Heart racing, Elsie scanned the quad. She was attempting to escape before any of her friends spotted her. Elsie had rushed out of class after her African History lecture, hoping to hide out at the quad over lunch. She couldn’t afford to eat at the university cafeteria a second time this week. There was no universe in which her allowance could stretch that far. Plus, she was sick of having to come up with some excuse about why she wasn’t eating.
She knew everyone assumed it must have something to do with her weight, but she couldn’t decide if disabusing them of that notion was worth it. She also didn’t relish proclaiming to all and sundry that her allowance could allow only a single meal at the cafeteria per month. So, like the conflict-avoidant person she was, she was hiding.
She spotted Tommy alone at one of the canopied tables. After a brief hesitation, she started walking toward him. It was the only available canopied table, and it was too hot for her to sit out in the punishing sun. She and Tommy never hung out alone, but they had enough mutual friends between them to place them in each other’s orbit at least once a week. If it came down to him or a total stranger or some open table, she’d pick him. Awkwardness be damned.
He was seated on the bench seat, his eyes trained on his laptop in intense concentration. He’d likely not mind if she was quiet and didn’t try to engage him.
She got to the table and cleared her throat. “Hey, Tommy.”
He looked up, eyes widening in surprise. Before he could reply, his phone started vibrating. “Hey Elsie,” he replied, before turning away to answer his phone. Then he walked away after taking one last look at her and his laptop as if to assure himself his stuff would be safe with her.
She covertly admired his lean form before turning away, embarrassed. That’s not how we look at our friends, Elsie, is it? She mentally chastised herself, a small smile belying her internal monologue. “Only when they’re hot.”
Elsie sat opposite him and sprung up from the bench so fast, she almost face-planted. The seat was hot enough to burn. She moved to the other side, next to his makeshift workstation. She was mindful about leaving enough room so that neither of them felt crowded. The last thing she needed was that look people gave her whenever she sat next to them on public transportation. That look that judged her undesirable based on her size.
She wasn’t sure what drew her attention to the screen, but she looked up to find a video playing. It was playing on a video editor she sometimes used herself. The video was a compilation of clips of couples from different TV shows. It looked so sweet she couldn’t stop herself from picking up the connected headphones.
The background music was a love song she’d never heard before but knew would look up as soon as she was done losing herself in the adorable couples on screen. She was so engrossed in the video that she didn’t hear Tommy’s return. He tapped her shoulder, startling her. His face creased in anger.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, voice low and tight.
She took off the headphones. “Oh, sorry…”
“Why are you snooping through my stuff?”
His jaw was clenched tight, eyes narrowed and fixed on her. She’d never seen him upset, and it took her a moment to compose herself. He immediately started shutting down the laptop and packing up his stuff in his backpack. First his blue water bottle and two A4 exercise books.
“I wasn’t snooping. I just looked up, and it was playing, so I… I… I looked. Sorry.”
He said nothing and kept packing. A bunch of freshly printed handouts and pens went in. His mouse and external hard disk followed. Each clearly had its own compartment, and he was slipping them in with a level of care that spoke of controlled anger.
“I truly am sorry. I didn’t mean to…. But it was really good, and I couldn’t stop myself.”
He stilled himself from getting swept away by her earnestness. He paused his borderline frantic yet careful packing and rubbed his clean-shaven chin. “Just don’t tell anyone, please.”
“Okay. But it’s really good. So fucking beautiful and moving, and that song plus the transitions. Damn. I cannot believe you made that. I live for those fanvids and edits.”
He was silent. She couldn’t abide a tense silence. “You’re not embarrassed, are you?”
He said nothing, waiting for the laptop to power down, his eyes never meeting hers.
“If you are, I could tell you something embarrassing about myself so we can be equal, you know, mutually assured destruction.”
Finally, he turned to her with a small, amused smile. “Okay.” He remained standing, leaning on the table so he was facing her.
“I write fanfic,” she said, hiding her suddenly trembling fingers under the table.
“More.” He said, his eyes fixed on hers.
She turned away from his piercing gaze, trying to keep her voice light. “All kinds of fanfic.”
“Yeah, that’s not embarrassing enough. Mutually assured destruction, remember? Tell me what you’re currently working on.” He said, voice light and playful.
With her face hidden behind her long braids and eyes closed, she whispered, “Hawaii Five-0 fanfic.”
“McGarrett fangirl? No,” he said in mock horror.
She turned to him, voice firm to counter his obvious scepticism. “Yes.”
“Do you let anyone read it?”
“Are you kidding me? No.”
He laughed, shaking his head like he’d been expecting that exact response.
“Though you should definitely let people see your stuff. Are you on YouTube or something? Why are you even doing economics?”
“Nope, not on YouTube,” he said, turning to pack the laptop. “I’m just doing it to teach myself editing.”
“You should share your stuff.”
“Yeah, the same way you should let people read your fanfic.”
“My thing is I don’t know if I’m any good, but you are good so…”
“You saw mine, so you have to show me yours. That’s the only way we’ll be equal.” He said as though it was crucial, critical, existential even.
“Are you flirting with me?” she replied, narrowing her eyes.
“Are you deflecting?” he asked, head cocked to the side, a smile playing on his lips.
She looked away, smiling like she was holding back a laugh, her shyness completely out of character. He took the opportunity to look at her, and it felt like he was seeing her anew. She had generous curves, with a wide shapely ass that he forced himself to look away from. His eyes moved to her full breasts, then her round face. Her eyes were on him. His breath caught as he realised he’d been discovered. His mind raced to come up with a sufficient apology.
“Fine, I’ll show you mine.”
That was a pleasant surprise. He plopped onto the bench, straddling it, watching her with an indulging smile on his face. That was how they spent many, many lunch breaks for the rest of their time at the university.
They talked about everything. How he’d gone to medical school and quit after his first year because he just didn’t have the stomach for it, how disappointed his parents had been, how he’d picked economics even though he hated it, attempting to appease them. How he wished he could figure out how to make a living through the editing skills he was cultivating.
How she wore baggy clothes in part because when she wore fitting clothes, she felt exposed, with people’s judgmental eyes on her curvy body. How sometimes a tiny part of her believed the negative things people believed about her body. The resultant shame.
How much fun he had making the fanvids, and how afraid he was of people finding out, especially his friends and parents. How much fun she had writing fanfic because it allowed her to feel her feelings deeply without being subjected to people’s censure. With each revelation, they fell in love with an unprecedented intensity for both of them.
