Aggie and the Woman, Part 6.

“You were quiet at dinner,” Marley said to Aggie as the two strolled down a path behind the Van Streck home that evening. The path led to a clearing, which provided an even more breathtaking view of the Alps.

Since the incident on the train a few days ago, Aggie had been reliving it all in her mind, unable to concentrate on anything other than the shock, sadness, and confusion of seeing what Marième had done to herself. Glancing at Marley, Aggie nodded. “Just a lot on my mind,” she replied.

“Can I help? Is it work?” Marley asked.

Aggie shook her head. “Other stuff.”

“Like what, Ags?” Marley pressed. “Tell me. You seem so far away.”

Would Marley even begin to understand the heartbreak Aggie felt? Sure, Marley and Daniel had been raised in Ghana and had been exposed to a culture that became like second nature to them. Sure, she and Marley’s relationship was so close that Aggie considered her to be family. But reality was still reality. Would a Danish woman, born with the kind of Nordic features that Marième was attempting to recreate, truly understand? “I’m fine,” Aggie said, deciding that she wasn’t quite ready to discuss the matter with her friend.

*

But a part of her wanted to simply stop thinking about it. She ached for a distraction. So, when Daniel suggested later that they catch a film together, Aggie immediately agreed.

*

After a late-night showing of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, they drove back home and situated themselves on the patio. A few quiet moments later, Daniel reached for Aggie’s hand. Following his revelation from several nights ago, they had agreed to start dating, albeit slowly, deciding not to rush into anything simply because they already knew each other.

“Thanks for the film,” she said, studying their intertwined fingers. 

“You’re welcome,” he replied. “So, are you going to tell me what’s going on? You’ve been quiet all evening.”

“You and your sister have a lot in common. She said the same things earlier.”

“It’s noticeable. Everything all right?” he asked.

“No, but you wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

“Quite honestly, Daniel, you’re blonde and European. There’s nothing about this situation you would understand, even if you did grow up down the street from me in Accra.”

“It’s Marième, isn’t it?” he eventually asked. “Something happened with her.”

Aggie exhaled deeply, watching her breath spin around the cool night air. “It’s all women who have been corrupted by an unrealistic ideal of beauty that can never be achieved, which causes them to desecrate their bodies and their skin. And, yes, Marième is included in that number.” Grudgingly, Aggie described the scene she had encountered on the train. “To think that this beautiful woman has turned herself into a…a caricature—I can’t stomach it. I can’t.”

“I’m sorry, Agnes. I’m sorry she did that to herself more than anything, that she felt that doing this would beautify her.”

In that moment, she recognized the rising tide of her emotions. Soon and for the second time in Daniel’s presence, she would be in tears. It was all too much and hardly part of her nature. Abruptly, Aggie took back her hand and stood up. “I’m going inside,” she muttered. “It’s zero degrees out here.” 

“Aggie, please don’t leave.”

“I just need to be alone, and—”

Daniel stood up, as well, and faced her. “I may be blonde and European and unable to understand, but I also care about you, so I’d like to think that counts for something,” he said. “When we left Ghana and came to Switzerland, I thought people ate fufu and listened to highlife music here, too. It took me a long time to realize that the world I came to know and love wasn’t the world at large. But that’s neither here nor there. You don’t have to run away from me. Say whatever you want. I’ll listen.”

Aggie gazed up at him, her vision blurry. “If this is part of your boyfriend campaign…” she began, her voice trailing off as Daniel drew her into his arms and held her tightly. But she let herself be held and held on to him, as well. 

Aggie and the Woman, Part 5

Are you on the train yet?

Just stepped on. No seats available so I have to stand. Sigh.

Too bad. Do you see Marième?

Let me look. By the way, if we lose Wi-Fi, I’ll text you when we get above ground.

Okay. 

That Friday afternoon, Aggie looked up from her text conversation with Daniel and peered around the packed train car. As usual, there was no sign of Marième, which had been the case for the past several weeks. Interestingly enough, there was another woman sitting where Marième would normally sit, similarly typing away at her phone’s keyboard and wearing a chic pantsuit. Despite her disappointment that it wasn’t Marième, this woman quickly held Aggie’s attention. She was Black, fair skinned, and wore a long blonde wig. Yet, Aggie noticed that she was fair-skinned in an inexplicably unnatural way, as if she had packed on her makeup without realizing that she was overdoing it. But it didn’t seem like makeup, did it? It seemed like it was her natural skin, yet bizarrely not at all. Shuddering inwardly, her senses prickling at the sudden understanding of what she was looking at, Aggie’s eyes then drifted toward the woman’s hands. The hands always tell the truth, her mother used to say when they would see women like this back home. The woman’s hands were also fair…except for the dark spots Aggie saw near her wrists and in between her fingers, the areas that had been missed. The truth was clear.

