Living Single.

I’ve been a singleton for many years now, and have lived alone for many years, as well. So let’s chat about a few of the awesome and not so awesome stuff about living single, shall we? We’re limiting this to the actual living part of living single. Let’s start with the not so great things and then close out with the positives because we want to add a bit of sunshine to 2020 Part 2, or what the calendar refers to as 2021.

The Meh.

Credit: Giphy
  • The Zippers/Buttons: So do designers make clothes assuming that all folks will have someone buttoning and zipping up for them? Apparently. I’ve nearly broken bones in several places in my attempt to Cirque du Soleil my limbs to zip up or button (those tiny buttons made not for human fingers) my dress/blouse, etc. Goodness.
  • The Groceries: Hoisting a 20-pack of water into your home is fun. Said no one living alone with virtually little to no upper body strength. I’m sure one or many of my neighbors has recorded me attempt to open my front door with said pack in my arms.
  • The what was that?: This happens when the ice maker in my freezer starts whirring and I subsequently believe that someone is trying to break down my door. Random noises when one is living solo are never not nerve-racking.
  • The Abundance: of things. So many things. I recently cleared my coffee table of all the things I had heaped upon it for the past few months. Living alone–especially now during COVID and not receiving visitors–opens the door to just setting something (or things) somewhere and forgetting about it. Not the best if you want maintain a sense of order and no clutter.
  • The Moments: when you see something interesting/intriguing/amazing on TV or during a movie and exclaim, “did you see that?” And you realize that yes, yes you did. No one else did, Square Peg.

The Awesomeness.

Credit: Giphy
  • The Silence: Sometimes I breathe in the quiet of my home and I love hearing the hush. It’s like being in my own personal library, and you know how I feel about libraries.
  • The Loud: Conversely, I can turn the up the volume however high on various devices without incurring a noise complaint. That means plenty of loud Law and Order dun dun intros.
  • The Air: One thing my siblings repeatedly laugh about is my inability to exist in a room with just one temperature. I’m either freezing or I’m sweltering. Well, in my home, we shall have whatever extremes we like. (For the record, the AC comes on here and there during the day but is definitely on during the nighttime.)
  • The Singing: Your Square Peg wanted to be a singer before she discovered her love for writing. Did you know that? I love singing and have since I was a painfully shy ‘lil Square Peg who didn’t speak in public but came home and consumed my parents with alll the songs I memorized from the classroom. As I got older and we watched shows like Star Search (many of your music favorites were discovered on SS), my dream was to go on the show and sing anything by Whitney Houston. Anywho, living alone affords me the joy of belting tunes at the highest high of my voice.
  • The Laughter: Similar to above, I cackle in my house. Sometimes for no reason at all. I’m sure you do the same in your home, single or not, but there’s a certain joy I receive when I laugh with abandon.

Like I said, a few things. In the end, even the meh stuff aren’t complaints. With all the things happening around the world these days, I am grateful just to have a roof over my head. Seeing all the storms happening the Gulf and other places is just unreal. Praying for all my friends who live in those areas.

Tell me what you like about living alone in the comments, won’t you?

Onwards.

Straightening Up and Flying Right, Part Deux.

Read Part Un here.

That previous post mentioned how, in part, my posture certainly changed when puberty reared her head and pronounced me worthy of her, uh, magnanimous gifts. You get my drift. Things grew, and fast. As I got older, those “gifts” not only added to my terrible posture—honestly, they were the main reason for it—but they made me utterly self-conscious. I grew to rely on blazers and cardigans in my 20s and up. You’d also rarely see me in a t-shirt. In high school, I favored larger shirts because no high schooler is wearing a blazer. In other words, I was all about that camouflage life. No one was going to put a spotlight on me because of them.