Elsie lay half sprawled out on Tommy’s hairy chest; eyes closed in post-coital bliss. Tommy’s hand was gently sliding over her bare back. It was so sweet she felt tears pool in her eyes. His gruff voice whispered, “Imagine how much you’d like that in Cabo.”
Elsie stiffened and knew he knew by the way his touch turned comforting, rubbing circles on her back. “Why would you bring that up now?” She sat up and pulled her sleeping shirt over her ample curves before walking out of what passed for her bedroom.
She lived in a tiny studio apartment also known as a bedsitter, which she’d sectioned off into different rooms. Her bedroom was behind a thick multi-coloured curtain and the kitchen was the area behind the bamboo divider that was about half the height of the room. The bathroom was hidden behind the bedroom. Everywhere else was for all intents and purposes her living room.
Tommy followed her, tugging his boxers on. “Come on, Elsie.”
Elsie dropped onto the only couch in the room, one leg folded under her ass. She’d gotten it when her parents had upgraded their furniture. She’d reupholstered it and it was the cosiest piece of furniture she owned, the most colourful too, with bright yellow fabric. “Call me crazy, but I don’t want to talk about your mother in my bed while riding my orgasmic high.”
“Noted. Then let’s just talk about the vacation in Cabo. Cabo, Elsie.”
She pinched her eyes closed with her fingers, a sure sign that she was getting upset. “There’s no talking about the vacation without talking about your mother. Why do you even want me to go?”
He sat on the coffee table right in front of her and for a second was distracted by her exposed thighs, the pleasant result of her sleeping shirt riding up. Focus. Focus. You’ll circle back to her dark chocolate thighs after. He forced himself to turn away and look into her eyes. This wasn’t going well. He took her free hand in his, stroking. His voice soft, he said, “Because I want to do that. In Cabo. With you.”
“Do you imagine that if you keep saying Cabo, I’ll say yes? Cause that’s hella misguided.”
“I love you and I want you to get along with my family.”
She still wasn’t looking at him, alternating between looking at their hands and staring at some unknown thing over his shoulder. “What happens if we can’t get along?”
“You will. I know you will. Just please say yes. Please.”
She shook her head, her eyes briefly on him before she turned away. “I have a bad feeling about it. Your mother hates my guts. There’s no way this goes well.”
“She knows we’re still together, and she is the one who asked about you coming along. That has to mean something. Can you just try for me?”
Elsie took a deep breath and finally met his eyes. “Fine. I’ll go-”
He grabbed her in a hug and started peppering her face with kisses.
“On one condition.” She continued, pulling away from his embrace.
Her voice softer, she went on. “I know it’s hard for you, but I need you to promise to stand up for me… if you know… things happen…”
“You won’t regret it. I promise. Helloooo Caboooo!!”
He kissed her again, and she smiled his infectious energy overriding her worry.
One month later
It was the ass crack of dawn and they were seated in the waiting area outside their gate. Tommy had gotten his stickler-for-time tendencies from his parents. They were three hours early for their five-a.m. flight. In spite of herself, Elsie was excited about the trip. The last time she’d been excited about anything at 2 a.m., it had involved fewer people and even fewer clothes.
She had never left the country and had flown domestically exactly one time. Dating Tommy was quite the eye-opener. His parents were flying them to Cabo on vacation. She couldn’t wrap her head around going to a whole different country just to chill. Also, the entire concept of vacation was foreign to her. Her parents had worked all through until they retired, which mirrored her present, and she was certain of her future too. She couldn’t afford to take extended periods of time off work and still afford to keep herself alive.
She considered herself a realist, so she never entertained the idea of travelling merely for leisure. Yet here she was, off to spend two weeks lazing her days away on Cabo’s heavenly beaches and not spending a single cent on it. She could almost feel the sun-warmed yet chill water pushing against her as she waded in it. Water that had been there from the beginning of time. Water that would be there after she was long, long gone. She longed to see the startling sunrise and sunsets she’d read about and seen online, and could almost feel the wind on her skin as they took a boat ride, which was a must-do for tourists. She could hardly wait to experience it with her friend, lover, and partner.
Elsie turned to Tommy, a smile on her face only to find his eyes on her. Tommy winked at her, a new thing he was trying that she refused to tell him really did it for her. He’d been doing it all morning, occasionally gesturing toward his bag. He’d told her he’d parked a bag full of fun things for them to do in Cabo. He’d been so pleased with himself as he made the announcement that she couldn’t help being pleased with him too.
Tommy was seated between her and his younger brother Marcus, a doctor in training. It struck her again how much they looked alike. They were both dark in complexion, with thick beards, and of average height, the only difference being Tommy was slightly bigger than Marcus who had the leanness of youth not to mention the stress of medical school to help keep everything tight.
Marcus was showing them hilarious memes from his numerous social media groups. They were laughing so hard that Tommy’s Mom Linette kept giving them the occasional side-eye. Still, she couldn’t help herself. Marcus was hilarious. He made her feel so old she needed the laughter to distract her from thinking about all the things she wasn’t accomplishing with her life.
Marcus was the obedient one, the one who did what his parents wanted and was as a result well on his way to a successful future. At least financially, if nothing else. Tommy was the one who’d dropped out of med school because he just couldn’t handle it. He’d tried to appease his parents by doing the next best thing in his opinion, economics, but it hadn’t worked. He’d hated studying economics. He hated his current low-paying economics job that he’d never dream of quitting. And he remained the family failure, perpetually disappointing his parents regardless of his efforts.
She’d heard rich people say things like “I’m not rich, my parents are,” and in his case, it was God’s honest truth. His parents were rich, he on the other hand was like her, perpetually worrying about money month to month. She didn’t fully understand how that could even happen, but his parents were strange, and she left it at that. As open as he was about other things, he was always so reticent about the subject of his parents, so she let it be, reluctant to upset him.
She reached for his hand, suddenly desperate for contact. He gave her a questioning look and she smiled and shook her head in response. She attempted her own wink, and he smiled back and even though he wasn’t big on physical displays of affection around his family, he squeezed her hand and kept holding it on his lap.
Before long, the announcer was calling First-Class passengers to pre-board, and Elsie was preparing to get a taste of how the moneyed few live. They walked to the queue that comprised their little group and a white couple right in front of them. Tommy’s parents were at the front followed by Marcus, with Tommy and Elsie bringing up the rear.
Linette, Tommy’s mother, handed Marcus their tickets. Marcus picked his then his face creased with concern, handed Tommy the remaining two. Tommy narrowed his eyes in question as he took the two tickets but all Marcus did was shake his head like he was bereft of words.