Maybe she’s a burn victim or it’s a skin issue, Aggie then mechanically told herself, the same things she often whispered to her mother back then. However, she wasn’t naïve to the fact that the excuse no longer provided the same adolescent comfort it once did. It just seemed impossible to her that anyone would voluntarily cover the beauty of their skin, to bleach it like it was a stain. But the fact that skin lightening was a billion-dollar industry in Asia, the Middle East, and in her own continent of birth was enough to remind Aggie just how real it was. 

The train then lurched to a stop. As numerous riders exited the train, the seat across from the woman became free. Reluctantly, Aggie decided to take the seat. Remembering her conversation with Daniel, she glanced down at her phone and saw that her service was temporarily down anyway. Not wanting to focus on the woman, Aggie pulled a book out of her handbag.

“Agnes?”

She looked up and around her. Who knew her on the train?

“Over here.”

It was the woman across from her.

“Yes?” Aggie asked, thoroughly confused. 

The woman smiled at her. “It’s me, Marième.”

Aggie and the Woman, Part 4

“A bit hungry?” he asked, grinning.

“You could say that,” Aggie replied before taking another bite. “What are you doing up?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” He approached the refrigerator and also poured himself some milk. After warming the mug in the microwave, he sat down across from her. “Are you in the mood to share some of that cake?”

“No, not especially.”

“You’re glaring at me and you won’t share. What did I do?”

Aggie decided to confront the issue head on. “You need to explain a few things to me,” she said, pointing her fork at him. 

“What things?”

“Oh, you have amnesia now?” she asked drily. “Last night was—I don’t even know what to say about it. I have a thousand questions—”

“I’ve had a crush on you for the past six months,” Daniel said simply. 

Shocked, Aggie searched for the words to respond. “Six months—but I moved in six months ago,” she said.

He nodded. “There you were, no longer this little girl who spent every waking day with us growing up, annoying me along with my little sister. You were mature and self-assured and any guy would be an idiot not to feel like me.” He smiled at her. “Didn’t you notice me staring at you all the time and volunteering to shuttle you around Geneva when you arrived?”

Aggie shook her head. “Honestly, no. I just…never did.”

“Because I’m like your big brother,” he said. “That’s why I said what I said last night, Ags. I can’t be your boyfriend if you think of me like a sibling.”

“I just found out you have a crush on me and suddenly you’re my boyfriend?” she countered, oddly feeling less surprised about his revelation. 

Daniel nodded. “I’m 100 percent sure that I’m going to end up being your boyfriend.”

“Talk about being self-assured, Van Streck.” Nevertheless, she cut the remainder of her cake in half and pushed her plate toward him. As he ate enthusiastically, Aggie found herself leaning over and softly brushing some of the crumbs off his cheek.

Aggie and the Woman, Part 3

Later, after a hearty dinner, Aggie stood on the patio. Despite the darkness, she could make out the silhouette of the Swiss Alps in the distance. After six months in the country, she was no less transfixed by the mountains and how they seemed to touch the corners of the expansive sky. It was the kind of natural beauty that endeared her even more to Switzerland. It didn’t yet feel like home, but Aggie sensed that soon, Waldo in a sea of cookie cutter faces or not, it would. Before long, however, her mind was pulled back to Marième. The strange uneasiness she felt from earlier came roaring back. What was bothering her about this woman? 

“There you are.”

Aggie turned to find Daniel approaching her. “Here I am,” she replied. “Where is everyone?”

“About to watch a film. I was tasked with finding you.”

“All right. By the way, you have to stop teasing Marley.”

Daniel nodded. “I know. I’ve apologized profusely. It won’t happen again.”

Aggie laughed. “That part I don’t believe. Isn’t it written somewhere that older siblings have to torment and tease their younger siblings endlessly?”

“Well, yes, it is in the handbook.” He peered at her. “So what are you thinking about?”

“How do you know I’m thinking about something?” she asked. 

“People don’t usually gaze at those mountains for no reason. Plus, I’ve known you since before you were born, so I have a clue when you have something on your mind.” He gently tapped his fingers against the side of her head. “So what’s going on in there?”

