The stars were incredible. In the darkest night with no other light around you have to feel small in front of that many stars. My vision blurred, and even through the tears I was still awed by that much starlight.
I had to pick a good costume, and I knew it was important to look good this year. Last year I had gone as a clown, and Terry had helped me put the makeup on, yeah, that thick white caked greasy stuff, and she also helped me take it off when she threw a drink in my face. We had been friends for a couple of years and we ought to have known better than to try to be lovers, but she didn’t and it crashed at her annual Halloween party.
So this year people wondered if I would show up, and if I did show up, would I bring a date, and if I didn’t bring a gate, if it would be awkward. Terry had found someone else, and I knew the guy. He was one of those people everyone likes, and I suspect they were getting friendly before that last drink was served. That’s just bitterness, I admit it, because terry wouldn’t have cheated on me, and I doubt she could have kept it a secret if she had. But I had fallen back into the old habit of not going out, and keeping to myself and writing. A few of my short stories sold, and I got picked up for a few months to write for a zine, for money, so I was actually doing fairly well. But I knew showing up alone at Terry’s party would be kinda weird, but I went anyway. I truly love costume parties. This would be the fifth in a row for me, and honestly, Terry always threw a great party.
I was going to skip out, and my friend Rob was the one who pushed me back in. He and his girlfriend were going as his and hers robots, and man, did he do a great job on the robot suits, but at the last moment he broke his foot so he offered his work of art to me. I think he knew I was looking for an excuse to go, and Rob’s Robot was more than enough. It was made out of plastic sheeting fitted with arm holes and the arms were made out of corrugated tubing. Rob had rigged a DVD player up to a thin screen monitor and a cam so on the front of the robot it looked like there was a hole right through! The helmet was made out of a metal strainer, just to make it look goofy, but it covered my entire head. There were a lot of those tiny LED lights, and somehow Rob had rigged it so anyone who talked to him would also get the lights moving in rhythm with their speech. Most of the people at the party knew about the suit, but some of them didn’t know about Rob’s foot. Terry greeted me at the door thinking I was Rob, and I didn’t tell her any differently, and glided past the question about where Debra, Rob’s girlfriend, might be.
I spent most of the night flipping open the hood to explain I wasn’t Rob, and telling the story about his foot, but I also noticed that Terry and Norman, her latest conquest, dammit I have got to quit that, were doing quite well together. They looked like a good couple. And really, how else would someone named Norman come to a costume party except as a Knight? Terry was dressed like a princess and I knew it meant something for them to plan their costumes together, like Ron and Debra…
“You’re the ex boyfriend, the one on YouTube from last year’s party.”
I had seen her at the bar, and Terry always hired a great bartender, but I didn’t know her. She looked young, maybe twenty, and she was wearing a very simple but very original dress. It was something like a peasant would wear, or a serf but she was stunning in it. She had long black hair and incredible blue eyes. She was a little young for me to be hitting on, but she was very cute.
“Yes, that one got quite a few hits.” I laughed but I wondered how she had recognized me.
“You came in disguised, and you’ve avoided our hostess.” The woman said as she sat down on one of the wooden benches in the yard. “The little blonde in the cat suit told on you.”
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“Joan of Arc,” she said, “And your name?”
“Eli, the Tin Man.” I replied. “Joan, you look great in that dress.”
“Oh, you just noticed?” Joan smiled. “You’ve been watching your ex-girlfriend since you’ve gotten here, and you are just now making contact with another woman, even though you’ve got the best outfit by far. But you aren’t in love with her.”
“Really?” Okay, what does a man say to something like that? “How can you tell?”
“You aren’t drinking enough.”Joan said. “You’re watching her because you’re curious about what is going to happen next, not because you’re jealous.” She shifted over a bit and I was forced to either watch her or Terry. Joan won. “You still care, Eli, and that’s weird considering about this time last year you were soaking up a margarita with your face.”
It was odd how this woman watched people, and how well she did it. She told me that Samantha, the cat suit woman, had been watching the gate all night until I got there, and when she realized who I was, or who I wasn’t she stopped watching.
“So does Samantha have the hots for you or this guy Rob?” she asked.