The problem was immediately apparent. Before he could do anything, Elsie had snatched the tickets from his hand and was staring at them, trying to figure out why they were different if they were headed to the same place. Then she saw it and he could tell the exact moment she connected the dots. His was first class, hers was economy. She was booked in coach.
She looked up at Tommy who shook his head and whispered, “Must be some kind of mistake.”
He was still standing there when she turned to him, her voice harsher than she’d intended, and asked, “You really think that?”
Like her words had jolted him from some stupor, he moved, every step slow and measured, to where his mother was at the front of their little queue.
She saw him bend to her and whisper. He was consistent if nothing else. The last thing he wanted to do was attract any kind of attention to them.
The two white people moved ahead, and Tommy’s parents walked up to the counter where Linette promptly handed in their tickets. Tommy was still standing there, looking confused, his fingers twitching and tapping on his leg.
When the attendant gave them a nod, Linette said something to Tommy and then went the way the white tourists had gone, leaving Tommy standing there helplessly looking at their receding backs.
Marcus stepped up to the counter when the attendant indicated he should do so, and Tommy turned to face Elsie. Their eyes met and he couldn’t think of a time when he’d had a lower opinion of himself than he did then.
He took a deep, shaky breath and walked up to her. He bent close to her and whispered, “She says there was a mistake, but we can fix it for the return flight.”
She snorted. “You don’t really believe that do you?”
The attendant was done with Marcus who moved to the side and waited for them. Tommy reached for Elsie’s hand and dragged her suitcase and his bag with the other hand. She shrugged off his hand, the action automatic.
Tommy reached for her hand again, his eyes imploring her to allow him. She clasped his hand and followed him to the counter, battling with the internal voice judging her for being seemingly unable to say no to him.
He had both their tickets in his hand and as soon as the attendant saw the coach ticket, she launched into the official position which was this queue was only for first-class passengers and they had to wait their turn. She did all this without using her inside voice so that it felt to Tommy like she was making an announcement to all the waiting passengers who were already following the unfolding events.
He kept his voice low, as though compensating for her inability to do the same. “There was a mistake. Is there any way I can upgrade the ticket from coach to first-class?”
The attendant told him how much it would cost and he knew he was well and truly screwed. There was no way he could come up with that sum. There was no way he and Elsie could come up with it even if they pooled resources. He could feel the panic rising in him, like a hand advancing slowly from the pit of his stomach and reaching for his neck to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze. He looked around frantically, his eyes landing on Marcus. Maybe Marcus could help. He doubted it but he was a drowning man clutching at paper straws he knew had zero structural integrity. He gave Elsie a look he hoped was reassuring then rushed over to his brother.
Before he could even ask Marcus if he had any ideas, he heard the attendant, loudly, instruct Elsie to step aside for the First-Class passengers and held back a string of cuss words. He turned to see tears pool in her eyes as she stepped away.
He asked Marcus in a hurried barely audible sentence if he had the amount of money required for the upgrade. He didn’t. Of course, he didn’t. Fuck.
He rushed back to Elsie and grabbed her hand, stroking it, attempting to offer her a measure of comfort and calm her down.
She pulled her hand back, grabbed her suitcase, and started walking away. “Go with your family,” she said over her shoulder.
He could just feel all the eyes on them, storing away the details of this incident for gossip with friends, and loved ones and, he just knew, social media.
Panicked, he followed her trying as much as possible to keep it all as normal as possible, with no drama or antics on his part. “I have an idea.” He whispered close to her ear.
She kept walking and though it went against every single one of his instincts to keep as low a profile as possible; he moved ahead to block her way.
Her angry eyes drilled into him, and he almost forgot the idea he planned to advance. She attempted to walk around him, but he intercepted her and whispered in what he hoped was an earnest, convincing tone, “Please, baby. Just let me fix this.”
She stopped and took a deep, calming breath, eyes closed. He seized the opportunity, grabbing her suitcase and walking towards one of the other counters. He made a beeline towards one with a woman who looked matronly and kind. Yes, her. No more ‘projector-voice-lady’, no thank you.
After a beat, she followed him and for the first time since the entire debacle began; he entertained the hope that maybe this day, this vacation, could yet be salvaged. “Hi, I’m hoping you can help us,” Tommy said and, hearing the panicked anxiety in his voice, forced himself to stop and clear his throat.
“Of course. I’ll do whatever I can.” The matronly woman said with a smile that had the effect of calming him down almost instantly.
“Can I downgrade from first-class to coach? We’d like to sit together.”
She shook her head. “I’m afraid not. We’re fully booked.” He felt his heart sink. Almost like she could see it, she gave him a warm smile. “I could ask the person seated next to her if they’d be open to swapping seats with you.”
Hope rushed in like a flood. “Can you please find out for me?”
“Will do. Let me just make a call.” She unveiled the warm smile again, this time aimed at both him and Elsie.
“Thank you so much.” Relieved, he bent to tie his shoelace which had come undone and had been steadily irritating him. Now he had the time to take care of such mundane problems.
Elsie wasn’t sure how to feel about Tommy trying to swap his first-class seat for one in coach. She was touched, but she was also angry, so angry with him for reasons she couldn’t immediately parse out. She was getting angrier watching the intensity with which he was tying his shoelaces.
She shifted her eyes from him and found the attendant’s eyes on her even as she spoke softly into the phone. Her brown eyes were the softest, kindest, saddest eyes Elsie had ever seen. Eyes that said what was happening to Elsie wasn’t right. Eyes that said she deserved better. Before she knew what was happening, Elsie felt the tears coming and this time, falling. Then loud, heavy sobs followed, racking her chest Try as she might, she couldn’t stop herself.
Tommy’s concerned and embarrassed face swam before and even though he was speaking, she couldn’t hear a word of it. The more he tried to calm her down, to get her to stop, the faster the tears flowed. At some point, the matronly attendant came round, enveloped her in a hug, and finally, she felt safe, anchored. Then the tears stopped, and she knew what she had to do with startling clarity.
Tommy walked her to the seats away from the conspicuous counters, and she followed him. She could tell Tommy was embarrassed by the way he kept looking around and trying to get out of people’s line of sight. She almost started crying again, wishing he worried about her more than about strangers staring at them. Taking a deep fortifying breath, she reminded herself that she was making the right choice.
Elsie stopped walking, and he did too when they were away from the prying eyes. With a calmness that felt alien given her breakdown not too long ago, she said, “Go with your family, Tommy.”
