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.

****************************************************************************************************************************************

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.

A New Mirror.

“Are your characters white?”

I looked up at my good friend who had just posed the question and who had just read one of my stories. “Why do you ask?” I replied.

“Well, they seem white. How they speak, how they seem. I was just curious.”

I explained that I rarely thought about race in my fiction; it was why characters in my stories had brown hair or brown eyes, which anyone can have. As far as their speech, my characters were me, and spoke like me. So…

Backstory #1: I was born in West Africa, where I primarily spoke English (with a mix of Twi; I like to call it Twinglish), which obviously didn’t change when I moved to the States at the age of 8. I never had an accent. Growing up, I heard more than once that I spoke “like a white girl”, which saddened me. It was sad that perceived articulation in speech was tied to race and not simply cadence. But that’s entirely another post, which we shall discuss. Anyway, fast forward to my fiction: apparently, my characters’ diction and dialogue also shared my history with speech.

Backstory #2: in the beginning, not describing race in my fiction was actually never a concrete choice I made. I just never thought about it. When I was young and hiding in library stacks and far away from recess, the books I read certainly weren’t about girls that looked like me. Sure, many of the stories I loved provided an emotional mirror; I devoured stories about girls who weren’t popular, were lonely, sarcastic and smart, so on. But physically? No, there were very, very few tales about brown girls. Nevertheless, for me, a story was a story. When I began writing, I barely considered the physical attributes of the characters I wrote about. I was more interested in their stories. As I grew as a writer, and as a person, however, I consciously avoided describing physical attributes. The reason was the same: focus on the story, not what they look like. Me as a reader, me as a writer. I wanted my reader to share my interest in the story.

But time goes by. We grow, we evolve. And I had a writer’s epiphany one day, y’all: why wasn’t I remembering that race and ethnicity were part of these people’s worlds that I was creating? Because those things were certainly a part of mine. Which led to my next thought: why wasn’t I writing more about “what I knew”? Yes, my previous characters and creations were borne from me, but I was now nursing a new hunger to see a lot of my personal worldview in my own written fiction. Because before that, story was it and solely it. Plot, structure, etc. But now, I wanted more from myself as both a writer and subsequently, as a reader. A new mirror.

Following the epiphany, I wrote a short story about a Ghanaian woman raised in Accra, now living abroad, and her struggle with the knowledge that a potential friend she met was bleaching her skin. It was the most personal story I’d ever written. I mined my own worldview; my background, my native language, my own feelings about skin color and race. I was so proud of that story because, for the first time, the very first time, something I wrote felt authentically mine. Before, I was writing like that 9 year-old reader. Plot-driven, only narrative-focused. With that short story, I felt like I was writing like myself.

Back to the conversation with my friend: at that time, my response was what you read above and we moved on. I was slightly perplexed by the “how they speak” bit, but I’d long learned that the interpretation of my work belongs to the reader, whatever it may be. These days, I write what I feel, about people I’ve been, am, and know, and they speak however I want them to speak. One of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Adichie, said it best at a reading: as a writer, write for yourself first. Happy to say that I fully am.

Second to that, my highest hope is that a fellow brown woman finds her mirror in me.

@frowriter.

The word for this year: intentional.

I discussed my social media break here. Well, today, I posted on my frowriter IG page for the first time since 2019. Why?

Because I’m a writer. And this year I have a lot of projects in the air. And I want folks to know about those projects and promote them. So pandemics and struggles and all of that, yes, but I choose to intentionally feed my muse and allow my writing to fuel me. My posts will be intentional, too. Rather than allow social media to exert the kind of control it seems to weirdly have, I think intentionality will allow for sanity and balance. At least I hope it will. By now you know I’ll pull the stop cord if I need to.

All that said: follow your Square Peg at frowriter on Le Gram or click the link at the top of this page.

Onwards.

Blogtober #31: Blogtobereflections.

The final day of our little Blogtober 2020 that could. Some thoughts:

1. I gained some new followers to This Square Peg during Blogtober. That’s incredibly awesome. Thank you for joining this ‘lil corner of the interwebs.

2. Blogging regularly is doable. Back in the day, I felt like I had to log onto my computer, come up with a lofty idea, etc. Now, I have my phone in hand and literally access this app and start typing. Sometimes with no idea in mind, sometimes just wanting to chat. At the end of the day, I love the authenticity of that, just chatting with you, dear reader. That happened a lot this month.

Chill blogging, no stress

3. Fall really is the best season and October is perfect for Blogtober. My mind electrifies during this time of year. I found myself looking forward to posting and blogging and meeting the challenge.

Thanks for your support, for reading, for commenting, for liking, for following.

Happy Autumn! 🍁🍁🍁🍁

Blogtober #21: Sci-Fi Square Peg.

