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…

schroder
Bae since 1980.

 

ain’t nothing changed.

As much as I’m thankful and grateful for the journey of changes in this life of mine (it took a long time to fall in love with myself, for example; self-worth/self-respect/self-esteem came late for me, but those things came right when they needed to 👐🏾), some things remain exactly the same for your Square Peg. And I don’t have a problem with that.

  1. sideeyeI still side eye strangers. It’s nice to meet new people. It is. But that nine year-old who barely trusted folks who weren’t mother or father hasn’t completely disappeared. Look: stranger danger is a thing. If we’ve never, ever met, there’s a chance that I’m checking all the exits in case you decide to flip out and/or request something I’d rather not give you, like limbs or kidneys. It is what it is.
  2. I still watch YouTube videos on how to style/wash/manage my natural hair. I returned to natural six years ago. *shrug* One never stops learning. And one forgets. And one finds a bizarre comfort in watching other people wash hair3their hair. And once needs reminders that detangling is a necessity. I mean just because you graduated from school doesn’t mean you don’t still (mind the double negative there) text your old Math teacher to ask her how to calculate percentages, right? Right? Hello? Anyone?
  3. I still use my library card. I haven’t in a while, need a new one for a new state, but I’m a library card believer. Here’s a story for why I consider it a privilege and not a right: my mother had me banned from checking out books from my local librarylibrary when I was about 13 years old. You see, I was a chronic later book returner. Like chronic. I also had this terrible habit of not remembering where I left my books. (Honestly, my mother’s wish that I have a daughter just like me when I was a teenager was appropriate.) As a result, my Mom was usually left with paying my fines. So, one fine day, Mom went to my favorite library and informed the librarians that I was disallowed from using my card until I turned 18. Yes. 18. So. Gangsta. I was heartbroken, wanted to scream and rage at her (but didn’t because I wanted to also live), etc. But it happened. And on my 18th day of birth, I went right to that library and re-applied for a new card. And promptly incurred more fines. But I was a working woman by then, so who was ‘gon check me, boo? (She was. I became much more careful. *nervous laughter*)
  4. dogsI still have my checkbook. Nope, you’re not in Jurassic Park. There aren’t dinosaurs drifting around you. I haven’t written an actual check in many moons, but there are still some companies that ask for your full checking account number with the twenty-five zeroes. Since that number remains unknown to me by memory, I make sure that my check book is somewhere nearby.
  5. I still wear slips. I am the daughter of an African woman. If I stopped wearing them, even despite the distance and states between us, she would know. Of course, honestly, I don’t wear them as much as I did back in the day. If a skirt or dress has lining in it, I opt to not add more fabric to it. But if I wear something thin or could potentially have a moment a la marilynMarilyn Monroe, I will so throw on a half slip. Sure, I’ve had moments recently where I realized, with cold dread, that the thing was slowly descending towards my ankles…but you know what? Panic is good for the soul. Keeps you alive. Not really. I digress. On the off chance that what I’m wearing may expose, uh, exposure, slips are still my go-to.
  6. I’m still salty about the ending of Lost. There’s nothing more to say.
  7. I still believe in the power of good penmanship. Not only do I believe in it, but I openly admire it when I see it. I know no one writes anything down anymore, so yeah, but on the off-chance that I see someone put paper to pen…and do it so well…and use flowy cursive or straight lines…happy sigh. Look, my sixth-grade teacher nearly hit me for not being able to get that cursive ‘r’ just right. Apropos of nothing. But back then, it was important to write well. It just was. Time and technology happen, so this isn’t a diatribe against that (I am typing all of this), but it’s a lost art that I enjoy seeing and doing.
  8. I still can’t end a list with an odd number. If loving even numerals is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Some things never change.

Are you lover of change? Or no? Or both? Or…just tell me.

Bon weekend…

 

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?

raylaugh

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. 

(Un)necessary.

What is?

closuregif

Closure. Let me tell you a story. Many, many moons ago during that perilous decade known as my Twenties, I met a boy. He was nice; we became friends. Eventually, I developed a crush on him (as I was prone to do) and silly me, I believed that he felt romantical (definitely not a word) about me in return. He didn’t. After some time of seeing that my efforts to engage him met with silence, it was clear that he wasn’t interested in me. Disappointing? Yes. Ultimately something I moved on from? Absolutely. And then a friend and I talked about it and she encouraged me to reveal my feelings for him, something I had never communicated. “You need closure,” she kept saying. “You need to know where you stand, once and for all.” But, dear reader, I already knew where I stood. It was startlingly clear: this boy had zero interest in your Square Peg. So why did I nod along with her talk of closure and needing to definitively know whether the door between us needed to stay closed or could possibly re-open? Because deep down, I wanted to know, too. And I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the door didn’t have to remain closed.

Le sigh.

I reached out to him and we’ll just say that he definitively made his feelings known: the door was not only closed but had been slammed shut. It was a punch to the heart, to say the least. But the bruises healed. I learned my lesson and I moved on. And what lesson did I learn? Closure isn’t always unnecessary. closure

Is my statement borne from the bruises that were inflicted on my heart because I re-opened a door that should have remained closed? Sure. After all, I could have saved myself the endless tears that came from his unrelenting honesty. I could have saved myself from the humiliation I felt so deeply. I could have saved myself from the anxiety that came from wondering if he had shared this story with his or our mutual friends. Yes, my statement is riddled with bias. But here’s the thing: in life, in general, my story notwithstanding, sometimes a goodbye, your goodbye, is one-sided and that’s OK. (I just killed a family of commas.) Sometimes both parties don’t need to officially end something. When you know and understand that it’s over, is it necessarily important that the other party acknowledge that it’s over, too? I really don’t think so.

I’m sure a roomful of therapists is presently finding my opinion laughable (and note that it’s my opinion), but that situation with the boy and many, many others that came after taught me a few things: closure2

  • Sudden silence in a relationship doesn’t always require a summary.
  • People disappear.
  • You never hear about certain topics again.
  • Friends quietly move on.

As much as I view myself as a Law and Order/Murder, She Wrote-type investigator, I’ve learned that certain moments in life don’t need me to dig deep. Silence speaks volumes when it needs to. But This Square Peg, you say, I’d rather just know where I stand with someone. I agree. However, we can’t always say that the other individual is interested in ensuring that you know where you stand with them. You know what I mean? Maybe they’re just done and somehow, they want you to get that. There won’t be an official coda.

Doesn’t mean you won’t be hurt.

Doesn’t mean you won’t be angry.

Doesn’t mean that the lack of resolution won’t eat at you.

Doesn’t mean that you won’t wonder.

But it happened.

Looking back at the situation with the boy, I initially did a lot of blaming in the aftermath. Myself for giving in to what I wanted to hear. My friend for placing that seed in my mind. The boy for being so intense with his honesty. The boy for not realizing how amazing I was. The boy for…we’ll stop there. Because hindsight and age mean understanding. Here’s what I now know for sure, clearer than an ending or a resolution or closure: it wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Let me know your thoughts about closure in the comments…are you for it? Against it? Doesn’t matter? 

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.

harrymegs

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.

eclipse
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.

poem

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.

moon2

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…

drumroll

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.

tina

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*