“Baby, she said she could get us seats. We can still-”
“Still go on vacation so that your mother can treat me like shit the entire time? No, thanks.” She sounded so calm, that it threw him off.
“It won’t be like that. I’ll…” he trailed off.
“You can’t, won’t talk to her. We both know this.”
He was silent before grabbing her hand as if to keep her from leaving.
“Go,” she said, turning towards the exit.
“Why do you always have to be so dramatic?” he whispered after her, loud enough for her to hear.
She stopped and turned to him. “Your problem with all this is I’m being dramatic?”
“A normal person would just calm down, take the trip and resolve this on the other side.” He said, his voice much lower than hers, ever conscious of the risk of drawing attention to them.
“What do you know about normal people? Normal people are not afraid to talk to their parents or tell their mother not to be cruel to a woman they claim to love.”
“Elsie,” he whispered, his voice soft like he was afraid of setting her off again.
She could feel the anger in her begin to rise again, “This may come as a surprise to you but I’m not willing to prostitute myself for a trip. Not even Cabo.”
His face fell like she’d physically struck him. She was beyond caring. She walked off, dragging her suitcase. Even though she told herself not to do it, she stopped and turned. He was standing right where she left him. She heard herself say, “We’re done.”
Elsie took out her cell phone and with shaky fingers compared the prices of hailing a cab ride through each of the ride-sharing apps. She rubbed her chest at the prices, a fruitless attempt to calm her racing heart. All she ever felt these days whenever she had to spend money was anxiety. She was convinced the high that one allegedly gets from shopping and spending money was a reserve of the wealthy. All she felt every single time was panic because every expense meant less money left. Every expense felt like a loss, like grief.
Her ride was here. She slipped into the car after the driver put her small suitcase in the back and as soon as she closed the door, she felt the inexplicable return of the tears. Maybe it was the warm interior and the resulting comfort of just sitting down or maybe, just maybe she was now the kind of person who cried anytime anywhere sans provocation.
She was taking deep breaths to calm herself and hadn’t realized she was doing it until she heard the driver’s worried, “Madam, uko sawa.” He was asking if she was alright.
She turned to find his concerned eyes on her. And the banks burst. Again.
Between sobs, she told the driver what had happened. He said she’d done the right thing, and it would only have gotten worse if she’d gone on vacation with them. “You did what was best. Those mother-in-law situations don’t get better.” His affirmation of her decision simultaneously made her feel better and worse.
By the time he dropped her off, it appeared she was fully drained. No more tears left to shed. That dry spell lasted until she realized that she didn’t have her house keys.
Elsie could see them earlier that morning. Her complaining about the stupid hour, him chipper and upbeat. She dragged her feet as she walked out of the apartment. He playfully pulled her to him and wrapped her in a brief embrace as he locked the door and dropped the keys into his pants pocket.
She sat on the stairs outside her apartment on the second floor fighting tears. Then she called a fundi, a handyman to break the lock.
Elsie rejected a call from Tommy as she’d been doing since she left the airport. She had to call two different fundis before she got one who was close enough. She couldn’t stop her knee from bouncing erratically as she waited for the fundi to get there. Her stomach tightened at the thought of her neighbours finding her crying on the stairs. She’d exceeded her monthly quota of crying in front of strangers, and it was barely 8 a.m.
Tommy was still calling and this time she blocked him altogether and began distracting herself by scrolling through her phone as she waited for the fundi. Try as she did, nothing held her attention, which only upset her further.
The fundi got there and immediately embarked on the job of breaking her lock. She watched him at work thinking that was the same way her heart was being broken, then conceded that maybe Tommy was right, maybe she did have a penchant for the dramatic.
Elsie negotiated the bill between sniffles and the old fundi in a threadbare pair of what were once blue overalls. Perhaps feeling sorry for her, the fundi gave her a discount. She almost cried when she saw her account balance after sending him the money. She was spending money she could in no way afford to be spending, which meant she had a long, long month of tightening the fiscal belt ahead of her.
Elsie opened the door to let the fundi out and found herself face to face with an angry Tommy. What the fuck did he have to be angry about, she wondered, making sure he knew she was equally mad.
The fundi glanced from one to the other, then slipped past and hurried off without a word. Elsie tried to close the door on Tommy, but he held it open, just like she’d known he would, his eyes fixed on the busted lock.
Tommy gently pushed the door open, and she let him walk in. He stood fidgeting with the door, trying to figure out if it would close well enough to be safe in the interregnum before she bought a new lock. He locked the door with a tiny sliding lock at the top. It would do for now, but it wasn’t a substitute for the busted lock. Then he turned to her, trying and failing to hide his anger. “Nimekucall a million times. If you’d just answered your damned phone, you wouldn’t have had to break the lock. Now you have to buy a new one. You always pick the hard way.”
“And you always pick the cowardly way.”
They eyed each other silently, both angry and rearing to go, just waiting for the dry tinder all around them to be lit.
He walked into the living room area. “You’re throwing away four years of a good thing because my mom didn’t book you a first-class ticket.”
“Go fuck yourself,” she replied, walking to the door and standing on the tips of her toes to slide the lock open.
He slid behind her, his front to her back, crowding her in, then locked it back up.
She turned to him; anger etched on her features. He stepped back and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and apology. She held him in place with a hard look. “Words.”
When they’d first started dating, whenever he had to apologize, he’d resorted to flowers and chocolates and other rom-com gestures to let her know he was sorry, but he’d never said the words. She’d not been amused or impressed, insisting that she needed words too, maybe even more. She’d made him work through whatever hesitation he had in saying the words. “I’m sorry”, “I shouldn’t have done that”, “I love you”, “I was hurt”, “I’m scared”. He’d learnt to vocalize all sorts of things and so had she.
“I’m sorry, okay? That was a dick thing to say and I’m sorry.”
He moved further into the room, heading for the couch but waiting to see what she would do before deciding whether he should sit down. “Can we please just talk? Elsie, please.”
She remained standing by the door. “What would you like to talk about, Tommy? Maybe the fact that your mother went out of her way to embarrass me? Or maybe how I told you this family vacation thing would not work, and you refused to listen, much less believe me? Oh wait, you know what I think we should talk about? The fact that you cannot talk to your mother. That’s my preference. Do you want to start, or should I go first?”
He stood silent, staring at her; jaw tight with anger. “I have a different idea if you can believe it. I’m thinking we start with the fact that you’ve never met anything you couldn’t blow out of proportion. How any normal person would just take the flight and resolve the issues quietly afterwards, not break down in histrionics in front of a room full of strangers.”
