Cross the water you can follow the stars
Look a lifetime and still not know who you are
Oh babe, I know I'm here to stay
From distant shores
You have brought me home again...*
She stood on the cliff overlooking the harbor, watching the distant boats on their journey. The vivid blue of the sky and water blended with the colorful sails and bouys. It was a beautiful day, the sky clear, the clouds seeming almost close enough to reach up and touch. It was peaceful here...but inside her soul, chaos reigned.
Carolyn Muir sighed and stepped away from the cliff, walking back along the path she'd taken to get to the overlook. The weekend was hers; the kids were at home with Martha, and she had two whole days to embrace the solitude.
Two days to make some sense out of her confusing emotions.
Renting Gull Cottage had been like a dream come true, a quiet place to write and get her life in order. A wholesome, decent place for her kids to grow up. And when she'd discovered the house came complete with its own ghost... Well, thinking back, it surprised her how easily she'd accepted the unbelievable reality. Although there were times that she might have doubted her senses--except that her son Jonathan and Claymore Gregg also saw and heard the Captain.
Even more surprising was how quickly she'd come to rely on his presence--to welcome and enjoy it. The time they'd fought and she thought he'd left...she still remembered the pain. She didn't want to lose him.
Which of course, was the problem. The thing that had led her to go on this isolated weekend. She needed time away from everyone-- especially him--to think. About life, and living. About death. And about love.
To face the truth with only nature as a witness. She was in love with a ghost.
A wry smile twisted her lips. It was ironic that a widow escaping the memory of a dead husband should end up with a ghost...not the ghost of her husband. She briefly wondered why this was so. If there were such things as ghosts--and experience had taught her there were--why hadn't her husband ever appeared to her?
Forcing a deeper level of honesty, she made herself contemplate the trading of Captain Gregg for Johnny. And was only mildly surprised to find that given the choice, she would chose the captain. Without much thought. She'd sometimes felt almost out of place in this century, as if she should've been born in his time. As if they belonged together... Or was it just the magic of fantasy?
The implications were frightening.
Accepting the fact that she'd fallen in love with him was one thing. There was still the matter of what to do about it. There was no future in loving a ghost, none at all. Only lonely years of waiting, waiting to die.
A shiver ran up her spine, and she pulled her sweater closer about her.
On the plus side, he was a good masculine figure for her son. She couldn't think of anyone she'd rather Jonathan spend time with. And it's not like she minded the solitude; on the contrary, that's why she'd moved to Maine in the first place. But now it was taking on a frightening permenance she didn't know if she wanted.
Somewhere in the back of her mind had been the thought that one day she'd fall in love again, and re-marry. That this was only a temporary situation. Then she'd met Captain Gregg. And the future looked very different indeed. What would life be like? Martha would pass on, the children would grow up and leave for lives of their own. And Carolyn would still be in the house, with only a phantom for company.
Okay, so he was very good company, handsome, charming, and gallant. Except for one thing.
He was dead. Just an image, a spirit of the man who'd lived a hundred years ago. Oh how she'd often wished to have known him then, he would have been able to touch her, hold her close. It wasn't the thought of living life alone...it was the thought of living life without ever feeling a man's touch again.
A cool breeze wafted around her, heralding the coming of dusk. Still wrapped in her thoughts, she continued on.
This was what Carolyn had to decide, what she'd be giving up. The decision was to stop this now, or forever accept the situation. For it wouldn't be fair to either of them if she were to stay, let him grow ever more attached to her, then decide to leave him for a real man one day. Condemn him to an eternity of being alone. Not fair at all.
Leave, or live without warmth?
Maybe it was already too late. The idea of leaving Gull Cottage, of leaving him, was too painful to contemplate. She hadn't had the strength to do it before. But this time she realized the consequences more fully, before she'd surrounded herself in ignorance, living for the moment without dealing with the future.
Was there a future for them?
No man's touch, ever again...
Or saying goodbye to him forever.
"I can't leave..." she whispered, tears blurring her eyes.
The temporary distortion of her vision came at the wrong moment. A misstep later, she felt her footing slip. Grabbing for purchase, her fingers dug into the loose dirt ineffectually. Then she felt the sensation of falling, over the edge of the cliff and down into the empty night.
Her one, half-amused thought was: Maybe I won't have to wait as long as I thought I would.
Her eyes closed against the impact she knew was coming, she was startled to feel herself caught in strong arms. She opened her eyes... and stared into the grave face of Daniel Gregg.
"Am I dead?" she whispered, disoriented from the fall and the impossible sensations.
"Of course you're not dead," Gregg assured her huskily. "I caught you."
Not dead then. Still alive, and trapped in this impossible, bittersweet situation. The tears began again, trailing down her cheeks unchecked.
"There, there, it'll be all right," the captain mumured uncomfortably. "Come now...you know I can't stand it when a woman cries!"
Carolyn buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed. After a moment, her brain kicked back into gear enough to realize he was still holding her. That she could feel the arms enfolding her securely. She raised her head to stare into his eyes in amazement.
The minute their eyes met, the magic of the moment increased until she hardly dared breathe. His eyes held the same longing she felt in her soul. And, in the next second, she closed her eyes as his lips came closer. And touched hers.
When the heavenly kiss ended, she gazed at him in stupifyed wonder. "How did you--I mean, I thought--" she stammered, her composure shot to hell.
Gregg blinked as if waking from a dream and lowered her to the ground, sitting beside her. "You thought what I wanted you to think," he answered.
"I don't understand. I thought you couldn't--"
A small grin appeared on his face. "That I couldn't touch anyone? Think, Madam. How was I able to pick up things, and hand them to you? Or throw Claymore out of the house bodily? Claymore will tell you that he very much felt my foot on the seat of his pants."
