younger brother, Victor, was playing with a Gameboy next to the couch. Mrs. Lucard asked if I'd like some lemonade which I gladly accepted, then promptly disappeared into the kitchen.
Victor briefly raised an eyebrow my way as I sat down on the sofa. It was white and had huge red and purple flowers scattered across it. I'd always thought it was hideous and every time I saw it, it seemed to get even uglier.
“Where you guys going?” Victor asked without looking up.
“Thought we might catch a movie.”
“What you gonna see?”
“Don't know yet. Maybe The Mummy Returns or something.”
“Good flick. I caught a bootleg at Jason's last week, not bad.”
There was a brief moment of silence, broken only by the clicking, peeps, chirps and grunting sounds coming from Victor and his Gameboy before Mrs. Lucard appeared in the kitchen doorway. She was carrying a large serving tray with a small pitcher of pink lemonade, two glasses and a saucer full of oatmeal cookies on it.
“I thought you boys might like some cookies to go along with the lemonade.”
She gingerly placed the tray on top of the coffee table.
“You guys can help yourselves. I'll go to go check on Astrid.”
Her smile was bright and radiant as she turned to go.
My eyes followed her as she walked up the stairs and disappeared from sight.
I poured Victor and myself some lemonade and grabbed a cookie.
I had finished one cookie and was reaching for another when Mr. Lucard appeared. He came from outside through the kitchen door and greeted me with a strong handshake before sitting beside me on the sofa.
He was grinning, like always. It was one of the things I liked most about Mr. Lucard. He genuinely seemed to be in a good mood most of the time. He always listened intently when you spoke, never trying to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do when discussing a problem and always gave good, solid advice, usually started off something like, “Well Dennis, if I were in that type of situation I’d probably …”
You never felt inadequate with Mr. Lucard and you never had the feeling he was just another adult telling some stupid kid about the facts of life. To me, he was a true adult; a real role model. He was the type of adult that really seemed to understand today’s troubled youth. Quite the opposite of my own father.
“Hi Dennis, how are you? It’s good to see you again. I was asking Astrid about you just this morning. She told me you two had a date later on. You guys going to another concert? What’s the name of that group you two like so much? Wet Cookie, Limp sticks…?”
“It’s Limp Biscuit, Mr. Lucard,” I was trying hard to stifle laugher, “but we’re not going to a concert this time; I thought we’d go to the movies. So many good ones to see this summer and we’ve barely seen any at all.”
“Well, you two have been spending a lot of time together. That’s all that really matters, you know. Things change, people change and the world moves on; true love lasts forever, Dennis, never forget that.”
His eyes settled on me and I felt a slight, unexplainable discomfort. For a brief moment I detected something lurking behind his eyes. It was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on but it was there just the same. It reeked of something ancient and wise, something that spoke of experiences long since past, something mischievous and all knowing but inquisitive just the same. Before I had time to dwell on it further it was gone, was replaced by that blissful gleam and childish twinkle I was used to.
“Kind of reminds me of Lacie and myself when we were kids, Dennis. We just couldn’t get enough of each other. I’d get so excited just thinking about her. And when we got together we had so much fun. It didn’t matter what we did. We’d laugh for hours. We’d talk about everything imaginable. Everything seemed so right. And often, when I went to pick her up, I had to wait for her too.”
A big smile slowly spread across his face. It was infectious and I couldn’t help but crack a smile also. Then gradually I noticed a change. Even though he was smiling, his eyes fixed upon mine and he stared at me with a strange look. It was the look a man gets just after his girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant and he knows he was the only man she’d ever been with. At the moment, it seemed strangely out of place.
“She is the only woman I’ve ever loved, Dennis, the only woman I ever will.”
The smile had left his face now and the ensuing silence was stifling. Victor took the opportunity to quickly vacate. With head lowered and with eyes fixated on his Gameboy, he nimbly navigated through the living room and up the stairs without so much as a glance back.
“Have fun, Dude.” he yelled as he proceeded down the hallway and into his room. I heard the door slam and glanced back over at Mr. Lucard. He still had that look in his eyes and he seemed distant and somehow vacant.
“Where did you meet Mrs. Lucard?” I asked, hoping he would snap out of his present state. It was out of character and made me feel very awkward.
I thought he hadn’t heard me and opened my mouth to repeat the question when he spoke in a hurried, hushed tone.
“Do you love her, Dennis?”
“Do I …”
“Astrid, do you love her?”
I’d asked myself that question often. Did I love her? I wasn’t so sure if I even knew what love was. I knew I liked her company. I knew I could hardly wait to see her again, even after we’d just kissed goodbye from a date. I knew that every time the phone rang my heart pounded and I hoped it was her. I knew I liked her scent, I liked the way she wrinkled her nose when she tried to decide on something, I liked the way her skin felt, I liked her smile, her perfect teeth, the way she looked when her glasses slipped to the tip of her nose and she glanced over them. If liking these things meant being in love, then I guess I was head over heels in love.
All this raced through my mind in a matter of seconds.