She proceeded to tell him about Marième, from their first meeting to not seeing her for the past several weeks.

“So what do you think is troubling you about her?” Daniel asked. 

“I can’t figure it out,” Aggie replied, sighing. “It’s just this peculiar feeling, like something is off.”

“Well, let’s hope for the best. I’m sure you’ll see her soon.” He paused. “She’s really important to you, isn’t she?”

Aggie shrugged. “There’s something kind of amazing about seeing someone like me on the Cornavin. Silly, right, to connect so quickly to a total stranger?”

Daniel shook his head. “Not silly at all. I’m sure you miss home.”

She nodded, envisioning her parents likely gathered in their house in Accra alongside her manifold aunts and uncles from both sides of the family, almost certainly locked in heated debates about a variety of topics. The image naturally came with a lump in her throat. Aggie hadn’t seen her parents since last year, when she had traveled back to Accra for a month-long stay after completing her graduate studies. Skyping twice a week just wasn’t enough. She missed the scent of her mother’s cooking, her father’s bellowing laugh. As her eyes quickly grew misty, Aggie felt Daniel’s arm encircle her shoulders. “Thank you,” she muttered. “Maybe you are a good big brother after all.”

“But I’m not,” he replied quietly.

“Not what?”

“Your big brother.”

“Well, you’re like a big brother to me. You knew me before I was born, remember?”

He gently turned her face towards his. “Don’t think of me that way, okay? Not anymore.”

Aggie frowned. “I don’t understand.”

Without replying, he squeezed her shoulder before walking back into the house.

What just happened? Aggie asked herself. 

*

At 3:30 that morning, Aggie’s eyes flew open. After a restless, sleepless night, recalling Daniel’s comments from the previous evening had won the battle—she was officially wide awake and confused. Did Daniel have feelings for her? After all, to insist that she eliminate the “older brother” view of him had non-platonic, romantic implications, right? And how did she even feel about that? Relationships were typically the last thing on her mind, despite her mother’s mild threats about the matter. Aggie considered turning on her laptop and Skyping with her mother, who, despite the early call, would nevertheless engage in a long, undoubtedly animated conversation about the matter. Of course, the conversation would have nothing to do with the fact that Daniel was Danish and a different race; before Aggie left Ghana for school in the UK, her parents had merely expressed that she not take up with a murderer (Dad) or a poor man (Mom). If anything, her mother would be far more interested in receiving the green light to plan the wedding of her only child. In any case, Aggie abandoned the Skype plan. Perhaps it wasn’t time to discuss something she herself hardly understood.

The questions continued to overflow, enough for Aggie to throw on her robe and quietly make her way out of her room. She needed an interruption to her thoughts. Soon, she was in the kitchen and helping herself to a generous portion of the chocolate cake Diana had baked for dessert. Daniel found her like this some moments later, feasting on cake and sipping from a glass of warm milk. 

Aggie and the Woman, Part 2.

Marley Van Streck, Aggie’s lifelong friend, usually picked her up from the Cornavin train station in the evenings. After accepting her new position, it went without saying that Aggie would live with Marley and her family in Geneva until she found her own residence. Of course, if it were up to Marley, Aggie would never leave.

“You should say hello to her,” Marley said that evening after Aggie told her about the woman’s acknowledging smile. “Exchange information.”

“That’s an idea.”

“Just don’t replace me. You know I’m yours forever,” Marley said, grinning.

“Without a doubt.”

*

The following afternoon, Aggie leaned across the aisle and handed the woman her business card. “I’m Agnes,” she greeted. “I thought, since we see each other so often, that we might as well know each other’s names.”

The woman smiled brightly. “Yes, I completely agree,” she replied in a French accent. “My name is Marième.”

“Do you work in the city? Perhaps we can meet one afternoon for lunch.”

“I do work in the city, and I would like that very much. I am out of business cards, but I will definitely send you a message.”

“Wonderful. One last question: where are you from, Marième? I’m from Ghana.”

“Senegal. We are neighbors, of sorts.”

Aggie smiled and nodded. No, she had hardly inherited her father’s skills. 

*

Several weeks later, when she didn’t hear from Marième, Aggie chalked it up to the reluctance to reach out to a stranger. Fellow African or not, they simply didn’t know each other. However, she was also missing from her usual spot on the train. Was she all right? Aggie wondered. Did something happen to her?