Then in the mid-90s, I watched an episode of Living Single (1994, episode title: “My Cups Runneth Overl) and Kim Fields’ character (and my personal heroine) Regine learned that she had to get a breast reduction to ease the back pain and other medical issues she was going through. This coincided with Kim Fields’ real-life reduction. Can I tell you how much I longed for the same thing? Like, I remember watching that show and looking down at myself and wishing it was me in this fictional tv show. But yeah, in ‘94, I was 15 and nope.

But for years, I looked into it. Doing research. Looking up procedures. Asking friends. I always gave up when the reminder came that a surgery like this was cosmetic and therefore not an insurance-will-cover-it thing. The wallet wasn’t cleared for such things.

But three years ago, after much thought, prayer, and a friend telling me that an amazing surgeon had performed her procedure, I took a leap. I had a consultation with a doctor who said the following winsome words:

Oh, you’re definitely a candidate for surgery.

He told me their staff would take care of discussing this with the insurance company. They took pictures, looked at the indentations in my skin, my very bad posture, my back. I soon learned that my out-of-pockets costs would only be a few hundred dollars. This was kismet. I was finally going to do this.

Well, in November of that year (2018), I did it. Some bulleted thoughts about this surgery and its aftermath:

  • My sister asked me if I would have an emotional reaction to replacing those big “gifts” for smaller ones. Nope. Not a one.
  • Um, the healing process was not easy. It hurt! But I knew it was necessary and thank goodness for amazing friends who thoroughly helped me and took care of me.
  • My confidence increased exponentially. I was no longer afraid of t-shirts, buttoned shirts, and the absence of a blazer. We’ll discuss that a bit more below.
  • The presence of a good doctor does wonders.

About clothes. I definitely felt freer and not encumbered my self-consciousness after the surgery, but I still deal with some phantom “gift” issues. Meaning, maneuvering myself like the weight is still on there. Slouching like the weight is still on there. So, yeah, mentally, I still need to sit up straight. I’m working on that…

Some context: left, pre-procedure; right, a month after the procedure.

This post has one main point: there’s a beauty in having a goal, time passing, and finally achieving it.

Onwards and upwards.

Products from Heaven: Temp Color, Perm Win.

Don’t be alarmed by the “perm” reference: it’s a permANENT win for me.

So, I’ve been graying since high school. It wasn’t a big deal and bit unique to me; my dear Dad grayed fully at 20 so I wasn’t surprised by the silver strands that started arriving in my hair in my early teens. (See this fun story about an old classmate who was thoroughly fascinated with them. ) As I got older though, coloring my hair became something I enjoyed doing, not really to hide the gray, but to have something fun when it came to my hair.

And then the pandemic walked in and made itself comfortable.

2020 became the year of no fuss for me when it came to Le Fro; I decided that I would just leave my hair alone when it came to dyes. (Really, the point was to just leave my hair alone in general; very little manipulation and only protecting it with twists.) My gray hair: “oh, yeah? The door is open? Here we come.” So they came. And came. And headed for my eyebrows. And facial hair. Goodness. But as far as the hair on this head, I remembered having seen videos on IG and YouTube about hair paint and temporary color. I had a new jar of temporary color that so, far, I hadn’t used. So, last week, I tried it out.

The Product: Ors Curls Unleashed – Color Blast Temporary Hair Makeup Wax

I washed my hair as per usual, added leave-in conditioner, and as the YT videos I watched largely advised, used the hair wax (shade: Sangria) as my styler for my two-strand twists. In other words, shampoo, conditioner, leave-in, hair wax. My concerns were color transfer mostly; I wondered if the color would get everywhere. I also envisioned parts of my hair feeling like concrete.

The Results: uh, amazing. AMAZING. The color easily washed off my hands and didn’t stain my nails (I initially tried to use gloves while twisting my hair but that became a bit annoying and weird, so off the gloves came), and there really was no transfer. My curls were super defined and didn’t feel concrete-y at all. When taking out my twists, I used a bit of oil on my fingers to decrease frizz, which is just my way of not untwisting dry–because my hair is frizzy and I really have no problem with this.