“Hard to say.” I admitted. “I never liked her much. She talks too much.”
“Did you notice how the guy with the telephone on his leg keep trying to talk to her?” Joan asked. “And why is he wearing that weird suit?”
“It’s polyester and he’s a phone knee.”
Joan laughed hard at that, and I liked her. I noticed Terry was watching so I eased a hand around Joan’s waist. “If I push you away right now you can never come back to one of her parties again, you know.” Joan said.
“If you’ll laugh like that at the phone knee joke you aren’t interested in pushing me away.” I said, and I held my breath a little.
“You’re right, Eli.” Joan leaned over to me and kissed me on the cheek. “So let’s scandalize the party and leave together. “
She helped me take the robot parts off and put them in the truck of the car, and we headed out to my house. I live out in the sticks, but that didn’t seem to bother her at all. She didn’t have a purse, or any accessories like most women do. And we talked for hours in the front yard where all the stars are. I went in and got a blanket and we lay on our backs and held hands. She knew all the constellations, and knew the names of many of the stars, and I could see the shadow of her hand as it flitted back and forth between light years of space between stars and star and stars. The sun was coming up so we went inside and she let me undress her.
We spent the next day talking, and she wanted to see my writings, and it occurred to me that she hadn’t said anything about having to get home, or where she was from, or how she knew Terry. She deflected a couple of questions, and I could tell after the third or fourth try she was getting irritated. What to do? A woman twelve years younger than I, willing to spend the rest of Halloween weekend with me, and no questions asked? Yeah, as curious as I was, I didn’t want to push her away. Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, and after dinner on Sunday she went to take a shower.
“Who do you think is really hot, Eli?” Joan asked me from the shower. “Any woman, at any time.”
“Marilyn ” I said. “She still does it for me. Why?”
Joan didn’t answer. I waited for her to say something, anything at all, but there was only the sound of the shower running. I waited for a little while then went to check on her, did me liking Marilyn make her mad? But Joan was gone. The floor was dry, the windows where still shut and all the towels still hung on the rack. But Joan wasn’t there. I called her name but she was totally gone. There wasn’t a sign of her anywhere. I went outside and no one was there either. I was left alone under a sea of stars, and I had no idea if Joan had ever existed at all.
The nest couple of weeks were really odd. Terry called me and asked me who my new girlfriend was, and I told her Joan and I had spent the weekend together and then she had left. I didn’t try to explain Joan seemed to have escaped down the shower drain while I wasn’t watching, but several people had videos up. Joan had existed. I had not dreamed her. I felt as if Joan and I had connected, really connected, but now she was gone, and all I had left was someone’s video of her almost walking into the camera lens. Ron’s DVD player recorded a brief flash of Joan as she began to speak to me, but the recording stopped when I took the helmet off. I printed out a picture of her, and hung it over my computer. By New Year’s Eve I decided I wouldn’t see her again, but I kept the photo anyway. Terry and I had lunch together, a week before Valentine’s Day, and I knew why. No, I hadn’t seen that girl again, and congratulations.
Honestly, I couldn’t forget her. Each night I would step out into the yard and look up at the stars and wonder where Joan. No one at the party had known her, or where she came from. Everyone seemed to think we were a great couple, and I thought it too. But Summer came and went, deadlines had to be met, the bills had to be paid, Terry got engaged to Norman, they split up, reengaged, and by the time the end of October was creeping up on me, Terry sent an invitation to the party.
Ron and Debra rebooted the robots and they looked great. Norman was a knight again, and Terry went this time as an angel complete with wings that flapped by themselves. I went as Elvis. I never liked him much; I thought he was overweight, over rated, and over dosed, but I saw an Elvis suit online cheap and had to do it. It came with an Elvis wig with glue down sideburns, I mean, how could I resist? The party was in full swing when I arrived. I wondered how long it would be before Terry started showing. She wasn’t drinking and that wasn’t like her at all. Norman went to a lot of trouble to be nice to me, and I was really very touched by it. He seemed to go out of his way to make Terry happy and it made me feel good to think she had given him some sign our friendship meant something to her.
“Hello Eli,” a woman said, “it’s good to see you again.”
I turned around and there was someone who looked a lot like Marilyn Monroe.