“You said she wore an engagement ring, right?” Marley asked as she pulled into the driveway of the Van Strecks’ home that evening. “Maybe she had her wedding.” 

Aggie nodded. “I forgot about that. Highly probable.” Satisfied with the possibility that Marième was celebrating her wedding, Aggie decided to put it out of her mind. Nevertheless, she couldn’t deny the puzzling feeling that consumed her. 

The aroma of food instantly greeted them when they entered the house. Moments later, the two sat in the airy kitchen and watched Diana Van Streck, Marley’s mother, carefully place a tray of just roasted Cornish game hens on the counter. “A few more minutes to cool and they’ll be ready,” Diana said.

“But I’m starving,” Marley said melodramatically, closing her eyes and slightly groaning for effect. 

“I say if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” announced Daniel Van Streck, Marley’s older brother, as he entered the kitchen.

Marley shot him a withering glare. “I have a job, thank you very much.”

“Going to the playground with the kids? Is that working?” he asked. “I was told you spend more time on the swings than they do.” He quickly winked at Aggie. She shook her head disapprovingly at him. 

Marley shot up from her chair. “Let me tell you something—”

“Enough, you two,” Diana said. “Daniel, kindly apologize to your sister. Being a nanny is indeed employment.”

“I was just teasing. Please accept my apology, Marls.”

“Revenge is mine.”

“Marley,” Diana warned. She then rolled her eyes, glancing at Aggie. “29 and 32 years old and they still argue like toddlers. Be happy you’re an only child, Agnes.”

“She’s not an only child,” Marley said, still glaring at her brother. “We’re sisters. I’m an honorary Boateng, remember?”

Aggie laughed and nodded. “That she is.”

Aggie and the Woman, Part 1.

I spoke in my previous post about the transformative short story I wrote about a woman who had more in common with me as a person than I’d ever known in my own written fiction before. Happily sharing that short story with you in daily excerpts. See below for Part 1.

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Aggie and the Woman

For the past four months, Agnes Boateng found herself sitting across from the same woman on the train. It was a feat to notice the same face in an endless sea of people, much less to end up seated adjacent to one another every day, but she guessed that they left their jobs around the same time. The woman was clearly a professional; typically clad in a smart pantsuit and tapping away at the keys on her mobile phone like most of the other commuters. But there was something else. When she first saw the woman, the excitement that ran through Aggie was undeniable: she had found another brown person.

Having moved to Switzerland six months ago and subsequently starting her new job as an economist at an international banking firm in Geneva, it was rather easy to pick Aggie out of the commuting (and general) crowd; she was usually the only person of color, a quick-to-find Waldo in a scene of cookie cutter people. That first afternoon when she saw the woman sitting across from her was a moment worthy of celebration, especially since the woman also appeared to be African like her.

One afternoon, while once again studying the woman seated across from her on the train, Aggie wondered if she was East African. The woman’s distinct, angular features seemed to point that she was either Kenyan or Sudanese. If her father were there, he would of course know. She certainly hadn’t inherited his uncanny ability to correctly guess the ethnicity of just about every African person he saw. (When she was 14, her raging curiosity about the accuracy of one of his guesses inspired Aggie to race back to an elderly woman they had passed at Makola Market to ask where she was from; to her infinite shock, the woman had confirmed that, yes, she was indeed from the nation of Chad as her father had presumed.)

She wore a gray pantsuit with a bright pink blouse underneath the blazer; her coily hair sat atop her head in a large bun. The enormous diamond ring on her left index finger sparkled underneath the train’s overhead lights as her fingers rapidly moved across the phone’s keys. Naturally, as a result of Aggie’s open, fixed gaze, the woman suddenly looked up. Meeting Aggie’s eyes, she flashed a broad smile at her before peering back down. Despite Aggie’s slight embarrassment at being caught staring (“your eyes can be too much,” her mother liked to say), she took the woman’s smile as a gesture of solidarity. We’re in this together, her smile seemed to say to Aggie. You and me and our dark skin and our giant Afros.

Blogtober #8: She Writes.

A bit of self-promotion this fine autumn.

Did you know that I’ve written and published three books? Yes, you say, it’s on the Writing tab on your blog, TSP. This is true. But we’re highlighting my work on the main page today. All my books can be purchased on Amazon right here. Note that this Amazon link is also my author page, so all the books are lined up for you in a pretty row.

Raincoat For Your Senses is a compilation of short fiction and poetry. If you’re in the mood for, well, moody poems and somewhat autobiographical short stories from a 20-something writer, then this is for you. This was my first foray into publishing my work so all firstborns are special. Available digitally.

