“Seriously? You have an imaginative side?”
“Ya,” Brandon laughed, taken aback by her surprise. “Is that so hard to believe?”
“No, I just,” Francesca stammered. “Now, don’t take this the wrong way, it’s just that… from what I have seen… in the short time I have know you…” she hedged. “You seem to be very straight-laced and analytical. You seem like we could be in a field full of roses and you would tell me how many roses there are.”
“Oh, so now I am Rain Man?” Brandon leaned back on his bar stool, pretending to be hurt.
“Oh Jesus, Noooo!” Francesca looked around the neon beer signs for a path out of her kerfuffle. “You’re a numbers guys. You know, CPA, tucked in shirt, watch band always matches your socks.”
“I know, I know, I am just giving you a hard time. I know how I come off. And you are not wrong. I have actually been working with my therapist to reconnect with the right side of my brain.”
“See! Right side of your brain! You even talk about your imagination in an analytical way!” Francesca exploded with vindication. The smile she gave him glowed through the dimly lit bar and he was reminded that every guy in the place must be wondering why a beauty like her would be with a guy like him.
“I know. I said I know how I come off.” He reminded her bashfully. “It has taken a fair amount of work to bring imagination and whimsy back into my life.”
“Ok, so give me one example of whimsy in your analytical little head.” Francesca swirled a chip in their spinach and artichoke dip, followed by a sip of her vodka-soda.
“This is going to sound really silly, compared to my matching socks and watch, but one thing…” He paused deciding if he really felt comfortable opening this door with her.
“Come on,” She encouraged with a wry smile, “I promise I won’t judge.”
“Well, this week I told my therapist about the ghost dog who lives in my apartment.”
“What!?” Francesca blurted out with a spit-take.
“Come on, you said you wouldn’t judge.”
“No, no judgement, I just wasn’t expecting that. To go from Rain Man to Ghost Dog all in one leap. I’m sorry, please you have to tell me more.” She playfully and eagerly elongated her request and reaching across the two-seater table to caress his hand.
Brandon fidgeted nervously. “So one night, I am smoking in my living room, and I started to feel this warm sensation on my leg. I didn’t think much of it. That stuff happens all the time; a tingle in your arm or a cold shiver down your back.”
Francesca leaned in, now hanging on his every word. Devouring his story with each breath with a sinister gleam in her eye.
“But then I noticed that this same warm sensation was happening on my leg almost every time I was in my living room. Just below my knees, it would sort of pass over the outside of one leg and then a moment later pass over the outside of the other leg. And I thought, maybe this apartment has a ghost dog and I’m feeling it rub against my leg trying to tell me it is here.” Brandon continued now more comfortable with the reaction he was getting. He paused but Francesca left the silence for him to fill, her eyes never straying from his.
“Normally I would completely dismissed a thought like that. It’s absurd, ridiculous, but since I’m working to regain some of my childish wonder, I decided it was ok to let myself have some fun with this silly, ridiculous, absolutely bonkers idea.”
“So it was just a warmth on your leg and some imaginative play?” The inflection of Francesca’s voice rose at the end of her question as though she knew there must be something more for a person like Brandon to have landed firmly on a ‘ghost dog’ as the explanation for a bodily sensation.
The fidgeting got worse. “Well there was this one other night.”
“You found a ghost poop in your shoe!”
“No nothing like that.” With the tension broken, Brandon fell back into a rhythm, and actually made eye contact. “No scratching at the door or anything. Just one night when I was smoking, I was letting my imagination run.”
“I thought, ‘What is my ghost dog’s name?’ And so again just purely as an exercise to try to open up to the right side of my brain a little more I started saying dog names out loud you know, Spot, Lassie, Mitch…”
“Mitch? Really? When you think classic dog names, you think Mitch?”
“Whatever you know what I mean,” Brandon continued defensively. “I was just throwing out names and for each name I could just sense a negative reaction. I hadn’t gotten it yet”
“Mitch..” Francesca continued to question as the waiter dropped off their check.
