My Last Dream

Memoir

I was recently talking to my sister-in-law. One of those late, 2 a.m. talks where you both should have gone to bed hours ago. I said something to her that stuck with me. Something about my life, and my goals. I’m going to share, but some background first.

When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a famous performer. Now, I never said it so succinctly. I wanted to be a ballerina. No, wait, a pop star. No, wait, a Broadway star. No, wait, an actress in Hollywood, but also still a ballerina, and maybe still a pop star. I loved to perform. My mother put me in a “creative movement” class when I was 4 – somewhere there’s a picture of little baby me in my pink satin leotard with a bandolier of scarves that I wore for my first recital. Thus began a lifelong obsession. I was in every choir, in every school and church play, I took tumbling and ballet and jazz dancing (though I stuck with ballet the longest). My siblings and I used to stage performances for our family. My friends and I would play games that were essentially singing contests. When I went to college (the first time), it was to study Vocal Performance. This was the dream. Even after I left college (re: was kicked out because I stopped going to classes due to depression following my first major break up), this was still the dream.

I wanted the stage. Nothing in the world feels like being on stage. The adrenaline, the tingle in your skin as you take your place and wait for the curtain to draw up and the lights to come on. The long nights practicing with a cast that becomes almost a family for the production run. Hearing your voice soar through an auditorium, knowing that everyone is listening to you. There is absolutely nothing like it. And when the concert ends, when the curtains fall on closing night, you feel accomplished and exhilarated and heartbroken that it’s over, but you know you can do it again.

And then I got pregnant. I was barely 20 when I married the man involved (an ill advised union to put it politely), and gave birth to my son in January of 2000. I still thought, for a little while, that this was only temporary. That I would get back to the stage. I found some solace in other creative pursuits – I started writing more. I had been writing since my freshman year of high school, off and on, but it was a thing I did with friends, I had no real aspirations there. Not even a year later I got pregnant again (I am apparently hella fertile). Had a little girl. Then I found out that my son was on the autism spectrum, and I mean the end where people weren’t sure if he would ever be able to write his own name or communicate without pictures. I tried getting a part time job, but my ex couldn’t handle being alone with my son. I got a divorce, and my ex stomped off in a pout with no contact information left behind. Obviously I’m glossing over a lot here, but we’re highlighting the significant life decisions.

I went to one audition when my children were still young, shortly after I had filed for divorce and my ex had disappeared. It was for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a paying gig at the Fine Arts Center. I’d had paying gigs before the children were born, though not many. I botched the audition. I wasn’t warmed up enough, it had been too long since I had done…anything. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t chase this dream and be a mother to my children. Maybe others could, but I couldn’t. I would have to give up one, and since giving up the children wasn’t an option, I had to give up the stage.

And that was it, for a long time. Oh, sure, my friends and I had pipe dreams about owning our own clubs or starting up a gaming café or whatever else got us excited at the time. But my dream, what I wanted to do with my life – that was just gone. I was a mom, and that took most of my time. I held a variety of jobs, though lost a lot of them. Even worked at Intel for a little while, but problems with consistent affordable child care saw that blow up in my face. I ended up working for my mother at her laundry business, because who else was going to let me bring my kids with me when I needed to? Later on I also worked for my future in-laws at their shop selling bumper stickers and buttons for the liberally minded. Paycheck to paycheck, frequently in debt and juggling bills, home alone at night and utterly exhausted. Friends came by for game night. Sometimes we went out. I couldn’t envision a future other than survival. Quite frankly, there wasn’t one at the time.

Things got better. I fell in love with someone who was worth it. We became one big family. Slowly, over time, it got better. I went back to school – it was hard to find work that paid enough to be worth the child care with just a high school diploma, so I applied for grants and financial aid and started taking classes again. I started writing again. Then an interesting thing happened – people other than my parents started telling me it was good. Professors praised my tone and my style. Every article I submitted to the school paper got printed. I started submitting short pieces to literary magazines and anthologies, and saw them published. It took 8 years, but I got my BA in English – Professional and Creative Writing. After a year off, I went back for an MFA (still working on that). I started working regularly as a freelance writer.