The Recommendation: if you’re looking for a fun change-up for your hair, this product is an excellent option for the strands. My intent is to stay away from dyes and chemicals for the near future, so this is going to be my way of doing that. The Ors line has plenty of colors to choose from, as well.

During a fun photo shoot with a friend this past weekend (more about that in tomorrow’s post), the curls really jumped out.

Yes, I love touching my hair.

Here’s some context; on the left is my hair pre-temp color.

You see that pesky gray eyebrow strand in the pic on the right, don’t you?

Anyway.

Definitely a Product from Heaven. (See previous ones here, here, and here.)

Bon Monday, and onwards…

Have you tried temporary color before? Tell me about it, if you have, in the comments.

Life…So Far…

Hey, y’all. Been a while since I updated you, dear readers, about life and what’s going on with your Square Peg.

Image credit: Giphy

Autumn 2020. Lest we refer back to the year that shall remain nameless, we’ll start there. After months of quarantine living and having way too many conversations with myself, I decided after some prayer and planning to head back to the Somewheres, VA and spend time with the fam while working from there. Fortunately, my job allowed for that, since remote work can happen from anywhere and we weren’t headed back to the office anytime soon. So, from mid-November 2020 to just this past March, I was home. Back to my people, eating regularly and my Mama’s amazing cooking, not feeling hopelessly alone. It was awesome. It was also a trip back to 1995, because my mother all the way treated me like I was 16 years old all over again. That was interesting. There were many times where I wondered if I’d end up grounded like back in the day.

Snovid-21. That’s one of the many apropos nicknames that was assigned to the Bizarre Winter Storm of 2021, which occurred in early February of this year. And if you remember, Texas got hid pretty hard. Large losses of power, beyond chilly temperatures that even surpassed Alaska on some days, flooding. And it’s that final one, that flooding, that affected my apartment.

  • Since I was still in Virginia at the time, the flooding that occurred in my apartment happened without me there:
    • My leasing office responded to my request for someone to check on my place with a reply that they didn’t have any available maintenance workers to check on my place for me. (Which would take like, two seconds.)
    • When I returned home in early March, I was greeted with mildew, black mold, and other areas of damage in my downstairs kitchen, foyer, and living/dining area.
    • After a lot of back and forth, someone finally responded to my requests for assistance. (Which means it was a bear reaching anyone for help. Which means I was beyond frustrated.)
    • Long, long, long story short: all repairs they made were in vain; I was eventually relocated to another apartment because my place became uninhabitable.

So I’m in the new place now and it’s nice to finally be in a place where I can breathe. I couldn’t sit in the living room in the old place because of the mildew and mold; who would have thought the ability to sit on one’s couch and simply relax could feel amazing, even more than before? Grateful. But in case you’re wondering, no, I’ll be finding a new place to live after time on the lease here is up. Those bullets above hardly scratch the surface of the utter frustration that occurred during March-April. Like I cannot even. I utterly underestimated the power of a home being a haven, and when that haven was gone, it was intense and difficult, to say the absolute least. Imagine all of those in the state that got hit worse than me. Goodness.

So, that’s the tea on life for now. Creatively, I’m still writing and coming up with some Frowriter branding, too. Exciting. See the IG for more info.

Bon weekend, dear readers. Onwards and upwards on this life ting…

Cassiopeia, The End.

Despite Jupiter’s promise, none of us had any intention of staying in the area. A few days after the confrontation, Laura vacated her La Jolla condominium. She settled on a ranch in Billings, Montana, which provided plenty of space for my dog, Jack Russell, who would stay with his new friend until it was time to collect him. I was sure he didn’t mind. Spall also found a place near Laura but spent most of his evenings enjoying her dinners and keeping his customary watchful eye over her.  