Short stories abound in The Loftiest Thing. Entirely a collection of short fiction, this book remains my ‘lil baby that could. Whereas RFYS was extracting works I’d completed in the past, this book is full of original, real time fiction that I wrote. Stories about sacrifice, love, relationships, and so much more. It awaits your library, both digital or hard copy.

My latest work, Your Elephant, After All, is 100% poetry. I used to consider myself a fictionista primarily, and then a poet when no story ideas were coming to mind. But I am both a fiction writer and a poet, and working on/publishing this book cemented the latter for me. These poems are personal, are about life and love and everything in between, and I wrote it at a time when I was personally drowning. So, working on it became a life jacket. You’ll love it as much as I do, I guarantee. (Available in hard copy only.)

That’s all she wrote for now. I’m working on some things, so I hope to expand this bookshelf. Until then, support your neighborhood authors and writers and artists, if you can.

On Harry & Meghan.

If you’re living on this side of Earth, you’ve heard that Harry and Meghan have decided harrymegsto significantly change their status with the royal family. (I won’t link to any articles because, whew chile, the bias.) In other words, H&M want to step back from being senior members of the royal family, become financially independent, and split their time between the UK and North America. I’m here for it. Let them live. Let them also live in a place where they’re not targeted viciously. I support it. The vitriol and abject racism I’ve seen for Meghan in the British media is indescribable. We talked about leveling up, didn’t we? Well, they did and I think it’s a fabulous decision. I won’t even discuss all the fallout and how Piers Morgan is just…no words. Team H&M. (I definitely hope Meghan resurrects her blog, The Tig. Wonderful writing. Wonderful voice.)

In that vein, I wanted to share a ‘lil short story I wrote inspired by the royals and my admiration for the Ginger Prince and his lovely wife. In case you’re wondering, 2020 hasn’t necessarily resurrected my creative writing. But I have hope. Read on, enjoy, and onwards & upwards. For everyone.

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The Queen and the Green

The queen had spinach in her teeth. The offending green vegetable was right there, lodged between her two front teeth for all the world to see. And the world would see it, because after this morning tea, the queen would announce to the free world that her eldest grandson, the prince, was engaged to his troublesome fiancée.

For the record, she, Margie King, was the troublesome fiancée. She was the American commoner, the former executive assistant to the prince’s solicitor, the woman who wore a dress that didn’t even reach her knees when he had first brought her to meet his grandmother. (Never mind that the dress, hastily purchased when he had made her aware of his plans, had shrunk in the wash and was short because of that and not because of some wicked attempt to shock the ruler of 14 countries.) She was also the woman who wanted to alert her soon-to-be grandmother-in-law that there was spinach in her teeth.

It baffled Margie that no one was saying anything. The woman was presiding over a grand, long table, flanked on both sides by various family members and relatives, and no one had the guts or decency to tell her about the spinach. Yes, Margie was aware of the rule that that no one could approach the queen without being summoned or being spoken to first. Clearly, propriety trumped sparing her from humiliation. Even the queen’s husband, the perpetually bored prince who seemed half asleep most of the time, openly observed his wife’s mouth as she spoke, his eyes widening with each word and subsequent presenting of the food in her teeth. Margie was pretty sure that the man wanted to laugh. Unsurprisingly, he, too, said nothing.

Where were her ladies-in-waiting? Did they even call them that anymore? Margie had done about a month’s worth of royalty-related research to prepare for this event, but wasn’t sure if she had read anywhere that ladies-in-waiting still retained that title.

She wanted to tell Frederick about it, to lean over and whisper in his ear that someone needed to help his grandmother. But Frederick was seated about twenty cousins down from her. Someone had muttered “royal protocol” as a reason why they weren’t seated together, but Margie didn’t buy it. She knew it was the queen’s way of prolonging what it would kill her to soon announce—even if that meant temporarily separating her grandson from his fiancée during tea.

She would never forget the queen’s face six months ago, when Frederick declared his intent to marry her. Rage. Confusion. Fear. Nausea. A bit of sadness. Her features twisted up like the worst scene in a horror movie, right before the end comes. Margie had stood off to the side, breathlessly observing a stately sovereign turn into a creature of volleying emotions. Well, the twisted features aside, there were no actual outward emotions being displayed. She had the stiff upper lip reputation to maintain, after all, even if the audience was just four people: Margie, Frederick, the queen herself, and her half-asleep husband.

