In Plain Sight

“Gin and tonic, please,” he said to the waiter.

“My, how tame we’ve become in our old age.”

He smiled and turned around. She stood before him, grinning and still looking very much like the 21 year-old girl that had crossed the threshold of the gray building on Fairfax Street so many years ago. But her youthful appearance was in looks only; the woman in front of him brimmed with confidence and strength, a far cry from the terrified, shy girl they met that first day. Back then, their superiors had been–inexplicably in the eyes of most–convinced that Tamara Knight was blessed with the same keen abilities as her deceased mother, the incomparable Pamela Knight, and had recruited Tamara at once for the school. They had been wrong. Mara Knight was a complete neophyte; hardly ready to begin a rigorous training program that would result in a career as one of the Queen’s stable of international espionage agents.  

James stood and met her embrace, reminding himself to hold on just enough, not too long, not too close. Just enough. Of course, his resolve was interrupted by the kiss she placed on his cheek and, as a result, the dizzying aroma of roses and lilacs that she left behind on his skin. He was tempted to hold on to her one beat longer, long enough to communicate everything he had wanted to say since he laid eyes on her fifteen years ago.

He didn’t.

After the embrace, James escorted her to the other side of the booth. Moments later, the waiter re-appeared and took her request for a whiskey, neat.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked her after the waiter departed.

Mara softly chuckled. “Does it seem like I came from somewhere?”

“Absolutely.” He paused to study her, forcing himself to conduct only a surface appraisal and not the kind of intense staring he formerly engaged in when they worked in the same building. “South America, perhaps?”

Her large brown eyes gleamed. “How did you know?”

James pointed toward the sparkling broach on the left shoulder of her olive green dress. It was a flower with dark pink petals and a yellow/cream center.  “I’m venturing that it’s a rendering from the silk floss tree. Native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America, I believe.”

“Spot on, as always. Two weeks in Argentina. Buenos Aires, specifically.”

Naturally, the details about her time in Buenos Aires would remain unspoken between them. They belonged to the same organization, yes, but the potentiality of traitors meant that there would be no detailed discussion about “work.”  

“Lovely, isn’t it?” she said, lightly touching the broach. “It’s always nice to honor the culture of where you are.”

In the beginning, Mara Knight certainly wasn’t interested in honoring cultures. During a field assignment in Indonesia (they had been assigned together; her first, his umpteenth), James recalled that she had spent more time vomiting on the side of various roads than taking in the culture around them. “My nerves…my nerves are shot,” she kept muttering whenever the truck had to pull over for her. He laughed at the memory.

“Something funny?” she asked.

“You dry-heaving on the side of the road in Jakarta.”

She joined him in laughter, tears eventually twinkling in the corners of her eyes. “Those were the days, weren’t they?”

They had all underestimated her, believing that the terrified, unsure beginner would remain that way. In the end, her mother may not have gifted Mara Knight with those astute abilities she had been famous for, but perhaps she had given her daughter something greater, something she would come to find nearly six months into her training: a tenacious will to succeed. That will led to her surpassing them all, in the end.

“I miss us working together, James.”

His knee-jerk reaction, to blurt out that he missed her, just her, and not working together, was ignored. “I don’t think you miss London traffic and morning fog, though,” James replied instead, smiling.

“Those things don’t matter,” Mara replied. “I miss seeing you every day.”

Had she transitioned to reading minds?

Nevertheless, James kept the smile planted on his face and said nothing. What could even be said?

“I miss walking onto our floor and waving at you from the elevator,” she continued. “How long has it been: a year since we saw each other?”

One year, four months, two days, 15 minutes.

James merely nodded, sipping his drink to avoid speaking what he simply couldn’t say.

“I tried to call you, you know,” Mara then said quietly.

Don’t choke. “You tried to call me?” he questioned, holding tightly to his composure. “When?”

Mara sipped her drink. “Many times. Times when your voice was the only one I needed to hear.”

Understandable, he quickly reasoned. It was the two of them as partners for a long time. Nine years, to be exact.  (Also recruited at 21, James Caraway had quickly risen in their ranks and was a mission lead by the time Mara came to them. The top brass had decided to place the two of them together, feeling that the closeness in their ages–James was four years Mara’s senior–would lend itself to her training. They had shared everything: from missions to near-death experiences to those tiny, quiet moments in between, when just being side by side provided a sense of comfort and safety that didn’t require explanation or discussion. And then, three years ago, their superiors promoted Mara to a special counterintelligence team that didn’t include James.)