“If I thought even for a second that you were capable of resolving anything with your parents, I’d have taken that flight. If I thought even for one second that you’d stand up for me-” Her voice broke, and she took a deep breath. “Except you’re so desperate to please them, I’m beyond stupefied that you’re here.”
He took a step closer to her. “You didn’t even give me an opportunity to do it.”
She shook her head, “Tommy, please. There is no interaction I’ve had with your parents that hasn’t included varying degrees of them disrespecting me. You’ve never said one thing.”
She started counting them off on her fingers. “You said nothing when they alluded to the fact that I’m too dark. You said nothing when your mother joked about how fat I am and I haven’t even had kids yet. You said nothing when she talked about how beautiful your exes were. All you do is apologize to them after the fact. I’m the fool for believing this time would be different.”
“Not all of us can have that kumbaya-my-parents-are-my-friends shtick. My parents are not yours.” He ground out.
“No, they’re not. And I refuse to compete with your mother for your affection or whatever it is she thinks we’re competing for. I’m not going to be that girl, Tommy. Not even for you.”
He was silent, his eyes glued to the floor, teeth biting into his lips.
Elsie went on, her voice getting steadier, “Your first allegiance is to your family, as it should be. Your mother hates my guts, and you cannot stand up for me. There’s no future here. You know it and I know it.”
Tommy shook his head, denying her words, “Elsie…”
“You know I’m right.”
He could tell her mind was made up and for the life of him, e couldn’t think of anything to say that would change it. This whole resigned to her fate thing she was doing along with her quiet delivery scared him more than any dramatic thing she could have done. He wished with all his heart for the drama. This was worse, so much worse.
He tried again, because damnit, he had to try. “Elsie, we don’t have to-”
“We do. You can’t choose and maybe you shouldn’t have to.” She interrupted. “We can end this well, no drama, just… well.”
He inexplicably found himself nodding in agreement. “I’m sorry… about today and all of it. I’m really sorry.”
They stood looking at each other, none of them saying a word. This was it, he realized. With heavy feet, he dragged himself to the door and handed her her keys. He held on to her hand, unwilling to let go, trying to memorize how she felt. Elsie rose on her heels and wrapped him in a hug. He held her tight and made a note to remember just how tight her arms held him. He finally pulled back and walked out without a backward glance.
Tommy walked into his apartment, dejected and so exhausted, he collapsed on the couch and stayed in that position. He kept his eyes closed, refusing to see the emptiness that was his house and life. The black curtains which ensured the house was in pitch darkness were finally coming in handy. He could hardly believe it was the same day. Just this morning, he’d barely been able to contain his excitement about their first vacation together and now they were broken up.
Was that scratching sound coming from his house or one of the others in the apartment building? He heard it again and decided that he just didn’t have the energy to open his eyes, get up and go investigating. He had no energy to care about anything presently. Numbness was his new friend.
“Tommy?” a shocked voice asked in a whisper, startling him. He fell off the couch, hitting his knee on the edge of one of the stools. He cussed and remained on the floor, cradling the knee he was sure was broken and on fire, eyes wet with tears he was fighting.
The lights went on and his friend, Matthew, tall heavyset with a baby face appeared over him.
“Iza bana. Pole jo,” he said, his voice apologetic, and Tommy found that he didn’t care. All he wanted was to punch his apologetic face in as soon as his knee stopped burning up.
“Let me help you,” Matthew said, offering to help Tommy sit up. He bore much of Tommy’s weight as he helped him back on the couch.
“Fuck, Matt. Unado nini hapa?” he asked, his tone more hostile than he intended or felt.
“You said you’d be gone and I could hang, so I decided to stay over. Kwani what happened? Why are you around? What happened to Cabo”
Tommy said nothing, his focus on trying to stretch out his leg and massage his knee that was now mercifully just throbbing.
“Tommy, what happened?” His voice was low, his concern reflected on his face as he intently looked at Tommy.
“Nothing big. Just normal stuff.”
Matthew didn’t appear convinced, and Tommy couldn’t bring himself to care enough to try and clarify things further. His phone rang, and he stayed put, making no effort to fish it out of his pocket. It went silent then started again, and he just knew it was his mother. Summoning up the last of his energy, he pulled the phone out of his pocket and with a grimace flashed the screen at Matt, who got up and left. He made no effort to infuse any energy in his voice when he said, “Hello.”
“Why do you sound like that?” his mother admonished and suddenly he was ten years old again and disappointing his mother, again, which made him angry.
Undeterred, his mother went on heedless of his non-existent response. “That girl is too sensitive. You need a tough woman who can handle life, not someone who has a public meltdown over a plane ticket. Kwanza at her size, so embarrassing.”
“It wasn’t about the ticket, Mom.” He felt like he was forcing the words out of his mouth. He never contradicted his mother like this, ever. He’d done it once, and the consequences had been so swift and severe, he’d never done it again.
“She was getting a free vacation. All she needed to do was be grateful, not have a dramatic breakdown for everyone to see.”
His heart skipped at the similarity between his mom’s words and his. He shook his head, shame washing over him. “Any normal person would have been hurt if they were excluded like that.”
His mother laughed. “Even so, they wouldn’t have thrown a full-blown tantrum just short of rolling on the floor over it.”
His mother went on talking and he couldn’t have said what about. He told himself to speak up and say something, anything. Simple sentences like, “You can’t treat her like that” or “Why are you so cruel to her?” Try as he did, he couldn’t make his lips form the words.
With every minute that he sat listening to her go on and on about Cabo, he saw how right Elsie was. How he didn’t deserve her or any other girl for that matter. What kind of man could not tell his mother to stop bullying his girlfriend? What kind? No kind, that’s what, he thought.
He thought back to their university days. They’d been through so much together. He’d had these grand dreams of what their lives would look like once they graduated and got big-money jobs. That hadn’t happened. They both had low-paying jobs that had them perpetually worried about meeting their needs. They’d gone the distance though, especially with everyone saying campo relationships ended at graduation. They’d learnt how to disagree and fight without it signalling the end of their relationship. They’d learnt how to love each other.
They’d been mostly happy even though their career and financial dreams hadn’t panned out. They’d comforted each other as they dealt with disillusionment and gave up on some of their dreams that they now saw were improbable.