For a moment, Margie forgot about the spinach and thought about him. Her regard moved from the queen and rested on Frederick (although she could barely see him), her Frederick, the man she didn’t know she had been dreaming of until they met.

It had been raining buckets that evening. Her boss, Mr. Knox, had requested that she stay late to assist with greeting a client that would be arriving after closing time. Margie knew that Knox had high-profile, top-secret clients, some unknown to even her (such as this one) but the image of trudging through the rain and the dark to get to the Tube instantly became that top-secret client’s fault. She intended on being as nonchalantly rude to he or she as possible.  

He had arrived precisely at half past six, calmly entering the lobby as if there weren’t oceans of rainfall and high winds behind him. No one was with him; you’d think the heir to a throne would be trailed by a sea of security detail. That being said, yes, she had immediately recognized him. Who wouldn’t? Everyone knew Prince Freddie, The Prince of All Princes, a title coined by the media. His handsome good looks (in real life, Margie quickly decided that “handsome” as a description was grossly insufficient) and famous girlfriends were well-known and well-reported. Standing up from her desk, she had greeted him—stopping herself from bowing—and led him toward Knox’s office straightaway, as her boss had instructed. “You move quite fast,” he had said from behind her. Margie gulped and turned around, glancing at him. He was smiling, his dark hazel eyes dancing at her. Instead of explaining that rapidly walking was her way of avoiding a royalty-related collapse, she had merely smiled at him in return and said nothing in reply. She doubted that her voice box would work properly anyway.

Much, much later, Margie watched Knox and Frederick speak to one another in hushed tones in the lobby. Their appointment had officially ended but the conversation continued. Margie then wondered if there was some sort of prenuptial agreement in the works; the prevailing rumor was that Frederick was close to proposing to his latest girlfriend, a French actress. Was that why he was there? Did royals even have prenuptial agreements? she then wondered. However, the presence of Mr. Knox now standing by her desk sharply interrupted that line of thought. She stood up. “Yes, Mr. Knox?”

“Our client would feel most welcome if you would allow his driver to take you home,” Knox replied.

Blinking rapidly, she glanced at Frederick, who again smiled warmly at her. “It’s rather awful outside and you’re here late because of me,” he explained. “Ridgely will take you wherever you’d like to go.”

“But…how…?” Her voice trailed off. At the moment, she wasn’t sure how to form a complete sentence.

“Simply say thank you, Ms. King,” Knox instructed under his breath.

Nodding, Margie turned off her computer and grabbed her handbag. After a year with Knox, she had learned to simply move quickly in spite of whatever questions she had about something. She approached Frederick and thanked him for his kindness.

“You’re quite welcome,” he had responded, holding her stare long enough to communicate that perhaps this wouldn’t be their last meeting.

It wouldn’t be. 

“Ms. King,” said Ridgely the driver as he pulled up to her flat in Clapham that rainy evening, “His Royal Highness would like to contact you for dinner later this week if you would like to leave your contact card inside that box next to you.”

His Royal Highness? Dinner? Her contact card?

“Did you leave your card?” her flat-mate, Dory, shrieked after Margie had dazedly informed her of the evening’s events. “Did you, Margie?”

In that moment, Margie’s her mobile phone vibrated in her palm. With wide eyes, she presented the text message on the display to Dory: I hope I’m not being too forward, but you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. 

Many quiet dinners later, he confided in her that the French actress he was dating was a longtime friend from university that had agreed to attend all public events with him. He had long tired of questions about just when he would marry. “It’s exhausting, really, but I’m well aware that it’s the price we pay for this life. I’m hardly complaining,” he had remarked that evening. “They’ll simply have to wait until you say yes to me.”

Margie had nearly choked on her wine.

She gaped at him, waiting for him to continue. He gazed at her meaningfully and reached for her hand. It wasn’t the most romantic venue—Bernie’s Fish and Chips was a few miles from her flat and was the only place they could eat without being mobbed, being that most of the clientele were slightly inebriated, blue-collar blokes who thankfully had no idea who anyone was, much less the future king of their country—but Margie clutched his hand and recognized the moment for what it was.

“Are you asking?” she whispered.

“I’m imploring. Please marry me, Marjorie Lorraine King. I’m quite sure I can’t take it anymore, when you’re not next to me, and I’m also in love with you, so it just won’t do.”

She had laughed as tears cascaded down her face. “You have a way with words, Prince Freddie. You really do.”