“I wish I had known,” was his only reply. Perhaps those unlisted numbers were her. Perhaps, deep, deep down, he had known it was her calling and allowed the calls to go unanswered. It didn’t matter, in the end. She missed him as a friend and a colleague, nothing more.

Mara then peered out of the window, gazing at the rain-soaked evening. James took that opportunity to carefully study her this time, not a surface appraisal like before. He took in every nuance of her, carving a new image of her to replace the one he had placed in his mind when they last saw another. Her dark brown skin, far more luminous than a year ago; the full head of curls, longer and fuller; even her shade of lipstick, deep red and warm. That way, when he closed his eyes from this day forward, he would see her in the present, as she was now. It made things a bit more real.

“James,” she said, turning back to face him, “you, my friend, are a terrible, terrible actor. How you’ve been able to excel this long in espionage is beyond me.”

Taken aback, he shook his head. “I’m not quite sure what–“

She reached across the table and grasped his hands. “Did you know it was me calling all those times? Did see you those numbers and wonder if it was me?”

“Mara, I–“

“Why did you ignore my calls, James? Why don’t you reply to my emails? Why did you arrange this dinner through Michael?”

Michael Hanson was her handler. James ran into Hanson one morning at the office and had suggested the dinner, hastily speaking before he could take it all back. Of course, he had used the cover that it was high time that Mara and her former partner/trainer reunite.

Mara squeezed his hands, still leaning over, her brown eyes boring into his. “What have you been afraid to tell me? Why have you been afraid to say? Do you think I’ve never noticed you looking at me? Just like you were a few seconds ago? Do you think I’ve been blind all this time?”

Briefly, James noted that this interrogation technique, wearying the subject with rapid-fire, incessant questions, was something he had taught her to do.

“What are you afraid of, James? What are you imprisoned by? What keeps you from doing what you want?”

“Please, Mara. Stop.” How could a moment be so fraught with both desire and a wish for silence? How could he be so puzzled by her abrupt turn of behavior and equally aware of why she was behaving this way?

She shook her head. “I won’t stop, James. I won’t. I’ve stood by for fifteen years, waiting for you to say something, to speak the obvious, and I won’t stop now. I won’t stop until–“

James laughed despite himself. “You’ve stood by for fifteen years? Oh, Mara. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She grinned. “That’s the first loosely combative thing you’ve ever said to me, James. Thank you.”

Freshly taken aback, he felt beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He wanted to wipe them, but he didn’t want to remove his hands from hers.

“I can resume my questioning if you don’t say something,” Mara warned, her eyes twinkling.

“Are you playing with me, Mara?” James asked. “What is this?”

Mara stood up and walked around to his side of the booth. She slid in next to him, as close as she physically could. “This is us releasing each other from the prisons we built 15 years ago, James. You’ve been worried for so long about telling me how you felt–that’s the prison you built. I’ve been waiting for so long for you to confirm what I felt the moment we met each other–the prison I built.” She put her hands on his shoulders. “No more prison for me, James. I’ve wanted you for fifteen years. Your turn. Tell me how you feel. Open the bars. Come out of the prison.”

James inhaled her words and roses and lilacs and swore he would pass out. Was all of this truly happening?

“You only remember me getting sick in Jakarta,” she said softly, leaning in even closer. “I remember watching you fall asleep every night in Jakarta. I couldn’t sleep. I would stay up and watch you sleep every evening until the morning. Fifteen nights, just watching you sleep, feeling strange and confused and just…”

Fifteen nights.

Fifteen years.

Exhale.

Exhale.

Exhale.

He had been holding his breath for fifteen years. Apparently, they both had.

Mara smiled at him. She knew it, then, that he was letting go.

James reached over and gently caressed her cheek. “How did you…how did you know all of this?” he asked her.

She placed her hand over his. “I’m a super spy. I know everything.”

***

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it chose me.

It was inevitable that fiction would choose me, that my world would become consumed by it. From the fairy tales my mother brought before me, to the fascinating living stories around me, to the nursery rhymes that incited such vivid images in my mind, to the billowing curtain in my childhood bedroom that, to me, offered pretty terrifying possibilities on the other side, my imagination was its own character from the very beginning. When I would hide in the library during recess (we’ll talk about that in another post; praise kind librarians), I would read. And read. And read. All fiction, all topics, all possibilities. A fiction writer was being born. By the age of eight, that writer came alive.