As for Cassiopeia and me, we joined Laura in Billings but only for our wedding in the local courthouse and a few weeks afterward. We planned on embracing the nomadic lifestyle with my severance pay from The Jupiter Alliance before deciding on where we would settle down, likely close to Laura.

Speaking of The Jupiter Alliance: Hannah Jupiter, along with the Board of Directors, forced Zachary Jupiter out of the company as the CEO and removed anyone on the senior staff with loyalties to him. His whereabouts were known: in their home, eternally watched and monitored. I also learned, unsurprisingly, that most of the 28th floor had been removed from the company. The last piece of information I learned, one that would stay with me for a long time, was that Hannah Jupiter had created a victims’ fund for everyone adversely impacted by the anti-fraternization policy. Its name: the Ballard and Marnie Keene Trust. 

*

On our wedding day, she wore a crown of wildflowers. The train of her flowing white gown (“Grecian style,” my new mother-in-law had informed me with a smile) was also covered in flowers as Spall walked her down the aisle. As our eyes met, as she advanced toward me, my heart was seconds from bursting. Moments after Spall handed her to me and before the court official began the vows, Cassiopeia leaned over. “I love you,” she whispered in my ear. I repeated the words back to her, stopping myself from saying them more than once. We had a lifetime for me to utter those words and I intended on taking that long to utter them.

Our vows finished, the bride kissed, I reached out to caress her cheek, slightly in awe that we were now husband and wife. Unlike my recurring dream, however, my fingers met no stars on her skin. And yet, when Cassiopeia pulled me toward her in a long, beautiful embrace, I maintain, I profess, that I saw galaxies.  

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Thanks for hanging in with Cassiopeia and Elliott and the rest for this story. I enjoyed writing it, as I mentioned in the beginning, if only for the chance to throw in some Greek myth-inspired allegory and a bit of suspense along the way. Did you catch the references?

It was a pleasure to share with you. Onwards…to the next tale I choose to share.

Bon Thursday.

Cassiopeia, Part 11.

Cassiopeia quickly approached our group, her eyes clouded in confusion and alarm as she observed her mother pointing at her father. “What is this?” she asked when she reached me. “Elliott, why didn’t you tell me you were coming here? The house was empty. I thought he had taken all of you. I—” Her voice trailed off. I had an idea what she had come to Jupiter’s office to do but refused to give it any further thought. We were all desperate right now, all willing to do anything to save the people we loved.

I drew her toward me, softly kissing her on the forehead. “I had to do something. I had to.”

“He will kill you,” she whispered.

“The jury is still out on that,” I replied softly, smiling at her.

“I hate to interrupt you lovebirds but everyone in this room now has a target on their back,” Jupiter boomed.

We both looked up. I saw something flash in Jupiter’s eyes, something imperceptible, as he rested his attention on his daughter. It quickly disappeared and was replaced by his usual cold glower. “Glad you could stop by, my dear,” he said to Cassiopeia. “Your mother is presently blackmailing me. She claims I’ll never see you again if I don’t remove my policies and let you all go. Ineffectual. I knew where you were when you removed your microphone and disappeared. I knew where all of you were. But I waited because you always come to your senses. You always do the right thing. It’s sad that I’ll have to lose you, that all these other people will lose their lives, too.”

“My God, Zachary, you’re a monster,” Laura said.

Cassiopeia approached the platform toward her father, her features now covered in rage. I gently pulled her back. If anything was going to happen to any of us, she would be my side, next to me. “This has gone on too long,” I said. “Spall, please.”

Nodding, Spall pushed open the door to the private entrance.

She seemed to glide into the room.

Tall, stately, brimming with authority. This time, I saw an emotion on his face that was undeniable and likely the first time any of us had witnessed said emotion when it came to Zachary Jupiter: fear.  

Hannah Jupiter held up her hand when Jupiter opened his mouth to speak. “First, call off Waylon.” She had a commanding voice of her own, not a roar, but no less powerful with its deep, husky tone.