“Yes Mr. Lucard,” I simply said, “yes I do. I love her.”
Mr. Lucard nodded as if that answer had been expected and rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger.
“Has Astrid asked you if you loved her?”
He looked at me fixedly and I could feel his eyes roaming across my face. They were probing; scrutinizing, analyzing and I felt that awkward feeling creeping my way again.
“No, Mr. Lucard. It never came up, we ...”
“Good!” he said cutting me off.
I thought I heard him mumble something that sounded like, she’s not ready yet or getting her throat wet, but I quickly dismissed it.
“Love is forever Dennis, remember that. How long is your forever? Now that’s the real question. Is it a moment in time? Can it last an eternity? Can you really love someone forever? How long IS your forever?”
I felt a bit unsure. Was he asking me a question or just voicing a statement? The question ran through my head but before I could say anything he continued.
“You asked me how Lacie and I met, right? Well, that’s not really important, Dennis. What is important is that we love each other. I promised to love her forever.”
The last sentence, I noticed, seemed like it a thought spoken aloud and not directed at me. Suddenly his eyes leveled at mine. He looked very serious now like a parent about to administer a verbal lashing to a trouble child. It was the first time I’d ever seen that look on Mr. Lucard’s face. His forehead creased in a long, deep wrinkle that stretched from eyebrow to eyebrow. When he spoke I detected a slight tremble in his voice.
“She was the most beautiful creature I ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on, Dennis,” his voice sounded far away, distant. I had the feeling that he wasn’t simply telling me about the past, he was reliving it, “and it took me awhile to gather enough courage to ask her out. But when I did and she accepted, little did I know it would change my life, forever. We had been dating for little over a year, just like you and Astrid, when something strange happened. Now, as I reflect back to that day when I pledged my eternal love to her, I should have noticed the little innuendos and subtle but strange occurrences. But I didn’t Dennis, I was in love, and those things were the furthest from my mind. It’s true what they say about love being blind.”
He quickly looked over his shoulder then leaned forward. When he spoke again it was in a near whisper.
“But I’ll tell you this, as we sat in that restaurant I…”
“…missed you so much. I could hardly contain myself; I thought tonight would never get here.”
She reached across the table and lovingly grabbed his hand. The couple gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes. They radiated warmth that comforted the surrounding patrons, forcing those who happened to look their way into a wide smile or nod approvingly
“Oh Phillip, I love you so much! I’ve never felt this way before.”
“I love you too Lacie. I’m so glad we found each other.”
They continued to gaze at each other from across the table, smiling and caressing each others hands. When the waiter returned, Phillip paid for their meals, Lacie tipped heavily and arm in arm they walked out of the restaurant and headed in the direction of the park. As they walked they held hands and talked, hugging and laughing and drew the attention of many passersby.
“See Henry, you need to take heed. Just look at those kids!” they heard one elderly woman scolding her husband as they passed a park bench, “Those two are in love. We used to be like that you know.”
They both couldn’t help but smile.
Lacie spotted a secluded bench and they headed for it. They sat and talked, noticing how the scarce pedestrians thinned out even more as the moon overhead seemed to bloat, casting its fragile beams of pale light over them. In the moonlight, Phillip thought, Lacie looked even more beautiful. The insipid light caused her skin to glow. She seemed like a fairy come to life. Her long black hair blended with the shadows, causing a rather stunning effect. The overall scene left a velvety, surreal aura about her. Ever so often, when she shifted position, a solitary beam of moonlight would strike her face and she would smile. She was truly the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen. But what he liked most about Lacie was that she had the heart of an angel.
“Phillip, remember I said I had a gift for you the other night?”
They were all alone now it seemed, it was late. The moon was high overhead and a light breeze blew passed them. Phillip took off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. She smiled and cuddled closer, planting a long kiss on his cheek.
“That’s one of the reasons I love you so much, Phillip, you’re so thoughtful.”
Phillip smiled and pulled her closer. He planted a kiss upon her forehead and then kissed her lips tenderly.
“You know I love you Phillip,” she said, “I love you with all my heart. I just have to ask you, do you love me as much as I love you?”
“Why Lacie, you know I do, I …”
“I need to hear you say it. Tell me, Phillip, tell me you love me?”
“I love you Lacie.” Phillip answered without hesitation, “I love you dearly.”
“Could you love me forever, Phillip?”
“Of course I …”
“Phillip,” she interrupted, “this is very important, maybe the most important question of your life and you must answer carefully. Before you do ask yourself this; are you true to your heart? Do you really want to love me forever? I would not be offended if you answered no. I know what the question implies.”
“Lacie, what’s going on? I’ve never heard you talk like this before. I …I…”
“Do not be alarmed, my love. There is nothing wrong, but please, I must be sure of our feelings towards each other. Love can be now, love can be past and there can future love; true love is forever, Phillip. I just want you to know and understand that. My love is forever.”
“Lacie, you know that I love you with all my heart. I could think of nothing I want more in this world than you. There is only one answer to your question. Yes, I want to love you forever.”
A smile slowly spread across her face and she hugged Phillip, kissing his cheeks excitedly.