After messing with my dear father a bit about majoring in psychology while filling out my college application (“I want to be a shrink, Daddy.” “No; choose something else.”), I chose English as my major. It was always going to be English; I knew that when I was sixteen years old. Soon thereafter, I chose the concentration for my major: Fiction. For four years, I was ensconced in literature, stories, novels. It was like being in the stacks all over again.

I write poetry, these lovely blog posts, articles, the occasional play, a few songs…

But first and foremost, utterly and completely: I will always be a fiction writer.

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What do you love to do that chose you? I’m curious to know…

{Guest Blogger} – “I Fell in Love…With Myself”

Support your Square Peg! Support your Square Peg! Support your…typewriter2

I wrote and submitted a guest blog post that was shared on the The Sum of Many Things, “A Lifestyle, Wellness and Personal Development Blog for Busy Women of Color.” (Amazing tagline, right?) Direct link to my post is here. I’d love to hear/read your thoughts about the piece, of course.

Thanks for your support. You’ll make this writer/blogger/author/unceasing lover of Ricky Schroder very happy.

Bon weekend…

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Bae since 1980.

 

Housekeeping…

Hey, y’all. I’m Texan now, so combining you and all is no longer offensive to me. Actually, no, who are we kidding? Hi, everyone. Sliding into your Wednesday to announce some blog-related housekeeping and changes concerning this tiny home in the Webiverse, This Square Peg. Shall we?

The Look. As you’ve noticed, the aesthetics of the blog have changed. To me, the look is a bit more cleaner, more accessible, generally far more pleasing to the eye than before. You’ll note the social media links right up top, so feel free and make use of them. In other words, the blog now looks like a place I’d like to visit. Even though I already own the place.

The Posts. Remember when I used to want to blog every day?

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And when that invariably didn’t happen, I would come here and apologize for my delusions of grandeur and lack of regularity? Remember? Well, no more need for that. Starting next week, I will post twice a week: Mondays and Fridays. If a Monday post comes but my old lady ways prevent a Friday post–or vice versa–that Monday post will be the sole post for the week. The point is that this writing/blogging thing is my beloved thing, but I can’t yet do it full-time, unfortunately. So rather than having a lofty goal of blogging single day, twice a week will suffice to accommodate life, work, responsibilities, the Splenda that is slowly hacking away at my memory, etc.  One day, it’ll be something I do full-time. Until then, twice a week. (But we will have our Blogtobers and our Blogvembers. Maybe even Bloguary. We will see.)

The Content. Because the ultimate goal is to take This Square Peg to the top, to Carnegie Hall, to infinity and beyond, and more importantly, to delight your fine eyes, dear Reader, I’ll be experimenting with content. I want to give you more, and a variety, at that. So I’ll be delivering more photography, more visuals, different/creative ways of writing and storytelling. I like my tiny spot in the Webiverse, hands down, but I want you to squeal with delight when you get here.

That’s all she presently wrote. Here’s to This Square Peg and all the fabulous bloggery things she hopes to do for you in 2018. But we’ll also take things one post at a time–delusions of grandeur are fun, but you know how I feel about expectations.  What can I say? I’m the very cautious child of very cautious African parents. (“Don’t do that! You’ll fall!”)

I’ll now leave you with the opening to one of my favorite shows from the 80s, It’s a Living. You’re welcome. 

Unrelenting Excitement. (And Other Things.)

I think that best describes how I felt when I heard that my favorite royal Ginger, Prince Harry, had become engaged to his sweetheart, actress Meghan Markle. I won’t even link to any articles about this news; if it’s the first time you’re hearing about this engagement, we just…we have nothing to say to each other. But I will at least share my favorite photo of the couple during the engagement announcement.

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Fresh-faced, happy, excited. Love it, love it, love it.

Needless to say, I will be throwing a royal wedding watch party for my friends and I to enjoy and squeal and point and swoon over. Because we’re 12 and we don’t care. Very few things are happening right now in the world that cause any kind of excitement and joy, so this one is it. 2018 royal wedding, here we come.

What else do we need to talk about? Are you wondering where in the world I’ve been?