They’d seen each other change. His lean days were behind him and where once there had been a flat stomach was a soft tummy that Elsie said she loved. He’d grown out his beard too which she said she loved even more. She’d surprised both of them when she’d cut her hair and started experimenting with different colours on her tiny afro. She’d traded her baggy clothes for fitting ones as her confidence soared and she embraced her curves. It had had a most wondrous effect on their sex life.
Four days after the airport drama
It was four days after they agreed to end it like the rational adults they were… on occasion. Elsie was done crying and was fully immersed in the angry distract yourself phase of the breakup. She was seated on the floor in her living room listening to angry ‘men ain’t shit’ music while organizing her tangled-up jewellery.
When the doorbell rang, her immediate feeling was irritation, followed closely by the impulse to ignore it. She arrested those negative feelings and walked to the door. When she pulled it open, only to find Tommy leaning on the wall, she was reminded of the importance of listening to her intuition.
The first thing Tommy noticed was the loud, angry music blaring from her apartment, followed closely by the minute shorts she was wearing. He couldn’t deal with the shorts now, he thought, dragging his eyes off her naked thighs, and peering into her chaotic apartment. At least she was handling the breakup as poorly as he was.
“Yikes, should I come back later?”
“It only gets worse, but if you’re willing to risk it, who am I to stop you?”
He turned to her and smiled. “I’m willing to risk all manner of things when it comes to you.”
She muted the music, completely unamused. “What do you want, Tommy?”
Her tone left no room for lightness, and he tensed up. “I’d like to talk. Can I please come in?”
“I thought we did that yesterday, conclusively too.”
“Something new came up.”
She stepped back, and he walked in. He couldn’t help his smile when he saw all her mixed-up jewellery on a mat on the floor. It was so her. He turned when he heard movement behind him and found her locking the door with the latch right at the top.
“You haven’t fixed the door.”
She gave him a blank look as if daring him to say something else along those lines.
He felt fear flood his insides. This was never going to work. She would never go for it. She was too angry. Too hurt. And she was right.
He reached for her hand before he freaked out further and led her to her favourite seat. Tommy pulled a stool and sat before her, her hand ensconced in both of his. He reached down and kissed it. She pulled back and folded her hands.
This was not going to be easy.
“You know, I’ve never been in a relationship this long. I’ve never met someone who I liked and who liked me back and who made something this beautiful with me. I’ve never had this… companionship with anyone and if I’m honest… I don’t think I’ll get it again. I know you deserve so much better than a cowardly guy. I know. I just…” He took a deep breath to arrest his nervous rumbling. “Remember when we had that huge fight at Stevo’s and you said being sensitive was your weakness and I just have to deal with that? Why can’t this be my weakness?”
Elsie sighed, shaking her head. “So, your solution to all this is I should just shut up and take your mother’s cruelty because you’re a coward and that’s your weakness?”
“No. You don’t have to come to do any more family things with me. Ever. I mean it.”
She was silent.
He reached for her hand and brought it to his chest. “I don’t want to lose you… I … I can’t. Please, just…” his voice breaking, “I love you and you love me and we’re good together, we’re phenomenal. Why can’t that be enough?”
“I can’t just avoid your family. That’s not a solution.”
She cut him off but didn’t sound angry, just tired, and resigned. “It just isn’t. You know it’s not. That can’t work. Remember when you had the accident, and she was always at your place the entire time? We all were. There’s no way to keep us apart forever. As long as we share you, we’ll meet, and our lives will intersect. This is not a plan, babe.”
They were both silent.
“I can’t lose you.” He finally said. “And I can’t change my parents.”
Tommy fell silent once more, deep in thought. “When I was a kid, I thought they were just trying to toughen us up. There’s nothing easy about reckoning with the fact that your parents are just not good people. I know a braver, more evolved person would walk away, but I’m not that person. They’re my parents and I love them, and I don’t want to walk away… I don’t think I can even if I wanted to. Nothing I say will change anything. They’re not going to change. But I promise you, I will. I hate that I didn’t do anything before and I’m sorry I kept putting you around them. All that ends now. No more pressuring you to do family things with me. You don’t have to put yourself in situations like those ever again. If you’re forced to meet, that’ll be different, but I won’t push it anymore. If we move in together, she won’t come to our place. If I die, I’ll specify in my will that you have to be there as my partner. I’ll speak to a lawyer and make it clear that you’re my partner if there’s something like that. I don’t know what else to do… You’re it for me, Elsie. I don’t want anybody else. I chose you at the airport and I’m going to keep choosing you. I need you to know that.”
He kissed her hand once more, holding it close, alternating between looking at their hands and looking into her eyes.
“I need to think about it.”
He nodded, overcome with relief.
“I’ll tell you when I… decide.”
He stood up, and she walked him to the door. He turned and faced her, leaning on the door. “Do you open the door for everyone in these minuscule shorts?”
She burst out in surprised laughter. “Yes.”
He smiled. “You only take them off for me, though, right?”
She smiled. “You wish.”
“I do wish.”
She smiled and drew him down for a hug. They held the embrace, both unwilling to let go. Finally, he pulled back and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
Tommy couldn’t stop pacing. He’d been at it for hours, only taking intermittent breaks, seated on the couch, his knee bouncing up and down on beat with his racing heart. She was going to say no, he just knew it. No one in their right mind would say yes to his cowardly proposal.
It had only been a few hours, but it felt like he’d been stuck in interminable limbo for ages. Why couldn’t he just talk to his mother? Normal people did it every day. He needed to do something, or he would lose his mind.
Matthew walked into the room with two empty glasses and a half-full bottle of soda. “Dude, that’s not helping. Kaa chini na uniambie nini imehappen.” Matthew wanted him to sit down and tell him what was going on, but he didn’t want to tell anyone. He couldn’t reveal his cowardice to even more people.
He watched Matthew fill the glasses with soda and felt his resolve weaken. It was that stupid baby face, he knew it. “Why are you still here?”
“Because you said you’d be gone so I came to staycation here and also because you’re clearly dealing with something. So just sit down na tell me, maybe I can help.”
He reached for one of the glasses and sat down, drinking in huge gulps. When he was done, he found himself ready to open up. He told him about the ticket and the breakup and about the way forward he’d proposed to Elsie and how he was afraid she was going to say no.
“Dude, come on.”
“What?” Tommy asked, defensiveness so evident he was ashamed.
“She should say no. What kind of bullshit suggestion is that?”
“I can’t change my parents. I can’t change my mom.”