“So then take another big hit and it just comes to me, Wally.”
Francesca’s eyes go wider than teenager after a surprise first kiss.
“All of a sudden,” Brandon continues with commanding energy. “I feel an overwhelming sense of excitement and joy and both of my legs start feeling warm. It was the craziest thing. Something in me just knew the dog was telling me I got it right. And here is the kicker, I say out loud ‘So Wally with an E like the Pixar robot’ and I swear to you I’m not making this up I heard a dog bark angrily.”
“No!” Francesca gasped with astonishment.
“Hand to god. It was probably a dog being walked outside my apartment, but I said, out loud, ‘Alright Wally with a Y.’”
“And…” Francesca prodded knowing there must be one more detail to the story the way Brandon was relishing in her suspense.
“… And I’m not shitting you, as soon as I said that, it felt so calm in my apartment and it felt like a dog was curled up on my toes.”
“That’s incredible. I am honestly speechless.”
“So, I sort of just accepted that there might be a ghost dog living in my apartment named Wally. I know it’s crazy and believe me, if Wally starts talking to me or giving me directions to shoot the president or something I’ll commit myself. But for now it’s just fun to connect with my imagination a little bit.”
“Here I had you pegged as this square and I could not be more wrong. Just so you know, I know crazy and you are not crazy, there might be something to this.” Francesca drove home her point putting her hand on his forearm.
Brandon never expected this kind of acceptance and understanding when he finally told his date about his ghost dog. Maybe it was that acceptance, and maybe it was the rush he felt when she touched him, but he felt a wave of uncharacteristic courage wash over him.
“I know this is only our third date and I don’t wanna seem forward… and trust me I’m not expecting anything if you do say yes, but I would love it if you would be interested in coming back to my apartment for a nightcap.”
“A nightcap?” she responded with a giggle. “I mean yes, of course, but seriously who talks like that.”
“I don’t know, I guess I do.”
“Well, I would love to. And trust me, if I’m coming back to your place tonight, I’m definitely expecting something.” She said as she offered him a coy, devilish grin. “A warm sensation on my leg, I mean.”
They both laughed and rose from their seats. Brandon helped Francesca into her coat and she lead him to the door.
Brandon nervously fiddled with the keys in the old bronze lock. Sensing his nerves, Francesca stopped him, grabbed him around the back of his neck and pulled him in for a long sensual kiss. As she released him, Brandon unlocked the door with confidence and let her into his living space.
As they crossed the threshold of the apartment, an unmistakable wave of fear and apprehension splashed over Brandon. Francesca pushed him towards the couch and as he fell back on it. She straddled him and began kissing his neck and ear.
While this type of assertive behavior from a potential partner would normally have been exactly the thing to get Brandon going, but he could not shake this feeling that something was wrong. Francesca pulled up for air, sensing Brandon’s sudden transformation into a rigid, anxious mess.
“What’s wrong Brandon?” She questioned. “Aren’t you into this?”
“Yes of course. I mean you’re gorgeous I just…”
“Am I not enough for you?” She prodded, leaning back with her hands on his thighs and squeezing his hips with her knees.
“No you are unbelievable it’s just that…” Brandon tried to find an explanation of the situation that eluded even him.
“What? These aren’t enough for you?” Francesca grabbed her breasts and push them together to accentuate her cleavage presenting herself right in front of Brandon’s face. There was something about how forward, even pornographic she was acting that raised a red flag for Brandon. No one had ever treated him this way, and the pit in his stomach was not the feeling he imagined a woman like this should elicit.
“No. Wow… Believe me, this is incredible. It’s just, it’s just, all of sudden I have this feeling…” Brandon tried to explain.
She put a finger on his lips, “You’re over analyzing things again. I think we need to get you back in touch with your imaginative side.” She climbed off and headed straight to the bathroom. “While I slip into something more comfortable, I need you to imagine what you want to do to me when I get back.”
