Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Sep 13, 2022

Lita 2022

 Forty years have passed, yet the memory of it is as fresh as it was like it happened yesterday.

So it is true when they say that the mind is always willing but that the body can no longer follow through. Forty years ago, I could run, skip, and jump without effort, and my conditioning was nearly unmatchable. Today, I cannot stand up out of my chair without making that same noise that my father used to make all those years ago. So much time has passed since I first saw Lita one day after school, standing outside the school's front fence. She was a tomboy, but she possessed a graceful beauty, especially at the winter formal, where she dressed in a deep blue gown with simple rhinestones here and there. Lita wore her hair down, and she wore a gold broach to wear around her neck. All the guys wanted to dance with her, and she did accept, but only from a few. Afterward, Lita retired to a table in the back, where she stayed the entire night, watching and enjoying everything. She called out to me as I passed the table; I had just returned from the restroom. She grabbed me and pulled me down onto the seat next to her. "Come sit down," she laughed. "Talk to me, keep me company."

"Ah, ok, sure," I was nervous. Lita was gorgeous, and she smelled great, but there was something about her behavior that was a bit off. 

"So what," she pushed me playfully at first. "Where's your girlfriend? You don't have a date for tonight?"

"Me?" I was shocked that she would assume something like that. "No, not me-certainly not me,"

"Shut up," she giggled. "You for real? One handsome guy like you, and you don't have a date?"

"Nope, I'm just here by myself, talking to and hanging out with whoever," I said. She slipped her hand into mine, and leaning in close, she rested her head on my shoulder. I smelled the alcohol on her; it was heavy, which meant she'd been drinking long before she got here. 

"Can you sit here with me like this, just for the rest of the night," there was pain behind that simple question; there was heartache too, and something more. "You like me, right?"

"Sure," I said. "You're very cool,"

"But am I pretty?" She looked up at me.

"You're beautiful," I nodded.

"Could you like me as a girlfriend?" She asked with an edge of adult seriousness.

"I could," I nodded. "But don't we have to get to know each other first?"

"You know me now," she crooked her head. "Isn't that enough?"

"I see many of my friends get together with someone they like, but then they break up a short time after," I replied. "I think it's because they rush into it and don't get to know each other. It might actually be good if we're friends first with the understanding that the more we get to know one another, we will eventually be boyfriend and girlfriend," I said. 

Lita closed her eyes, slowly shook her head, and rubbed the palm of her hand on my chest. "I'm here now," she looked at me like I had missed the big clue. "Tonight, here, now, right in front of you! Don't you get it?"

She grabbed me by the hand and walked me out to the parking lot, where we got in her car. I asked her where we were going, and all she wanted to know was where I lived? I was ashamed to give her that information because we lived in an old duplex near a watercress farm at the bottom of a graveled road. We were poor and had nothing to offer, precisely what I told her. Her response to me was, "If you see where I live, you'd know why I'd take a duplex on a graveled road any day."

My folks were still up watching television when we walked in. Lita asked to borrow my coat because of how low-cut her dress was. Before I could make any introductions, Lita introduced herself as my girlfriend. My strict Catholic Portuguese parents liked her because of her last name Pacheco. It didn't matter that she was part Filipino; as long as she was Pacheco, that's all that mattered. "Paul," she smiled at me. "Can you get my bag in the back seat, please?" Then she turned to my parents and asked if she could use the bathroom to change clothes. She said the strap on her dress broke, so we had to leave the winter formal early.

You would have thought it was God himself asking for permission. My dad cleaned the bathroom first, and then my mom went into the kitchen and made dinner. During that time, my dad left to get popcorn and soda from the store. By the night's end, we were all laughing and talking as freely as one could speak with two teens in the tenth grade. Lita helped my mom put the food away and wash dishes while my dad and I emptied the trash. After my parents had gone to the bathroom and washed up, they bid us a good night and retired to bed, but not before cautioning us that we shouldn't stay up too late. Who were these two people? What happened to the two people who always imposed an impossible curfew? Now, they're letting me and Lita hang out in the living room by ourselves while watching late-night television and eating popcorn on the rattan couch? "Why did you tell my folks that you're my girlfriend?"

"I'm not?" She feigned surprise. 

"You know what I mean," I told her.

"Kiss me before we start eating the popcorn," before I could respond, she had me in a lip lock. 

"What happened to the alcohol smell?" I pulled back. "How did you hide it?"

"Lots of bubble gum," she whispered and kissed me again. "I have to get going, though, that's my father's car out there, and he needs it in the morning when he goes to work." She took me by the hand, and we walked out to her car and kissed a lot more before she finally said goodbye and left. That was the last time I saw Lita Pacheco. The next day, she disappeared. No trace of her was ever found. Luckily, when the authorities came to talk to me, they verified my story that Lita was a guest at our house and that my parents thought highly of her. When I saw her off to her car, it was parked right under my parent's bedroom window, which made them ear witnesses as well. That answered the question if there was ever an argument or disagreement between us. I can run you through the gamut of emotions, fears, and worries from then until now. It's been forty years, and I can still smell the aroma of Seagrams on Lita's breath.

I can see the light freckles on her cheeks and the green of her eyes. I can see that half-insecure smile that wants to reveal happiness but is hampered by self-doubt. The aroma of Wela-Balsam on her thick red hair is intoxicating like it was just yesterday. Forty years later, they found Lita in the trunk of her father's old ford Galaxie, parked in the garage of their old abandoned house in the back of Kipapa Gulch. Developers cleared space and came across the structure, where Lita's remains were eventually discovered. There was a gunshot wound in the back of her skull, and her hands and feet were bound and tied. There's her face in the evening news, the senior picture from our school yearbook. There's no closure because no one knows what happened, not even Lita's father. Who knows what the circumstances of her personal life were when she asked to be my girlfriend while under a drunken haze on that winter formal night? There was a kind of desperation as if that was going to be the last time that she would matter to anyone. I guess we will never know.


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