“Nobody’s asking you to change your mom. The only person you need to change is you. You can’t ask her to just accept the fact that she will be in a relationship indefinitely with someone who will make no effort to protect her or make her feel safe around his family. All she’s asking you to do is talk to your parents. Sure you can’t control what they do, but you can’t just refuse to do it and tell her to deal with it. That’s selfish and inconsiderate.”
Tommy nodded; expression solemn. “I can’t. The last time…” his breath hitched.
“What happened last time?”
Tommy shook his head. Matthew remained silent, just watching him, and drinking his soda, so obviously waiting him out.
“You know how I quit med school? I tried. I really tried, but I couldn’t hack it. I can’t do sick people and dead bodies. I tried and I couldn’t. Something in my head told me that if I just told them that I’d tried really hard for one year, they’d be okay with it. I think it was being in campo with kids who could tell their parents’ stuff that emboldened me and made me think I could tell mine. So, after year one, when we were on break, I told them. I told them I wasn’t going back. They said no, I had to finish or else… I don’t remember. I just remember threats and being scared. Plus, they’d paid for the first three years in full and it wasn’t refundable, so I had to go. So, I went back for year 2. I couldn’t even finish a month. I was depressed as fuck, so I just stopped going. I started doing other things, teaching myself editing, painting, cooking. Remembering how to be happy. Then my mom found out, she talked to one of my lecturers or something, some friend of hers who confirmed that I had not been attending classes. She was livid. Yelled at me about how much they’d paid, how wasteful and ungrateful I was and then… she said if I didn’t go back to school, I couldn’t go home.”
Tommy fell silent for a few minutes and when he spoke, it was slower, his voice subdued and distant, like he was elsewhere. “At first, I was sure she was just bluffing. She wasn’t. I didn’t see her or my dad for 5 months. I didn’t see Marcus for three months. We had to sneak around to see each other. She was not fucking around. She does not fuck around. She’d send me money for living in school but that was it, total radio silence. When she finally let me come home, it was with the understanding that I would follow the rules. So, I follow the rules.”
Matthew looked away from the vulnerability in Tommy’s eyes. “That’s a lot, man.”
“You’re right though. I can’t just ask her to join me in the warped prison that is my relationship with my parents. At least not if I want to preserve any modicum of self-respect I have for myself.”
“Tommy,” he looked bewildered, running his hand through his hair, “I didn’t have all the facts. Clearly, this is a lot more high stakes than I thought. Ignore everything I said. I mean it. It was just ignorant crap.”
Tommy shook his head and smiled weakly. “It wasn’t.”
“Does she know?”
“Elsie? Of course not.”
“You should tell her. She’ll understand.” Matt said, voice low, soft, and urgent.
“Maybe she shouldn’t have to.”
Tommy walked out of the living room and went to his bedroom. He took out his phone and before he could let fear stop him, began to type out a message to his mother. He hesitated for a second but forced himself to press send, then closed his eyes briefly and waited for the chips to fall where they may.
He felt calmer than he had in days.
He reached for his phone and started recording a voice note to Elsie as he paced the length of the room. “Hey, no pressure. I just wanted to give you a status update and you don’t need to respond to it. Take your time, okay? I sent my mom a message, I know cowardly, but I told her you’re my girl and that’s not changing, you’re in my life long-term and they’re going to have to treat you better. I know she’s going to want to talk about it when she gets back, there’s no escaping that, and I want you to know I’m ready to do it. I should have never asked you to just accept it. That was unfair. You deserve better… Okay, that’s it. Stay safe. And… you don’t have to respond to this. Just… take your time. Cool. Bye.”
He remained in his room all day. Matthew cooked their evening meal and forced him to go to the living room and eat it while watching a movie. As much as he complained, he was glad for the distraction and the company.
Matthew went to bed after the movie and Tommy found he had no energy to move. He reclined on the couch, unseeing eyes trained on the ceiling, his thoughts all over. He was woken up by a knock on the door. He ignored it; certain he was hearing things only for the knocks to get louder. Now alert, he responded to it, opening a tiny crack, cautious about late-night visitors.
It was Elsie, in an unbuttoned coat revealing her hot minuscule shorts paired with a tight vest that deliciously encased her breasts. She eyed him, “You always open the door all shirtless?”
She was joking, that was a good sign, right?
He smiled, “Only for girls in tiny, tiny shorts and hot legs. Hey, sexy.”
“You going to let me in?”
He stepped back throwing the door open. “Always.”
They were seated on his bed. Her leaning against the headboard, hand over her eyes impeding his ability to read her expressions. Him at the foot of the bed, facing her, trying to compose himself.
How was it possible that he was still gutted by something that had happened so long ago? Also, he’d already recounted the story once this evening, why was he still being so emotional about it?
After he’d ushered her into the house, they’d suffered through painfully unfamiliar small talk while she drank some diluted juice and he waited for her verdict. He’d been a little shaken up but not shocked when she’d turned to him and said, “I need you to tell me what happened with your parents. I know you don’t like talking about it. But Tommy, I need to know.”
Tommy told her about applying to med school for his parents, and how proud they’d been when he was accepted. How it felt to bask in the glow of their pride, how something in him had been in pursuit of that feeling ever since. He told her how hard med school had been for him, how he’d pushed himself and tried, yet known with paralyzing certainty that it could only end one way.
How depressed he’d been. He told her bits he’d never told anyone about, like the insomnia and the nightmares that claimed him on the rare occasions when he slept. How he only slept with the aid of sleeping pills that entire second semester. How afraid he’d been of getting addicted. How frightened he’d been when he finally told his parents. How lonely he’d been.
How both he and Marcus had cried like babies that first time they’d met covertly. How his parents had finally let him come home but not before telling him he was on his own financially because of all the money they’d wasted on him and med school so far. How he’d convinced himself that doing economics would thaw them just a bit and how wrong he’d been. How embarrassed his parents had been about having a child who was a drop-out. How they’d never recovered from it among their friends, family, and social circles. How he couldn’t explain it but he’d always felt like he was disappointing his parents, even as a child, way before the whole dropping out of school fiasco.
“I can’t explain it. It’s just the way my family is.” He finished with a shrug.
He’d watched her rising anger and her failed attempts at concealing it, her pity and empathy which had gutted him and now he was seeing her battle with herself about what to say, how to respond.
“Whatever you’re feeling is okay. You don’t have to sanitize it for me.” He assured her.
“I kinda hate your parents,” she replied without missing a bit.
He cracked a small, involuntary smile. “I figured you would.”
“But you don’t,” she said with certainty.