We watched her husband acquiesce without hesitation, pressing the button the phone again and dismissing the enforcer. Had he ever done anything without hesitation, I wondered, other than destroying the lives of the people that worked for him?

“You’ve been having innocent people hurt for engaging in less damaging behavior than you,” Hannah Jupiter said. “I suspected as much for some time, but when Timothy reached out to me, I confirmed things for myself. I have people that work for me, too.”

I watched Jupiter squirm. The man squirmed.

“Rebuking you for bringing other women into our lives affected only you and I,” Hannah continued. “Learning that you were punishing other people for your sins was revolting. The anti-fraternization policy is over.”  

Her words rang in my ears, throughout the office, and seemed to echo within every corner. I looked at Cassiopeia, whose eyes were trained on Hannah.  

“You will right these wrongs, Zachary. Start now. Say what needs to be said.”

“Hannah—”

“Zachary, if I have to ask again, I will release all of this information to the press to your lasting ruination. Say what needs to be said.”

Jupiter glared at me, Spall, Laura, and lastly, Cassiopeia. “None of you will be harmed.” He seemed to be speaking directly, and only, to his daughter. “You’re all free to go.”

Hannah rested her eyes on Cassiopeia. “I heard everything outside the private entrance. He’s your father.” It wasn’t a question. It didn’t need to be.

Cassiopeia nodded.

“I was told the business needed to grow,” Hannah said, looking back at Jupiter. “That having children wasn’t in the cards for us. And there you are.”

“There are more of us,” Cassiopeia replied. “Many right here on this floor.”

Hannah’s head turned sharply toward Jupiter.

He didn’t look at her.

We left them like this.

Cassiopeia, Part 10.

I had envisioned more muted tones, perhaps an endless stream of mahogany, to characterize the lair of one of the most powerful and now officially menacing men in the business world. In effect, whatever Lex Luthor’s office looked like. (Certainly, a dark and intimidating wood finish.)  As I studied the colossal office, however, the abundance of white furniture stood out, including the enormous white oak desk at the front of the room where Jupiter sat. He watched me from afar; the distance from the door to his desk was lengthy, but I was undoubtedly aware of his attention.  

The young woman left us alone, but not without another hard glare in my direction. With a deep breath, I began the journey toward Jupiter’s desk, marveling at the dichotomy of so much white with the almost jarringly colorful artwork that crowded the wall space.  

“What do you want?” Jupiter growled when I reached the platform that led to his desk. As employees, one thing we had repeatedly discussed about the man, having only seen him in video, was the perpetual bark that coated his voice; everything he said, whether it was praising quarterly profits or reminding us to give our all to the company, sounded like a roar. Even seated in his chair, it was obvious that he was a solid, robust man. His upper half, clad in a gray suit that likely cost more than my annual salary, was all muscle.  

“You already know who I am and how I feel about Cassiopeia,” I said, my voice clearer and firmer than how I felt, which could be best described as gelatinous. “I want to marry her and live our lives without the fear of reprisal.” State your case, Spall had instructed during our planning. Don’t sugarcoat it

Zachary Jupiter threw his head back and laughed. It sounded like a cannon.

“You have five seconds to get out of my sight,” he barked. “On the sixth second, the men that will enter this office won’t have a problem removing you by throwing you off my balcony.”

That image temporarily replaced Cassiopeia’s. Nevertheless, I remained resolute despite the bile quickly rising in my system. “I know she’s your daughter,” I said.

Jupiter leaned back in his chair, one eyebrow ascendant. “Do you now?”

“Yes.”

“And I suppose she told you that piece of information.”

“She did.”

Jupiter nodded. “Did she also inform you that, daughter or not, everyone in this little scenario will be severely punished? Including you and most certainly her?” he questioned, leaning forward in his desk.

“I don’t think you’ll punish everyone, Mr. Jupiter.”