I’ve been here. Well, not per se. But “here” as in around and attempting to  thrive and survive here in the Lone Star state. I’ll do a quick rundown of life so far in the land of Square Peg:

  1. About a month ago, I moved into my brand new apartment. Interestingly enough, with good planning, moving doesn’t have to feel like spikes being introduced to your flesh. Imagine that. (Thanks a lot to my sissy, who is far more organized when it comes to that kind of thing and supplied advice and links to moving articles for my reading pleasure.) The process went well. And I love my new apartment. It’s closer to town and to my friends and my place of worship: good, great, and excellent.
  2. I’ve been officially added as a paid contributor for The Maria Antoinette. Getting paid to do something I love, my dear reader. It’s surreal. Not only that, I’ve been invited to write submissions that deal with a topic I’m very passionate about: empowering women. My pieces will always deal with how a woman can look in a mirror and see her roccrown, and the journey to getting there if she doesn’t. Utterly grateful and happy.
  3. Work is good.
  4. I still love Idris.
  5. The End.

Honorable mention: I’m still working on my other writing projects. My third collection of fiction. A book of essays. Another book of essays. An actual novel. When will I accomplish all these things, you wonder? I’m wondering the same thing. Apparently I must enjoy juggling. But hopefully 2018 will lead checking those projects off my list.

C’est tout, folks. (That’s all.) Tell me what you’ve been up to.

when they met.

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Photo courtesy of NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

If you haven’t heard, a total solar eclipse took place yesterday, August 21. Pretty historical stuff. I was excited beyond words, not necessarily because of the historicity of it or the celestial phenomenon, per se. I, This Square Peg, a writer of words and a purveyor of poetry, have used the moon as an allegorical foil/subject since I started writing eons ago. There was something about that big, gray, somber ball in the sky, not peppy and cheerful like the sun, ruler of tides, that struck me in a purely deep and artistic way. To me, there wasn’t a man in the moon. Symbolically, she was a woman in every way. My kind of girl. Powerful and moody and boss. Naturally, I frequently turned to her in my poetry. In my fiction, she’s always a character; whether providing silvery light for my character before his/her eventual epiphany or the third person in a two-person scene, viewing the action with a cool, disaffected gaze. In my poetry, though? In my poetry? The moon runs things.

When I was moving to Texas and engaged in my bout of horrifying packing, I found a poem that I wrote in college. The subject? Frustrated love. (Nothing new there.) The allegorical character? The moon. The denouement? An eclipse.

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So college-y. So eclipse-y. So moon-y.

I was able to see the eclipse yesterday, courtesy of a co-worker who shared his special sky glasses with me and some of my other colleagues. Because our city here in Dallas wasn’t on the path of totality–those cities would see the full, total eclipse; we would see a partial eclipse–I didn’t get to experience the moment my moon met the earth and the sun. But halfway is still pretty cool, no?

Here’s to my fabulous moon and her big moment yesterday.

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issa new contribution.

Yep, I’m basically going to tell you every time a write-up that I contribute to The Maria Antoinette goes live. Because of my enduring love for your support of my writing efforts. And because this self-promotion-as-a-writer thing (which we will discuss later) is a new goal of mine, and unlike my goal to avoid bread, I’ll be sticking to this one.

The new post is here.

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As always, feel free to comment, share, dance with me, whatever you like.

This writing journey continues…

Confetti Explosions and Things of that Nature.

It’s official.

Like really official.

I’ve been sitting on this news for a while until it was official official. And now…

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I was chosen as a guest contributor for The Maria Antoinette, a beauty/hair/lifestyle/fashion website.

!!!!

That in itself was amazing to be chosen. But even better?

My first contribution to the site is now live.

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The excitement and gratitude is real, you guys. This here blog fills me with joy, of course, as well as every single thing related to my writing, my creative works, everything. But to see my contribution up and to read my words…it’s both unreal and super cool.

Here’s the link to my piece: https://themariaantoinette.com/2017/06/29/cover-girl-no-more-four-reasons-i-wont-hide-my-bathing-suit-this-summer/

Read, comment, like, all those things. But above all: thank you for your support!

*cue confetti*

Oprah.

What an introduction. Let’s get right to it: when Her Excellency was was still on the air with her daily talk show, I won tickets to be part of her audience.

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Back in 2011, I remember going on the official website for the show and noticing one of the upcoming episodes. The theme of the impending show was going to be all about best friends. (Title: An Oprah & Gayle Kind of Friendship) Made sense, given the longtime friendship between Madame O and her bestie, Gayle King. The requirement to be part of the audience was to write and send in an essay about your best friend and why he/she was wonderful. That was a no-brainer. I’ve discussed my bestie on TSP more than once. She.Is.Everything. And so I got to writing. Looking back, I submitted the essay with only a small twinge of excitement, being that 1) I was probably 1 of a million people doing the same thing, and 2) I didn’t want that level of disappointment if I didn’t get chosen.