Growing up, we enjoyed an interesting variety of tv shows in my household. My Dad was a big lover of classic comedies and shows, which meant plenty of I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver. And oh, the sitcoms. Too Close for Comfort, Three’s Company, 227. My mom, on the other hand, introduced us to British television, private investigators (hello, Jessica Fletcher and Colombo), and science fiction. Hours were spent in our tiny living room, discussing intriguing storylines related to various incarnations of Star Trek and/or wondering what would await us on The Twilight Zone. (And wondering if we would have to shut our eyes, being that some of those eps of TTZ were intense. Scaredy-cat here, by the way, and unashamed of it. 🙋🏾‍♀️) It was all so fascinating.

Needless to say, I love sci-fi. Like, deeply. If it’s time travel or aliens or “exploring strange new worlds” (my fellow Trekkies recognize where that comes from), my interest is quickly captured. Reading it and watching it have always been pastimes. A few years ago, however, I wondered why I wasn’t writing science fiction. A natural question for me; challenging myself as a writer is always exciting. But I realized that a lot of the plot lines that pop up in my head have a sci-fi theme. It seemed a natural progression—if those ideas were coming, they needed to be written.

The Loftiest Thing has a sci-fi short story in the collection. I now plan on writing an entire collection related to the genre. One story you’ll find in that forthcoming new collection is provided for your reading pleasure below. Enjoy.

Tiny Pieces

Being in a time machine is less dramatic than you’d imagine. You stand in a medium-sized metal enclosure, quite similar to an elevator, the doors close, also like an elevator, and you move through the waves of time. Like moving up through floors. Yes: like an elevator. When the doors slowly open, however, you have not arrived in the plush, carpeted hallway that leads to your attorney’s office or for an appointment with your expensive dermatologist. You arrive outside your college dorm room in 1993 at 11:42AM. (Well, not specifically. It all depends on what time a person chooses to go back to. And you chose to visit your 19 year-old self. Someone else may choose to go to April 14, 1865, and convince Abe to avoid Ford’s Theatre. Really up to the person involved.)

You glance behind you at the metal doors that just closed and remember what they told you: the doors will disappear, disintegrate into the atmosphere, and will return when you come back to the exact spot where the machine dropped you off. Something about your DNA being linked to the machine. Science talk. You tuned out at the point. As promised, you watch the metal doors begin to shatter before your eyes, breaking apart in tiny, silver pieces until there is nothing before you. The process leaves you slightly breathless. But you get yourself together. With resolve, you turn around and knock on the dorm room’s door.

Nineteen-year old you (Teen You, officially) opens the door. You are momentarily dazed by familiarity, by a deep recognition. Thick curls in a bun on top of her head; big, brown eyes that communicate almost everything on her mind. Teen You is also thinner, of course, not yet a party to the mythical “eating for two” adage that you enthusiastically believed induring both of your pregnancies. Her baby face, with its unblemished dark brown skin, is not yet burdened by the pesky crow’s feet that appeared one morning and refused to bow before the cavalry of creams prescribed by your expensive dermatologist. She is the image in the mirror you stopped seeing so long ago.

And when she looks at you, her lips parting in a tiny “O” of shock, it’s quite clear that the deep recognition is mutual. No amount of crow’s feet and a thicker waistline could hide that. She doesn’t understand, but she knows.

But you also remember you at that age. A fighter of anything illogical, a doubter of whatever couldn’t be quickly explained. Just the Facts, Ma’am. Where did that woman go? you then wonder. Why did getting older make it easier to just say yes to everything, even the nonsensical? (Although, admittedly, no longer questioning the incongruous led you to an elevator that transported you back to the past.) Nevertheless, it’s hardly surprising when you observe a narrow-eyed frown slowly descend upon Teen You’s demeanor, replacing the shocked recognition. “Can I help you?” she asks you sharply.

You smile at her. “We need to talk.”

“Who are you?” she demands.

“I’m sure you know who I am.” With that, you place your hands on her shoulders and firmly guide her backwards into the dorm room. This moment, touching the woman you once were, is not lost on you. The sensation will linger long after this day. You close the door behind you. “I apologize for pushing you but we don’t have much time.”

She glares at you. “Get out of my room. You have no right to be in here, to put your hands on me.”

You gaze at her with admiration. “You’re so strong. I wish you had stayed that way.”

Momentarily, she cocks her head to the side, visibly intrigued by this statement.

“Anyway, you have Political Science at 12:15 and we need to chat before you go.”

“How—how do you know about my next class?” she questions.

“Since I’m sure you know who I am, it’s no surprise that I know which class you’re about to go to, is it?” Briefly, you peer around the dorm room. Teen You’s side of the room is neat, clean, the complete opposite of the unmade bed and various articles of clothing and things that crowd her roommate’s side of the room. Natasha Abulov was her name; an exchange student from Russia. You remember how excited she was to be in school in the United States, so excited that she was never around to clean her side of the room.

“Excuse me, but what do you want?” Teen You presses, interrupting your thoughts.

You return your attention to her. “Be patient with Natasha,” you tell her. “Several years from now, she’ll become one of your closest confidantes.”