With that, the door to the right of his desk opened. We both watched Timothy Spall enter the office with Laura Benson by his side.

*

Jupiter shot up from his chair, peering at me and then Spall. “How did you two get in here?” he roared.

“I worked for you for ten years,” Spall replied, “so your private entrance isn’t new information.”

Jupiter’s eyes then rested on Laura. “You’re risking your life by coming here,” he said coldly.

“Oh, please, Zachary,” Laura replied, waving her hand in dismissal. “You’ve got all these people in this building living in fear. I don’t work for you.”

Jupiter pressed a button on his desk phone. “Waylon, I need you in my office.”

Spall glanced at me. Clearly, Waylon was an enforcer. We didn’t have much time. I caught Laura’s eye and nodded.

“Have it your way,” Laura said. “If my daughter and Elliott can’t live freely—if you don’t abolish this ridiculous anti-fraternization policy that came from your mistakes—you’ll never see her again.”

“What are you talking about?” Jupiter hissed.

“Your daughter. You’ll never see her again. Simple as that.”

He laughed again. “And how do you plan on arranging that?”

It was Laura’s turn to laugh. “She was out of sight for several weeks from your minions, my dear. No one knew where she was. You couldn’t find her. You don’t think she can disappear? Give her more credit than that.”

I felt the rush of air on my back. Someone had entered the office. If it was Waylon, we were all goners. Turning around slightly, however, I saw that it was most certainly not Waylon.

Cassiopeia, Part 9.

There were eyes fixed on me the moment I exited the elevator. I wasn’t sure if they were agents or legitimate Jupiter office staff, but they were visibly communicating, mainly through frowns and threatening expressions, that my presence on the floor wasn’t welcomed or warranted. I wanted to laugh. One would think that an employee of a company would be welcomed on any floor of the company. Of course, very, very few, if any, of us had seen Zachary Jupiter in the flesh or even thought to approach this floor. I continued toward my destination, recalling the map Spall had given me to study.

“Can I help you?”

An attractively dressed young woman seemed to appear out of thin air next to me, armed with a clipboard, a painted-on smile, and now moving in tandem with me. “No, I’m fine, thank you.”

“Which office are headed to?” she asked.

“Zachary Jupiter’s office.”

She stopped short, gaping at me. “You can’t—how—he’s—”

As she comically stammered, a definite balm for my nerves, I looked at her carefully. The same almond-shaped brown eyes, the angular face; she bore enough of a resemblance to Cassiopeia to be noticeable. Could it be?

How many children did Jupiter have?

Had he filled the 28th floor with all of them?

“Do you know Cassiopeia Benson?” I asked quietly, interrupting her tirade.

She leveled me with a hard, long gaze. “Why?”

“She’s why I’m here. I think you and Cassiopeia might have something—or someone—in common. Am I wrong?”

She didn’t respond.

“Well, I have enough information to bring the person you and Cassiopeia might have in common to his knees, as well as this company. Maybe you can accompany me to his office, provide an introduction? What do you think?” I wanted her to know that I went to the office, that I didn’t back down.

“Nothing scares him,” she said with evident pride.

“This will.”

She leveled me with another disgusted expression but muttered that I should follow her. As we advanced down hallways and around corners, the attention from passersby didn’t wane. I maintained my composure, thinking only of the woman and I loved and how I was doing this for her. The fact was that Cassiopeia’s father would never let her go, no matter how much she wanted to fix things. I needed to do my part in the fixing.

We approached an imposing, oak door at the end of yet another hallway. The inner sanctum, no doubt. The young woman glanced back at me. “Just remember that you chose to come here,” she said to me.

I felt an unsurprising chill traverse my spine.

She knocked on the door before entering. The seemingly seconds-long conversation she engaged in was obviously unintelligible, but soon she came back out and gestured for me to enter the office of Zachary Jupiter.

Cassiopeia, Part 8.