He grinned at her. “So? Marry me?”

Margie said yes. Rather, she repeated it.

“It won’t be easy,” Frederick then said. “We’ll have a few mountains to climb: the prying eyes, the press, the questions.”

“The fact that I’m black and you’re white.”

Frederick nodded. “We live in a maddening world, don’t we?”

“Absolutely. But I’m ready for anything, Frederick.” She leaned into his tightened embrace and breathed him in.

“Believe it or not, darling,” he said, “the biggest issue, above all, will be my grandmother.”

Now they sat twenty cousins away from each other, his grandmother baring a portion of spinach in her teeth and everyone remaining silent on the matter. Some of them would likely laugh and wonder why Margie cared so much. Wasn’t the queen the same woman who muttered that she was troublesome when she arrived at the palace with the now discarded above-knee dress? The same woman who regularly leveled Margie with the kind of vicious stare meant for enemies of the kingdom? And yet she was also the same woman who  invited 10 year-old girls from low income areas to tea at the palace two Saturdays a month, something the media didn’t know about. The same woman who sometimes put her head on her half-asleep husband’s shoulder when they were walking around their country home (he was pleasantly surprised each and every time). It was just spinach, but it might as well have been a “Kick Me” sign on her back. Margie had learned about the court of public opinion since her courtship with Frederick had begun. It was the one place the queen had no power over, and no one deserved to be fodder.

The queen then abruptly stood, signaling everyone on both sides of the long table to do the same. It was time to hold the press conference in the Tudor Room. As she smoothed her dress down–brocade, tea-length, and gifted to her by her kind, soon-to-be aunt-in-law–Frederick quickly appeared by her side. “You look beautiful,” he whispered in her ear.

“Thank you. Your grandmother has spinach in her teeth.”

Frederick chuckled. “She knows. She does it on purpose to see who will have the courage to approach her unsummoned and inform her. I’ll be sure to let her know that you said something.”

Stunned, Margie then looked up and found the queen studying her, the latter’s demeanor not quite as stone-faced as it typically was when she placed her attention on her troublesome almost granddaughter-in-law. Her expression seemed…softer? The woman couldn’t hear that far, could she? Did she know that Margie had mentioned the spinach?

“Come, Frederick, Margie. We will be late,” the queen called over to them.

Margie couldn’t even recall when the queen had mentioned her name.

“Onwards,” Frederick said softly, lacing his fingers through hers.

And upwards and everything in between, Margie thought, as she watched the queen begin the processional as the first in line.  

Maybe.

Friday1

Maybe you don’t need a relationship to heal you.

Maybe singleness isn’t killing you.

Maybe you’re simply looking for love.

To love and to be loved.

And although you will survive and thrive without it, the need is there.

And each day that passes you by, as the need remains unfulfilled, you put out the little fires across your chest, the ones searing your heart.

The little fires of disappointment, dashed hopes, and unrealized expectations.

Deep, deep down, you entertain the diminishing, nearly absent hope that love will indeed find you.

Maybe it will find you.

Until then, you have to admit yet another painful truth:

You’ve grown weary of maybe’s.

Haven’t you?

Indulge Me, For a Moment.

Sometimes I imagine that he had lived. That he didn’t stop breathing at 26 years of age. We find each other once again. It is like a story, he and I, a story that I both live and write. Here it is.

That autumn evening, they both walk into the local bookstore, neither aware of the other. She naturally gets lost in the Fiction section, trailing her fingers over spines of endless rows of books, pulling a few out here and there to gaze at plot lines in the hopes that one or two will capture her attention. (Many will.) Over in the Poetry section, he skims through collections that remind him of just how much he misses writing poetry; he wishes that real life and a lack of time hadn’t taken away his dedication. Or had he given his time away? He shakes off that unanswered question and continues to peruse.

The soft whir of espresso machines and related aromas in the nearby café eventually pull them both out of their respective stacks and over to the line. They’re both armed with books that require more time and investigation over cups of coffee; her with three novels that each bear a Jane Austen-like feel to them, and him with four intriguing anthologies by the latest Poet Laureate. Soon, she places her order with the young man behind the counter and steps over to the side to wait. He does the same a few minutes later and takes a spot a few feet away from her. While they wait for their drinks, they respectively study the other patrons in the café. It is then, during their mutual analyses, that she happens to gaze in his direction–at the same moment that he glances over at her.

Her eyes widen with instant recognition. A beaming smile across his face face.