“I don’t. They’re not my favourite people but I don’t hate them.”
“That’s okay, you don’t have to. I’ll do it for you.”
Another smile slipped past. “You don’t have to either. You don’t need that kind of energy.”
She crawled to him and wrapped him in a warm embrace. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her voice breaking, and he felt tears pool in his eyes. She held the embrace and he unashamedly clung to her.
She pulled back and looked into his eyes. “They’re wrong about you. You’re not a failure. You’re kind and generous, smart and creative, sweet, so sweet, and loving. That’s not nothing. It’s everything. I’m so proud of you.”
She was killing him. His throat tightened painfully and he closed his eyes against the sudden assault of raw emotion. He drew her to him when he felt the tears fall. She wrapped her hands around him, holding him tight, comforting him, reassuring him.
“I’ll make it right.” He choked out.
“I know you will,” she whispered back.
Five months later
Elsie and Tommy were seated in a secluded part of a posh restaurant at a table for five. Tommy was fidgeting with his napkin as he recounted some story about something that happened at work. She smiled when she once again clocked his subconscious fidgeting, and it somehow had the effect of calming her down. This was the second time they were meeting his parents for dinner, and he’d been just as anxious the first time.
Tommy’s parents had said nothing about his late-night text message. The talk Tommy had been anxious about never materialized. As it turned out, Marcus had confronted their parents in Cabo. He’d told them that they were being unfair and disrespectful to Elsie and Tommy and made it clear that if Tommy chose Elsie and decided to leave the family, so would he.
His parents had just invited them out to lunch a few weeks after their return and when Tommy said Elsie wouldn’t come, his mother had simply said, “It will be fine. Everything will be different.” When he’d told Elsie, she’d agreed to try and see what would happen. It had gone well and here they were for a second round, with Tommy just as anxious as before. Maybe even worse now, she thought. He was worried that the first pleasant lunch was a decoy to hook them in, and get them to lower their guard.
Elsie smiled at him, unable to stop herself until he finally stopped fidgeting and asked, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what?” she asked, grinning playfully.
He was saved from having to explain himself by his family’s arrival. Handshakes were exchanged all around, and Marcus wrapped Elsie in a warm bear hug before they took their seats and got into some aggressive small talk. The food arrived, and they exchanged family updates between bites. Some cousin was secretly married and secretly pregnant. Another was secretly divorced. Yet another had a secret high-paying job they didn’t want people to know about because… fear of witchcraft.
Time flew and despite their apprehension, the evening went well and was even fun to boot. At the moment, Tommy was complaining about having to sit through crazy traffic that entire month. She’d heard this rant at least three times already, but it was still amusing. Not equally amusing was when his mother asked why he was dealing with traffic when he lived in an area of town that wasn’t affected by the ongoing road construction.
Tommy was caught off-guard and had this fleeting panicked look before he said, “I moved in with Elsie last month.”
His dad, disbelieving, asked, “You mean you moved into her house?”
“Yes, she’s more attached to her place than I was to mine, so it made sense. Plus, it’s nicer than mine, unless you count the atrocious traffic.” He responded, knowing exactly what his father was saying but refusing to take the bait.
“That’s not how things are done,” his father spelt out, meeting Tommy’s eyes. “A man cannot live in a woman’s house.”
“I know. But this is what works for us.” He replied, voice firm, holding his father’s gaze even though it was foreign and all he wanted to do was look away.
“Do you really think you know better than everyone else? You’re not the first people to love each other.” His mother huffed out.
“Mom.” He said, shaking his head, praying she’d drop it already. “We’re just doing what works for us.”
A tense silence descended on the table. Tommy moved his hand under the table and caressed Elsie’s thigh to reassure her. She reached for his hand and gripped it, returning the sentiment.
“You don’t want to get married first?” His mother tried again, carefully choosing her words. “Why not just do things the right way?”
Tommy turned to Elsie with a smile, “Nah, we’re good. This way is right for us.” She couldn’t help smiling back.
Silence settled on the table again and for a few minutes, the only sound was that of cutlery scratching plates and tentative chewing.
Marcus, as was his custom came to the rescue, jumping in with a highly suspect story about one of their teen cousins who had been suspended for hiding out at an all-girls high school that his all-boys boarding school had visited for a Sunday service. The boy and his accomplice friends had been discovered missing two days later and had promptly been suspended after they snuck back into school. The story had everyone in stitches, especially after the revelation that they had been hiding in the girls’ full school uniform to avoid suspicion. Just like that, Tommy and Elsie’s sinful living was forgotten. More stories about the antics of high school kids flowed and before long, it was time to leave.
Tommy and Elsie alighted from the old rickety matatu, and she sighed in relief. That thing was so old, she’d been doubtful about its ability to get them home. It didn’t help that all the windows in it had either been closed or glued shut, so they’d been stuck in there marinating in the dank air. It also didn’t help that Tommy had been fidgeting the entire way, atypically scratching himself in public. He was convinced he’d seen a bedbug and was equally certain that they had been utterly compromised.
As soon as they were off the pathetic excuse for a vehicle, he took her hand and started walking at a brisk pace that approximated speed walking.
“Tommy,” she struggled to keep up with him. “You know what this is called? Paranoia.”
“Elsie, I swear nimeona bedbug. Just trust me, sawa?”
They got to the house in record time. Tommy decided they could not sit until they had showered. He boiled two kettles of water and demanded they strip and soak their clothes with it. Then it was straight to the shower. After two thorough scrub downs, he relaxed, and the shower took a turn for the better, achieving its maximum sensual potential.
What started in the shower reached a glorious summit in bed. She lay sprawled on him, relaxed, limbs fluid, eyes closed in bliss. He was silent, the only sound in the room, his breathing marked by the rise and fall of his hairy chest beneath her.
Growing up, she’d planned and hoped for more for her future. Yet this was so much more than she could have dreamed of. Sure, countless dreams they’d had had not panned out and financial freedom was a fantasy she no longer entertained and there’d always be tension with his parents, but there was also so much joy and so much peace from unexpected places. His YouTube channel was growing. He was making inroads into editing as a job. She was still writing fanfic and working a job that edified her soul if not her purse. They had love. This loving and being loved, there was nothing like it. Not even Cabo.
Nicki Imara is a big believer in the power of stories, especially those of romantic persuasion. She's been a voracious reader from day one and her inner child could not be more stoked and more petrified about the opportunity to pen her own stories. She'd love to hear from you, so the floor's officially open, grab the mic and share your thoughts. Do it. :)