Returning to my house was out of the question for the time being. We decided that I would stay in Laura’s guest room in the meantime. Cassiopeia was in and out of her mother’s home as the days passed by. I didn’t know where she stayed when she wasn’t with us (returning to her home was out of the question, as well), but I guessed there was a safe house somewhere in the area. Spall was also nearby most of the time, usually joining us for dinner (sometimes breakfast and lunch, too). It was clear that Cassiopeia has placed him on protection detail for both her mother and me.

After my time off ended, I sent an email to my manager and requested to work remotely for the remainder of the new week. A reply came later that morning.

From: Mark Cavanaugh

Sent:  May 10, 2018 8:48 AM

To: Elliott Percy

Subject: Request to Work Remotely

Elliott –

I appreciate the request and normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. Nevertheless, I’ve received some troubling information from upper management. We need to meet. Please report to the office as soon as possible.

Regards,

MC

I read the email repeatedly, my blood turning cold with each letter.

“What’s going on?” I heard. Spall had just walked in. “You don’t look good.” 

Wordlessly, I handed him my mobile phone, which I had used to access my business e-mail account. He read the message. “It’s a set up,” he said grimly. “They’re telling him to send this message. You’re a goner as soon as you step into that building. It’s Jupiter. The agents are gullible. But Jupiter won’t believe Cassi’s claim that she took care of you until he sees your body.”

God.

“I can’t live here forever, Spall. I’m terrified that the woman I love will never walk through those doors. I’m terrified for her mother. We’re just knee-deep in danger. This has to end.”

Spall studied me. “So, you love her, then?” he asked.

“More than I can even say. From the moment we met.”

He nodded. “Then we need to talk. First, hold off your boss; tell him to give you a few days to come in. I have an idea about how this can end. It’s a crazy idea, but you love her, so it won’t matter.”

I was ready for the idea. Yet, I had a question that needed to be asked. “Did you have this idea all this time?”

“It’s been brewing in the back of my mind, but I needed to be sure. Cassiopeia is like a sister to me; her mother is like my own mother. I wasn’t about to go any further for a silly crush. For the record, I believe you love her. So, we get to work.”

Even if I had an issue with him holding back until he was sure about my feelings—which I didn’t; if anything, I respected him for waiting until he was sure—it didn’t matter. I wanted to get to work.

*

That evening after dinner, Cassiopeia and I stood again on the balcony, taking in the cool evening.

“You fit perfectly,” I said. “Right here, under the crook of my arm. It’s a perfect fit.”

She peered up at me, smiling. “When nothing is perfect in life, at least we have that, don’t we?”

“At least we have that.” I wanted to tell her everything: what Spall and I had planned to do, the risks we were taking, but those words wouldn’t come. Not yet. I only wanted to breathe her in. If anything happened to me from here on out, I had this moment and her place under the crook of my arm.

“What will you do about work, Elliott?” she then asked. “Did you speak to Mark?”

“I’ll figure things out,” I said, remembering that she had an uncanny ability to decipher my unspoken thoughts.

“It won’t be like this forever. I will fix everything.”

I didn’t reply. Instead, I tightened my embrace around her.

*

On a bright Monday morning the following week, I entered the marble-lined floors of The Jupiter Alliance building. I was moments from vomiting and running back into my car, frankly. Nevertheless, the image of Cassiopeia, constant in my mind, stopped any of that from happening. Waving back at the security guard who greeted me, I walked into an unoccupied elevator and pressed the button for the 28th floor. Naturally, the number wouldn’t light up; admission to the 28th floor was held for a very limited amount of personnel. I pulled out my badge—now programmed by Spall with the necessary access rights—and placed it against the reader. Button number 28 flashed green.

Cassiopeia, Part 7.

I stood abruptly, certain that one of Crew Cut’s biceps alone could kill all of us and not caring in the least.

“It’s ok, El. He’s on our side,” Cassiopeia said.