“You have no ideal how happy you’ve just made me. I’d just about succumbed to walking this earth forever without a companion. Thank the stars that I met you.”
She kissed him warmly.
“Oh, Phillip!” she said as she pulled him close, “We’re going to be so happy, you’ll see.”
Phillip smiled as he felt the welcomed pressure of her soft body pressing against his. He had no ideal what had gotten into Lacie tonight but it didn’t matter. She was happy and that made him happy.
He could feel her lips pressing lightly upon his neck. He felt her plant a soft kiss there, felt her hot breathe on his earlobes. His embraced tightened around her and he kissed her lightly on her neck, relishing in her sweet scent.
“I truly do love you Phillip.” he heard her whisper just before a sharp prick of pain shot through his arms as Lacie’s hands clamped tight. He also heard a small popping sound and immediately warm liquid trickled down his neck. His initial shock was great and he gently tried to pull away but Lacie’s grip tightened, her sharp nails boring into his arms. He could still feel her lips on his neck and a light suction. He could also hear loud suckling noises. He tried once more to pull away, this time with a little more force, but Lacie’s hands felt like steel talons and he was immediately subdued.
“This is my gift to you, my love; it is the gift of eternal life. Now we can love each other forever.” Phillip heard Lacie’s voice and closed his eyes. He did want to love her forever, wanted to be with her for the rest of their lives. Slowly, understanding began to surface.
“This will all be over quickly, Phillip. I’m sorry about the pain. It will soon pass.”
Phillip opened his eyes and found Lacie staring down at him as she cradled him in her arms. In her eyes he could see the love she felt for him. He also noticed a smudge of blood across her cheek and more on her lips. She smiled at him and he smiled back.
And right before everything faded to darkness, her sweet scent filled his nostrils as she bent to kiss him one last time before he died.
He never felt the tear that dripped from Lacie’s eye and landed upon his cheek.
“You want more lemonade, Dennis?”
Mr. Lucard held the pitcher poised above my empty glass. Before I could answer Mrs. Lucard appeared at the top of the stairs. Maybe it was my imagination but it appeared that Mr. and Mrs. Lucard exchanged knowing glances as she descended the stairs. I placed the glass on the coffee table.
“I hope Phillip didn’t bore you too much Dennis. He has a way of rattling on and on and telling those gruesome stories of his.”
She smiled at Mr. Lucard and the love between them was quite evident.
When I looked up again, Astrid stood at the top of the stairs. She looks stunning in that black dress, I thought. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She gave me a peck on the lips and a long, snug hug when she finally reached me.
“I hope they,” she playfully jerked a thumb at her parents, “didn’t get on your nerves too much. You know how they can be; they’re parents.”
“Yes, and it is our lawful duty to get on as many of your nerves and all of your friends nerves as possible before the age of eighteen, just like our parents before us and our parent’s parents before them.” Mr. Lucard said snapping to attention.
“Don’t mind them,” Astrid said as she grabbed my hand and herded to the door, “Their so silly! Sometimes, you’d think I was the parent.”
Mr. and Mrs. Lucard were giggling like school children when Astrid grabbed a sweater and opened the front door.
“Don’t stay out too late!” Mrs. Lucard yelled after us.
“Yeah, otherwise you’re going to be grounded till your twenty one young lady!” Mr. Lucard called out with a mock tone of authority and they both burst into laughter.
“You two are sooooo silly.” Astrid said and closed the door.
Later, after the movie we went to our favorite restaurant. After the waiter had taken our empty plates away and we were alone, Astrid cupped my hand in hers and looked me deep in the eyes.
“Dennis, I want to ask you something.”
“Of course,” I said, “you can ask me anything.”
She lowered her head for a brief moment. I could feel her palms beginning to moisten and when she looked up I saw nervousness lurking in her eyes.
“Dennis, do you love me?” she asked in a voice that seemed on the verge of cracking.
“Yes, Astrid,” I replied, “I love you very much. You know that.”
Her face broke out in a wide smile and I felt her squeeze my hand. Then she looked me deep in the eyes again.
“I love you very much Dennis, more than anyone I’ve ever known before. I want you to know that.” she flashed me a warm, toothy smile, “I could love you forever.”
Beads of sweat were beginning to form and I wiped them from my brow. Although the restaurant was nice and cozy I still felt a cold shiver run down my spine.
“Could love me forever, Dennis?”
At that very moment a flash of light seemed to bring a flood of visions crashing into my brain. I saw Astrid and I in our favorite park, laughing and romping in the grass together; saw us in the school library studying together. I saw all the good times we spent together, all the pain we’d felt together, all the growing up we did together. I saw a vision of myself when Astrid went to Europe one summer with her parents. I saw how miserable I was; how I considered that to be the worst summer I’d ever experienced. Saw my elation when she finally returned. All this happened within seconds but it was long enough for me to see the obvious; we truly belonged together.
“Yes Astrid, I could love you forever.”
We left the restaurant and I drove her home. On the way, she told me that she had a gift for me.
Somehow, I think I know what it is.