“Order ready for Sabrina.”

“Large coffee for Riley.”

If neither had recognized the other, the calls of those two very familiar names would have provided all the information they needed. They approach one another.

“I can’t believe…” she says, her voice trailing off, her eyes fixed on his.

He doesn’t reply, still stunned that she is standing before him. Twenty years had passed them by. Twenty whole years.

He grabs their drinks while she finds a table for them in the corner. He glances at her books on the adjacent table and grins. “Were you in Fiction?” he asks.

She chuckles. “No surprise there. And you were lost in Poetry.”

“Literally and symbolically, of course.”

Silence was never an issue for them. In the past, they always had plenty to discuss; theories to riff about, silly jokes to share. And yet, now, a silence steals into their midst. It is not a passive silence, however; their prolonged stares seem heavy in meaning, the kind of unreadable expressions that will soon require defining.

“It’s nothing like our old spot, is it?” Riley then asks, gesturing around them.

“Nothing at all, save for the books and the harried girl behind the counter making all the drinks.”

He laughs. “Sounds familiar.” He remembers being scheduled with her one afternoon, watching her deftly prepare drink orders without batting an eyelash at the long lines. That day had stayed with him long after he moved on from the store, for reasons that, at the time, he couldn’t explain. “But you were never harried. You were always so cool.”

“I played it cool, my friend.”

“Do you live in town?”

Sabrina nods. “I just moved back. After college, I did some soul-searching and ended up in Phoenix, Arizona. ”

His eyes gleamed. “So you did go. Remember how much you wanted to live there? The whole mythical bird thing?”

“I do. And it was transformative it many ways. Moving away from family, being on my own.”

“So you rose out of the ashes,” he says, smiling warmly at her.

That sudden sensation in her chest. Yes. Her heart had skipped a beat. She breathes through it, deciding not to explain it away in her mind. “I did. What about you? Tell me where you’ve been. When I last saw you, you were headed back to Texas.”

He had indeed moved back to his home state to go back to college. Ultimately, however, that degree in Poetry was replaced with a Business degree and an eventual MBA. He had moved back a year ago and was now a finance executive at a firm in the city.

“The poet became an MBA? I could have never envisioned that.”

“Me, either.” He pauses. “Are you married? Kids?”

Sabrina shakes her head. “No and no. I was engaged for a bit but it didn’t work out. You?” she asks.

“Divorced. We had a good year but she was still in love with her ex, so she decided to go back to him. While we were married, I should add.”

“Riley, I’m so sorry.”

He waved his hand. “Therapy does wonders. I’m in a great place now. Are you still writing?”

“Five books published. Working on number six, the long gestating novel.”

Riley applauds softly. “I’m so proud of you. You stuck with it. I knew you would. When I first met you, I could see it in you, that love for writing. It was amazing. And it helped me, believe it or not. I was so inspired by you.”

“And I had a massive crush on you. I actually thought I was in love with you for a month or so.” She allows the words out without thinking, deliberately leaving them there, in the air.

Riley gazes at her, not completely taken aback. “I had a feeling.”

“Could you blame me? You were a poet, for goodness sake. My writer’s heart was toast.”

They both laugh, still aware of her admission, still aware of those stares in between the silences, still able to allow levity to join all the other elephants in the room.

“I thought about it,” Riley then says. “I thought about you and me.”

Her heart quickens once again. She waits for him to continue.

“But I pushed it away. You were only 19. I was 21 and not living my best life, as you know. I was toxic. So, so bad for all the people around me. It just–”

“It’s OK,” she says, gently squeezing his forearm. “We weren’t ready back then. We both had to do a little phoenix work with ourselves.”

Riley looks down at her hand. Yes, he hears in the back of his mind. It is the answer to a question he’s not yet sure of, but welcomes it all the same. He puts his hand on top of hers, linking his fingers through hers.

She remembers to breathe.

“And now we meet again, in a bookstore, no less,” he replies. “Could you fall in love with me again, for longer than a month this time?”

Yes. They had always been waiting for each other, waiting to cross paths once again. She recognizes that now. Sabrina laughs. “It depends on all the fancy restaurants you take me to. And the poetry you write me.”

“Done and done.”

They walk toward the registers, still hand in hand. He buys her books. She buys his. They depart in the parking lot with a promise to see one another the next day.

She learns, three months after their wedding, that the Poet MBA can also do wonders with plywood: he builds her a home library, complete with all five of her books and room for his first anthology.