“How? He warned me about you. He told me not to trust you.” I quickly relayed what happened at the dog park.

“I told him to tell you all those things,” Cassiopeia said after I was finished.

I gaped at her. “What? Why?”

“After that day in the restaurant I had to protect you somehow. If you were told to stay away from me and you did, perhaps they would think you didn’t have feelings for me, after all. Maybe they would leave you alone.”

“For the record, he did everything I told him to do. He stayed away,” Crew Cut pointed out to Cassiopeia as he approached the dining area. “But you still came after him.”  

“I panicked when I didn’t see him at the morning meeting. I thought they had taken him,” she said.

“Hate to interrupt, but who are you?” I asked Crew Cut. “How do you know that I ‘did everything’ you told me to do?” 

Crew Cut offered his hand to me. Reluctantly, I shook it.  “Timothy Spall. I was once an enforcer on Jupiter’s team. I went rogue, as it were. Harming people for dating each other just wasn’t my thing.” He then walked over to Laura and pecked her on the cheek. “Hi, Miss Laura.”

“Hi, sweetheart. Have you eaten?” she asked him.

“Yes, but I can always eat again.”

“There’s lasagna in the oven.”

I looked from one person to the other, jarred by the seemingly normal turn in conversation when far more pressing topics hung in the air. “You were saying, Spall?” I asked impatiently.

He turned from the oven and glanced at me. “Oh, right. I knew you did everything I told you to do because you’re not stupid. I could tell. But I also tapped into the security mainframe in the building the next day. I could see you in your office, not answering the door when she knocked. You were determined. You took days off. You listened to me. Simple as that.” He then resumed with making his plate.

Nothing about this entire situation was simple, but I sat back down, resigned. 

“When he was on the team, Timothy could tell that the work I was doing for Jupiter was ruining me,” Cassiopeia said, sliding her hand into mine.

“Because it was ruining me too,” Spall added, sitting down at the table with a heaping plate of lasagna. “I could see her falling apart because I was falling apart. We struck up a friendship. Keep in mind that agents aren’t friends. But we were. Anyway, when she received this new assignment and then told me about you, I knew she couldn’t do it. She liked you immediately.”

“Were either of you concerned about trust when you became friends, that one person could rat the other out?” I asked, curious.

Spall shook his head. “She is the most genuine person I know. I knew I could trust her, especially when I went off the grid a year ago and the team was hunting me down.”

“That day at the dog park: was I being watched?”

“One operative was watching you. When you called your dog over, he left. He wouldn’t gain anything from watching you and your pet.”

I mulled over another question. “But weren’t you concerned that they would see you?”

“Taking care of myself has never been a problem,” Spall replied before digging into his food.

I left the matter alone.

*

Later, while Laura and Spall quietly conversed in the dining area, Cassiopeia and I stood outside on the balcony. A mild breeze wandered around us; the evening was luminous, courtesy of the stars above our heads and the bright lights within the complex.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked me.

“If they’ve been watching me outside the office, they’ve been following us all day. From Palm Springs to here at your mother’s house. I’m just—aren’t you worried that they’ll burst in here, guns blazing?” I asked.

Cassiopeia shook her head. “No. I called them off before I arrived at your house. I made up something about taking care of you myself. Don’t worry.”

“I can’t help it,” I said. I was riddled with worry. “And I have to ask: how can your mother live right in town when your father can just get to her?”

“Spall wasn’t wrong earlier. He would never harm her.”

But imminent disaster still loomed around us. What was the end game to all of this? Cassiopeia had chosen me over everything: her job, her father, the punishments that would surely come. Where were we going now? What would happen next?

“You’re still worried,” Cassiopeia said, reading me as she was prone to do. She looked up at me, the moonlight around us radiating in her eyes.

Rather than elaborate, I placed my arm around her and told her I was fine. We stood like this for a while, my thoughts mounting despite being the comfort of being right where I wanted to be.