Teen You raises her eyebrows at you in disbelief. Chuckling softly at her expression, you now lead her toward the pristine bed and sit her down next to you. “Look, there’s no real preamble to this—”

“Did I become a lawyer?”

You hold your breath.

“It’s what I—what we wanted more than anything,” she says carefully. “Did it happen?”

This would be harder than you thought.

“I’ve been working so hard, loading up on my classes,” Teen You continued. “I just really hope that it ended up—”

“In this Political Science class, your professor will be very late. Sitting next to you will be William Lyons, a junior you’ve seen here and there, but never paid attention to. He’ll say hi and ask if you want to ditch class for some coffee. At first, you’ll say no. Time will continue to pass by. Other students will start leaving. You’ll glance at the clock. He’ll invite you again. Reluctantly, you’ll say yes and you’ll leave class with him.” You pause, caught up in the memory. “Three months after today, Billy will ask you to marry him. He’ll say, ‘You’re 19 and I’m 20. We’re not kids. We love each other. I have a trust fund. What are we waiting for?’ You’ll hesitate. You won’t be sure. He will repeat that he loves you more than anything or anyone in the world. Reluctantly, you’ll say yes. A few days later, you’ll elope.”

Those big eyes of hers grow wider and wider.

“School becomes a foregone conclusion after you get pregnant, which happens pretty soon after you’re married.”

“I have a baby?” she whispers.

“You have two. A boy and a girl. Langston and Angela. And they’re not babies anymore. They’re 22 and 21.” You smile, envisioning your children, these two souls that have prevented you from losing the few marbles you have left.

She begins to nibble on her pinkie nail, a nervous habit that never went away.

“Needless to say, no, you didn’t become a lawyer. You stayed home and took care of your children and your home. You supported your husband while he continued to go to school. He graduated at the top of his class.” This is when you are reminded of why you are here, why you paid an obscene amount of money to some kids who weren’t much older than your son for the chance to travel back in time. You grab Teen You’s hands, which now tremble violently. “Listen to me, Pamela. Listen to me. Don’t leave that class with Billy.”

Tears suddenly appear in her wide, brown eyes. For a moment, your own eyes moisten, but you push away those rising emotions, determined to stay the course.

“Do not go with him,” you say. “Stay in the class. Tell him some other time. But do not leave with him. Do you understand me?”

“But—but if I don’t go, what happens to Langston and Angela?” she asks breathlessly.

You didn’t expect that question. But becoming a mother was something you’d always wanted, wasn’t it? “Langston and Angela won’t go anywhere,” you tell her firmly.

“But their father—”

You imagine him now, this man you both love and despise, this man who has betrayed you in the worst way. The two of you have become shadows in your home, living miles apart in the same space. You must fix it, you must come back together, and that is why you are here today. Just a few weeks ago, you recognized that everything began when you left that class with him. Things happened too fast; you fell too fast.

Squeezing her hands gently, you smile reassuringly at her. “We were meant to be, Billy and me. He will pursue me, undoubtedly. And somewhere along the way, I will fall in love with him completely and without hesitation. But we need time, Pamela. Make him wait. We need more time.”

They had explained it all with their science talk, those boys with the metal doors, after you had begged them to help you. You didn’t tune out that part. You’re not changing much from the past, they told you, so the present, time itself, will eventually acclimate. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, ma’am. You’re just changing the scene, but the puzzle pieces, your life, will stay the same.

“Our relationship needs to happen differently, when we’re older and wiser. We made so many mistakes, Pamela. We blamed each other for so many things. If you stay in that class, it will happen another time. Langston and Angela will still come, I promise you that.”

She gazes at you for some time, tears spilling down her face, her wide eyes filled with surprise, confusion, and an array of other emotions. She is thinking, deliberating. Finally, Teen You nods.

You pull her into your arms, embracing her tightly. Later, much later, you will dream of this moment, when you held yourself in your arms like a child.

“Time for class,” you say softly. You stand her up and gently wipe her tears. You then pick up her backpack, hanging on the bedpost, and hand it to her. “Maybe the law career will come one day, maybe it won’t. We just need to save our family.”

Nodding again, she takes the bag and walks toward the door. Before leaving, she turns around and glances at you. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me,” she declares.

“Wait until childbirth,” you reply, smiling.

Her eyes widen again before she disappears around the corner.

With a deep breath, you look around the room again before walking out. Back in the hallway, you stand at the precise spot where you “landed.” Almost immediately, those tiny, silver pieces that fragmented into the atmosphere appear before your eyes, shimmering as they re-form. The process ends with the return of the two metal doors that brought you to this place in time. They stand before you, sturdy, as if they had always been there. It was impressive, to say the least. The doors open and you step inside.

As the “elevator” moves through time, you find your eyes growing heavy. Yes, you recall what the boys also told you: coming back would render you quite fatigued, almost unbearably so. They weren’t wrong.

As your legs give way and you descend toward the ground, you unexpectedly feel the stirrings of an emotion you haven’t experienced in a long time, something far more powerful than your overwhelming fatigue.

Hope.

The End. (An original work by This Square Peg.)