Even though all of the doors to the interior of the apartment were closed, Francesca knew exactly which one was the bathroom without hesitation. The moment she was off of his lap Brandon began to feel frantic waves warmth against his lower leg. This was like nothing he had felt from the ghost dog before. It was rushed and exaggerated and something he could not ignore.
The bathroom door opened and Francesca stepped out, a black silhouette framed by the light coming from the door behind her. The black lace of her matching bra and panty set hugged every supple curve of her body. Every inch of her was perfectly displayed for the visceral enjoyment her desired.
“You just stay right there and keep connecting with your right brain. When I come back you better have an answer.”
Francesca turned the corner and walked into the kitchen. Brandon could hear her open the cupboards and pull out to glasses as though she knew exactly where they would be kept in his kitchen.
“Is it alright if I open this bottle of wine?” She shouted from around the corner.
“Um, yeah sure.” Brandon sputtered as he was still trying to make sense of the sensation on his legs that had not stopped circling. As soon as he said ‘sure,’ the warm sensation on his leg disappeared and an instant later out of the corner of his eye, he saw the floor lamp tip and fall with an enormous clatter.
“What was that?” Francesca shouted from the kitchen.
Brandon scrambled to his feet and stuttered as his brain raced to make sense of this whirlwind. Her kiss, his feeling, her lips on his neck, the pit in his stomach, his legs, her legs, her in the door light, the lamp in the corner. He lied.
“Oh, it was nothing, I Just knocked over the lamp. I want to get the lighting right for what I want to do to you.”
“Well, I’m glad you’ve come to a decision.” Francesca’s voice floated sultry through the air as she approached him, two glasses of red wine in her hands.
He took the glass and put his hand on the small of her back. She held up her glass gesturing for them both to drink, and he took a long slow sip. She placed a finger on the bottom of his glass and tipped just a bit more into his mouth.
He swallowed, and a moment later black spots began to creep into the corners of his vision. He heard the shatter of glass on the floor but could not move his head to find its source. Slowly at first, he saw the room begin to tilt horizontally, and then the floor rose up to crack his jaw. He lay on the hardwood floor in a pool of red wine and broken glass.
Through a steadily growing haze he pieced together what was happening. She had rolled him on his back and she ran her fingers through his hair as she rested his head on her cross-legged lap. He could only see a sliver of her forehead at the corner of his tunnel vision, but he heard her voice clear as day at the beginning.
“You have no idea what you have meant for me. The layers of pleasure you have added, teaching me that even this can reach another level.”
Her voice had grown dark and eerily calm like a black lake on a still night and this awakened a struggle deep inside Brandon. He tried to move, to run, to escape but he could not even move his eyelids. As she spoke the clarity and volume of her voice began to fade ever so slowly. He heard the faint bark of dog in the distance.
“Oh, my little ‘Button-Down Brandon,’ with your analytical mind.” She continued with whimsy in her voice. “You missed such an obvious troupe of the genre. Every ghost has unfinished business, so what could possibly be a dog’s unfinished business? Certainly not to teach 20-somethings how to reconnect with their imagination. It has to be something bigger. Like a mission, or a warning.”
Her voice was now an airy, wisp wafting through his consciousness. The bark of the dog grew louder.
“I always thought it was some flaw of mine, that I need to come back to my old apartment every time. I thought my need to feel the power in this space, was proof I was crazy. But if a blinded third eye like yours can feel the dark presence of a ghost in this space, then there truly is a special power to this place.”
He could barely hear her voice in the distance as the dog bared down on him barking wildly.
“I am not crazy to come back here every time. I am on with the darkness. I am one with the power. It grows through my spirit and my contributions. I will add your soul to the dark power of this place, just like I did Edward before you, and Gabriel before him… And Wally, before them all.”
Her Voice faded into nothingness before she had finished the word ‘all.’ In the darkness Brandon heard the whimper of a dog, clear as day. Surrounded by dark and cold, he felt a warmth as Wally curled up next to him having once again failed to finish his business.