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I can still remember the first time I saw him. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. It was a Halloween party and he was dressed as a solider. It was a really good costume. He was just walking around, not talking to anyone or doing anything. He was cute and I thought about going up to him and saying hi. But when I went to look for him, I couldn’t find him anywhere. Nothing seemed strange.
Then I saw him when I was walking to my class. Then in the library. And in the park. He was still wearing the soldier’s uniform. Other people didn’t seem to notice. How could they not notice a guy standing in the middle of a park dressed in 18th century clothing? I had to figure him out. I normally just don’t walk up to strangers I’ve seen a few times and talk to them, but something about him made me think that he wanted someone to talk to him.
Well there was no time to waste. As I approached him, his eyes locked on mine and his expression turned to confusion.
I stopped in front of him and his eyes widened. “Hi. I think I saw you at Laura’s party the other night and was wondering why you were still wearing your costume. Do you love it that much?” I said and smiled.
He grinned back at me so big that I thought the smile would pop off his face. “You can see me?” he said, surprised. I was really confused. “This is amazing. I never thought anyone would ever see me. What’s your name?”
“Ummmm…Annie…. What’s yours?”
“Jackson. My name is Jackson,” he said enthusiastically.
Alright, he was kind of strange. I admit it, but he also made me want to know more. “Okay. So, Jackson, why are you still dressed like a solider from the American Revolution?”
But he didn’t answer my question. “Will you come with me?” He saw the hesitation in my face. “Just over to that tree over there.” He started towards a big shady oak tree. Once he reached the tree, he turned back around to see if I had followed. I hadn’t. He waved to me and yelled, “Come on!” I slowly made my way over to him underneath the shade of the old oak.
“Alright now why are we over here?” I asked him.
“That way, you’re not standing in the middle of the park looking like you’re talking to yourself.
“What?” Again, I was confused.
He looked down at his uniform, then back up at me. “To answer your earlier question, the reason why I’m dressed as a solider from the past is because,” he started. He hesitated, looked down at his uniform again and continued. “…Because… that’s where I’m from. I died in the revolution. And up until about five minutes ago. No one’s been able to see or hear me. Ever. But for some reason you did.”
Okay so now I was more worried that he needed to go back to whatever crazy planet he was from. “So what you’re saying, is that you’re a—“
“A ghost,” he finished for me. He said it like nothing was wrong, as if it was an everyday answer.
When I said I wanted to go talk to him, I never knew he’d be weird and crazy. Not exactly what I planned. “Okay….umm…I…uh.. gotta go.” And I turned around and practically ran away from him. I was about to step on to the concrete pathway when he appeared before me. And I literally mean appeared. Like out of thin air. “Wha¬—…how did?...You were… over ther—…and now—“
“Please. Don’t go. I’ve waited so long for someone to see me. Please, you have to help me.”
“Okay, first of all, you don’t need my help, you need a doctor’s or someone’s because there’s no such thing as ghosts. And second—.” But before I could finish, a runner ran right through him. As if he was nothing but air. And the runner showed no emotion; she just kept running.
Jackson looked at he and sighed. “Now do you believe me?”
I nodded, speechless.
It took a few weeks to get used to having a ghost as a friend. I would get strange looks from people who thought I was talking to myself. I would literally jump out of my chair when Jackson would show up next to me in class, saying he “wanted to learn his own history.”
But I got used to him. I learned to talk to him in public without making a fool of myself. I’d pass him notes in class asking him what he thought. We grew closer. He told me about where he was when he wasn’t with me. How he could travel so quickly from place to place; he called it fading. I never got over how amazing it was. One second he’d be standing in front of me, then the next, he’d be behind me. I stopped seeing my other friends. They just didn’t get me like Jackson did.
It got harder for me to remember that he wasn’t real. It got harder for me to not feel for him. I knew it was stupid. There was no way for us to ever be together. But I kept wanting it. The more time I spent with him, the more real he seemed. But I could never tell him. What did I think would happen? He could never hold my hand or kiss me goodnight. But something in the back of my mind told me to care for him anyway. So I did.
He never said anything, but I could tell he felt something. He had no reason to stay with me, but he did. He never left me. He was there when I needed someone most. He couldn’t hold me in his arms, but his words and his smiles were enough.
I couldn’t wait anymore. I had to tell him how I felt. I needed him to know, no matter how he’d react.