"Then you lied to me!" she said with female indignation.
He sighed. "I merely let you assume."
"Why?" she asked, the hurt coming through in her voice.
Daniel sighed. "It was...easier that way, for both of us." He paused, as if bracing himself for what he had to say next. "I have nothing to offer you, Carolyn."
The unprecedented use of her first name caused another shiver to run up Carolyn's spine, this one of pleasure.
"I've been dead for over a hundred years. I can't support you, or give you children. I can't even be seen in public with you. That's no life for a vibrant woman like yourself. You deserve better," the Captain whispered. "Better than I can ever give you. I thought it best to remove temptation." He took a deep breath, and when he spoke again it was in a business-like tone. "I was concerned about you going off on your own like this, so I decided I'd better keep an eye on you. Good thing I did, too," he added.
"I supposed I should thank you for saving my life," Carolyn said quietly, her head spinning. So she could feel him. New possibilities cropped up. "Can you...feel things?" she asked, unobtrusively moving closer to him.
"Not in the same manner you do, but yes," he said uncomfortably. "I would hardly have kissed you otherwise, would I?"
They stared into each other's eyes again. "Everything?" she asked coyly.
He seemed flustered. "Mrs. Muir--just what you are suggesting?"
"I think you know," she told him, reaching out and sliding her arm through his.
A stunned look crossed Greg's features. "Surely you aren't--you can't be--Madam, I'm surprised at you!"
"For what?" she said defensively. "For being lonely? For wanting to feel a man's touch again...the man I'm in love with?" She was rather surprised too, at the bold things she was saying, but one of them had to make the move. The ever-polite, respectful, Gregg would never do it.
His gaze softened and he stroked her cheek with his hand. "There's no future with me."
It didn't take much; even without tactile senses, he'd been irresistable to her. She trembled at his light touch. It wasn't the warmth of a living human body, but it was something. It was enough.
"There's no future without you," she whispered.
He responded to her words by taking her mouth again. The feelings built between them until she was about to melt into his body...then he pulled away.
"We shouldn't do this."
"I didn't come up here to get inspiration for a story, you know," she began. "It was to make some important decisions. About us. I didn't know if I could live a life without...this," she said, taking his hand in hers. "But I realized I couldn't leave. And now, I know we can have more than I thought possible..."
His face grew red, even in the dim light. "I don't know how far this extends...I mean, I haven't exactly had the opportunity to put it to the test, have I?"
She smiled at his discomfiture. "You do now."
"Madam!" he exclaimed in a scandalized tone.
She wrapped both arms around him, feeling giddy with relief. "Oh Captain -- for a salty old sea captain, you're a real prude sometimes." Then her voice turned more serious. "In your day there were two kinds of women, but times have changed and like you said, we can't get married. I value and appreciate your respect. But I need something else right now..." she looked at him, entreaty in her gaze.
For a long moment Daniel simply stared at her. "Blast," he finally murmured. "I never could resist those eyes." Finally, their lips met again.
It was better than in her fantasies, sweeter than a dream come true. He lowered her to the ground gently, covering her body with his form. His reverent lips caressed her mouth, her cheek, then moved to her neck. A warmth spread up through her body, and she moved her legs apart involuntarily, a moan escaping her lips.
Gregg leaned back and looked at her, brushing the hair off her forehead tenderly. "Are you sure you won't regret this?"
"Please love me, Daniel," she whispered, pulling him back down. Using his first name sounded odd, yet right too.
"I do," he murmured into her mouth. "I have loved you since I first laid eyes on you. How I wished I'd met you when I was alive. I would have never let you go. I would have given you everything," he said with a deep sadness.
"We have this," she replied, coaxing him closer, arching into his touch. "It's enough."
As the darkness descended on the mountain, their touches became more urgent. His trembling fingers removed her clothing. She closed her eyes and basked in the sensations overtaking her starved body. He was a marvelous lover, considerate and skillful. He rang responses from her body that she'd never imagined, taking her higher and higher toward the top of the cliff.
Eventually, crying out, she plummeted over the edge, free-falling through space. As before, his arms caught her, holding her safe from danger. Her soft cries echoed through the night, mixing with his deep voice murmuring endearments and moaning in pleasure. Again and again the pleasure pulsed through her body. There was no ejaculation to mark his release, but she felt it in the way he stiffened, heard it in the way he cried out. Then he sagged onto her, lips whispering love words into her ear.
It wasn't the warmth of a living body, but she felt warm, inside and out.
* * *
Dawn was beginning to lighten the landscape when Carolyn's reluctant eyes opened. She was slightly surprised to find herself back at her campsite, laying on the soft sleeping bag.
Gregg was laying next to her, watching her with soft eyes.
"Good morning," she murmured, feeling absurdly shy now that it was over.
"Yes, it is," he agreed, running a finger down her cheek. "Any second thoughts?" he asked. "Becuase just tell me and--"
She silenced him with fingers to his lips. "I've already given it a lot of thought. I can't help my feelings for you."
"Nor I you," Daniel made it a vow. "It won't be easy," he cautioned. "There will be problems--"
"We have the rest of the weekend to discuss it." she said with a promising smile.
"If you want to leave one day, I won't try to hold you back."
"I know. But that would mean finding a better man than you." She smiled. "I don't think they make them like you anymore."
"Nor you either, Carolyn..."
It was a promise. A new day. And suddenly a lifetime didn't seem so long, or lonely.
Neither did eternity.
*"Distant Shore" by R. Patton and J. Cain