Then I received an email on March 23, 2011. Yes, I searched my inbox for that date. And yes, I’m giddy that the email still exists. Bottom line, the main idea of the email: my bestie and I were invited to join the audience during a taping of the themed episode.

I reacted a bit like this:

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So at this point, dear reader, my bestie didn’t know I had done any of this. I kept it all to myself in case we didn’t get chosen. Welp, that didn’t happen. After receiving that email, I called her and engaged in the following conversation:

Me: Hey, are you free on April 11?
Her: Let me check…yes, I’m free. What’s up?
Me: We’re flying to Chicago that day to be part of the audience of the Oprah show.
Her: *crickets*
Me: Are you there?
Her (whispers): This better not be a prank.
Me: It’s not! I wrote an essay and they picked it and it was about you and me and our friendship and we’re going to see Oprahhhhhhhhhh!

Her reactions, from 1-3:

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Needless to say, by the time we got to three, we were both primal screaming on the phone. Flight plans to Chicago were made; outfits were discussed (we had been asked by Queen O’s team to wear colorful clothes that would show well on TV); mild disappointment was expressed because a giant rule was that no pictures were allowed inside the Harpo studios; and finally, more primal screams were shared. You guys, it was one of the best experiences of this life. And you know how Empress Oprah’s audience would go mad? I admired her, yes, but I just couldn’t understand the mania oprah6these women showed on national TV. Well, I can easily say that on that morning in April, as Oprah was introduced and walked out and waved at us and smiled: I. Get. It. I truly do.

Her presence: dynamic. Her personality: open and charming. Her overall nature: amazing. In the minutes between her walking out and sitting down before the cameras turned on, there was no change. She was the same onscreen and off-screen. She was also just fun. During commercial breaks, she joked and laughed and told us about her painful high heels…it was surreal. My bestie and I spent the entire time just like holding each other in disbelief and Oprah-generated joy. And yeah, we got some gifts, too. And food. It was incredible. I’ll say it again, and in French: incroyable.

But the best part of that whole thrilling experience, dear reader? It involved a years-long, amazing friendship with one amazing lady, that being my bestie, and it involved another love of my life: my writing. My bestie kept saying the following throughout the day. “You are a writer. It was your words that got us here. You are a writer.” It was definitely a boost in confidence with the mighty pen. Nevertheless, the topic at hand, why this woman was such an indescribable presence in my life, made it easy. I didn’t hesitate. The benefits of a worthy subject.

Got any thrilling moments with your bestie that you’d like to share with me? Don’t fret because Oprah isn’t involved in any of them. The comments await you below…

speechless.

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Writing fiction has been a no-go, party people. And I miss writing fiction. Yes, I’ve written some poems quite recently (here and here, if you feel like reminiscing), but I am 100 percent a writer, lover, and creator of fiction. I don’t exactly know what’s going on. Let’s think it through:

  1. Is it because I haven’t given my muse other platforms of art to be inspired by? Honestly, living here in the Lone Star state is still very much a transition: personally, emotionally, and especially artistically.  I’ve yet to stroll down the cool, marble hallways of an art museum. I have been to a few concerts, yes. Most recently, I sat in the audience, tears cascading my face, while Alvin Ailey dancers took my entire life with their powerful, breathtaking performances. That was inspiring, absolutely. It got me writing. But the moment was kind of fleeting. Is it because I’m not exploring art more?
  2. Is it because I’m a lazy writer? Look, there are times when an idea comes to me and I start typing and…I stop. Because I don’t want to do it anymore. Because I don’t feel like it. Because I just want to read People Magazine online and mentally judge the choices of silly celebrities.  Because I want to scroll through Instagram and “happen” to find photos of Idris. Because because because. But real talk? Even though the distractions are awesome and it’s nice to turn off the creative brain once in a while, I feel queasy when it happens. I want to write. Is it because I’m not trying hard enough?
  3. Is it because I’ve run out of ideas? Notice above that I respond when an idea comes to me. So they still come. In fact, some great ones have come and they continue. So what’s going on, dear reader? Is it because I let some of them just sit there, unacknowledged?

I’m sure you’re sitting there shaking your head and muttering that some of these questions/problems have obvious solutions. Go to the museum, then. Stop being lazy, then. Acknowledge those ideas, then.

Yeah yeah yeah.

I just wanted to write this post. Get it? I just need to keep writing. Even if it’s not fiction. Maybe that will come. For now, just keep writing, Square Peg. Just keep writing…