It was nerve wracking. My heart was beating so hard that I thought it was going to pop out of my chest. I called out his name and when he appeared, all my nerves just went away.
“Hey. Are you okay?” he asked me, worried.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied and he relaxed. “There was just something I wanted to tell you.”
“Okay. I’m all ears,” and he smiled.
Now was my chance. “Well..uh…I was just thinking,” no all wrong. What was I doing? “Okay I know this is crazy. I can’t help it. I just need you to know. The day I met you, I thought you were crazy. But after a few weeks and getting to know you more and more, I started to—“ But he cut me off.
“Annie, stop.” I knew this would happen. He must of thought I was being ridiculous. “You don’t have to say anything. I know.”
Wait, what? “What? What do you know?” He caught me off guard.
“I know what you’re trying to say.” Maybe this wasn’t so crazy. “And I know, because I feel it too. I’ve cared about you since the day I met you. I’ve waited so long for someone to see and hear me and when you did, I couldn’t help but think that it was for a reason. And after that, I couldn’t help but fall for you. And then I figured out why.” He looked up at me. “When I died, I wasn’t expecting it. I should have though, I mean I was fighting a war. But I couldn’t understand it then. After all those years of being alone, I really started to believe in the whole fate thing.” He laughed at himself. “I realized that it was just time for me to die. Now I know that you came into my life for a reason. And I think the reason is for us to be together.
“And when exactly did you figure this out?” I asked him.
“The first day you passed me a note in your class. It told me that you cared about what I thought. You found a way to tell me without actually saying it. I couldn’t help but think that maybe you felt the same.”
“You were right. I do care about you.” I was so relieved. How could I think that he wouldn’t care? He had no one else, nothing to hold on to and care for, but yet he stayed. “Now we’ve got that out of the way, what do we do now?”
He smiled. “I’ve got some ideas about that.”
We spent the next four months finding out more and more about each other. He showed me his favorite spots in the city. We would sit on a bench and I’d listen to him analyze people. He got really good at reading people. He learned all my little quirks, the way I’d tuck my hair behind my ear when I got nervous and how my laugh would get higher and higher pitched as I kept laughing; the way I did everything. He knew me better than I knew myself. He was different from any other guy I’d ever met. There was something that kept pulling me in.
But I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t bring him home to my parents. I could never touch him. I wanted to know how he felt, wanted to feel his arms wrapped around me. I felt incomplete without knowing what was missing. And I got tired of waiting. One day, I just cracked.
It was about six p.m. and I’d had a bad day. I plopped down on my couch in my little apartment. Jackson showed up as soon as my head hit the pillow.
“Hey. How was your day?” he said to me, coming to stand next to the couch.
It was like we were some old married couple avoiding our problems. He asked it so simply and it frustrated me. I sat up and took a deep breath. “What are we doing Jackson?”
He looked over at me, confused. “What are you talking about? I want to know how your day was.”
Another simple answer. “No. I mean why are we going around acting like everything is normal?”
“Everything is normal,” he said.
He didn’t get it. “You may be used to this, but there’s nothing normal about this. About us. We’re fooling ourselves here. What did we think would happen?” As I spoke, his face began to understand what I was getting at. “This isn’t going to work. Jackson, there’s no way for us to ever be together.
He looked down. I knew I'd hurt him. But if that’s what it took, I had to hurt him. " No Annie. We can figure something out. We can find a way," he pleaded.
"Don't you get it? It shouldn't be this hard. We shouldn't have to find a way to be together! It's just not meant to be! I know that now."
Jackson started to walk away from me. He paused, his back turned to me, then quickly turned around to face me. " You want to know something?" he asked me, his face sad. "I don't know what to do, I don't know why this happened. But all I know is..." he stopped. I looked up at him and our eyes met. "is that I love you. But it may not be enough. And that's what scares me. I've already lost everything once. I can’t lose you too.
It wouldn't be enough, I knew that. But I was so easily swayed by his words. I took them in and thought of how sweet his voice sounded when he said he loved me. There was no doubt in it. Here he was, having lost everything, but he still seemed whole. And there I was, barely lived my life. I had nothing to show for. Maybe I needed him more than he thought he needed me. I slowly looked up at him. He was waiting for me to say something. And I knew what I wanted to say, but before I could say it, he spoke first.
"I'm not expecting you to change your mind. You don't have to say anything. I just needed you to-." I had to interrupt him.
"I love you too." And I did. I just didn't want to admit it. It scared me. But after he wouldn't let me give up on us, he solidified my feelings. "I'm sorry. I didn't want things to get worse. I thought that if I just gave up, it would be easier.
Jackson gave me a reassuring look. "It might be easier that way, but that's the obvious choice. It's worse to never even try," he said as he came down to sit next to me. It was moments like these when I wished I could touch him. He must have read my mind, because he reached out to hold my hand. I thought he wouldn't be able to, but apparently I was wrong.
We both looked up in surprise, then back down at out intertwined hands and laughed in astonishment.
"But...how?" I uttered
He looked over at me. "I don't know. I guess before there wasn't a reason for me to be able to touch you. But now, I guess there is. "
I didn't need any more explanation. I didn't care. I spent the night wrapped in his arms as he slowly caressed my hair. I loved being able to feel his warmth and how his heartbeat rhythmically put me to sleep.
The next morning I woke up and Jackson wasn't there beside me. He hadn't gone far though. I looked up and saw him sitting out on the balcony. I quickly made myself a cup of coffee and joined him. It was a chilly morning and I had to wrap up in a blanket. He sat there, the wind slowly blowing through his light brown hair.
"It's windy, isn't it?" I asked him, putting my hand on his shoulder.
He didn't smile at my touch; he didn't take his eyes off of the skyline. "I don't know, I can't feel it." He sounded off.
"Jackson, are you okay?"
He got up and headed back inside. "Last night, something happened," he said as he sat down on the couch. "After you fell asleep I went out on the balcony for some fresh air. As I was looking over the rail, I think I had some sort of flashback. Suddenly I was back in the war, making my rounds as a tower guard. Then there was a large noise and a bright flash. I made my way out to the roof and saw our enemies coming towards the tower. They kept firing cannonballs at us. Next thing I knew, I was falling, the ground getting closer and closer. And then I was back on the balcony."
"Okay, so what does that have to do with anything?" I replied.
"I wasn't finished. When I looked back over the rail, I saw my father standing on the ground looking up at me. I ran down to him, but he kept looking up. I had to yell out at him to finally get his attention and he recognized me in a second. He smiled and said, 'It's time for you to come home.' Then he was gone." He took a deep breath. "Annie, I think he came to get me, to tell me that it's time for me to move on."
I let his words set in. He couldn't leave, not after last night. "No. You can't. What if you were just dreaming?"
"Annie, I don't sleep. I wasn't dreaming," he said back to me. How could he just accept this?
"Well if he was supposed to come get you then why are you still here?" I said, on the verge of tears.
He stood up, came over to me and put his arms around me. I couldn't move, couldn't hug him back. I could only stand there and cry. He held me, slowly trying to console me. "Hey, look at me." I met his eyes. "You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. But this isn't my world. It's not fair if I stay and keep you from your life." His words made sense; I just didn't want to hear them. But I knew he was right. He was always right. "I love you. So much. That’s why I have to lose you."
"And it's why I have to let you go," I uttered to him. I pulled out of his arms, but still held onto his hands. I had just gotten him and now I had to say goodbye. It wasn't fair. But when has life ever been fair.
"I will always love you," he said as he ran his finger down my check. He leaned his face down, his lips slowly connecting with mine. It was a simple kiss, but it was full of such emotion, such passion and desire. It was everything I'd wanted. When we parted, his green eyes were blazing. "I'll always be with you," he said. He smiled as a tear rolled down his face.
And then I was alone in my apartment.
One year later, I thought I saw him. I had tried to forget his face, but he kept coming to me in my dreams. But it wasn't him. It was like looking at an older version of him. And then I realized who he was.
"You're Jackson's father, aren't you?" I asked, already knowing the answer
He smiled and I saw where Jackson had gotten his smile from. "He said you were special. I've never met another person would who could see us."
"You've seen him?" I eagerly said.
He told me yes. He said that he was one of the few who could travel between the living and the dead. He told me Jackson was happy. But I still had to ask him why he had taken Jackson from me.
"I never took him. When I said that it was time for him to come home, I meant to see his family. Not move on. He figured that out on his own. He wouldn't have been able to move on unless he found what he was waiting for. And that was you."
I would never forget those words. I could have stopped him. He could still be with me. But I guess some things are just left up to fate.
So now I sit on my balcony, looking out at the horizon, waiting for my turn to find him.