So back to the conversation with my sister-in-law. I told her that I realized, at some point in the last year or so, that writing is the new dream. Specifically, writing a novel, getting it edited and polished and submitted to an agent or publishing house. It’s an attainable dream in many ways, though you wouldn’t know it from the way people talk about it. Not very many people in my personal circle are terribly supportive of this endeavor. Most of my friends don’t take it seriously – they’re all doctors and lawyers, or married to software engineers, and when I try to talk about my writing they treat it like a hobby. My family says I’m a great writer, but they think I should be writing about my kids or my experiences, they’re not interested in my fiction. Some of the people closest to me have said some well meaning but horribly disparaging things since I started to focus on this seriously.

The thing is, though – and this is the point I made that night, that hit me like an epiphany – I can’t give this up. It took me a long time to find another dream. I can’t just let go of this one because people think I should be doing something else. My husband understands, and supports me in this. I thank the stars he does. I’m 41 years old, my children are technically adults (though my son will require some level of supervision and care for the rest of his life), it’s been a long road but things have continued to get better. I need to see this out. I need to try. If I fall on my face, if I’m wrong and no one wants my stories, then fine I’m wrong, but I need to take this time and put in the work and put myself out there. No, it’s not the most stable profession. No, it doesn’t come with PTO or benefits or a 401K. But it’s the only dream I have left.

A lighthouse

Poetry

So I was spending time I shouldn’t on Facebook today, when I came across a meme that a friend of mine had posted, which along with some horrifically awful art, asked, “Who are you? Try answering without your name, job, or things you’ve done.” To which I thought for a very long time, and finally said, “A lighthouse.” But this is really just a small part of the first line of what was bubbling in my brain, the rest of which follows below.

I am a lighthouse
Shining for the lost
Easy to find if you’re looking
Solid on my spit of land

The ocean wore away the path back
But it’s still there
Under the water
The trusting can find it

I won’t come save you
I’m not a hero
But I’m here
Always here
To guide you home

American Apostate: About Christmas

Memoir

I love Christmas.

Okay, so, slightly macabre, but make it festive.

That may sound strange coming from someone who left the church, but seriously, I love Christmas. It is my second favorite holiday of the year (with the first being Halloween, naturally). The weekend after Thanksgiving all the autumn decor goes away and the tree comes out. My husband rolls his eyes and gets out of my way. The kids help decorate the main tree according to whatever theme I’ve picked for the year (yes, I have enough ornaments to choose different themes), and then we have a second, smaller tree that goes in the family room that they get to decorate with whatever’s leftover. We don’t really have a lot of outdoor decor, but that’s in part because our house is in the back corner of a weird little cul de sac and surrounded by bushes and trees. You can’t see our house from the street, so we keep it light. Though I do have the most adorable tinsel narwhal. He lives on our porch.

Recently, The Southern Jew put out a reflection on the perpetuation of Christian culture by former Christians and non-Christians through the celebration of Christmas. I found the write up to be interesting enough to start following them on Facebook, although they did make the point that the only reason they created the FB page was to share the write up, because so many people had asked to share it and they didn’t want their personal information out in the world. They have since deleted the page, and I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that it’s because they received angry pushback from the internet, because we have an overabundance of trolls these days. So, sadly, I cannot direct you to or quote what they discussed, but we’re going to talk a little about the gist of it.

They spoke about the monster that is commercial Christmas, and touched on how originally Hanukkah was not that big of a holiday in the Jewish community, but has been inflated over the years to compete with Christmas. The author asked for a little accountability from non-believers who continued to participate in Christmas, and therefore continued to perpetuate this beast of a holiday that (in the US at least) is admittedly a corporate monster and a little out of control. The clinging to Christmas also perpetuates the image that the US is a Christian nation, for all that many people celebrate Christmas secularly. So I wanted to talk about why I, as an apostate, continue to celebrate Christmas.

Tradition plays a big role in it. I was raised a Methodist, with a lot of Catholic and European influences in my childhood. Christmas Eve dinner is a big deal, and was often the one of the few times of year we broke out traditional Polish foods that my grandparents loved. There’s actually a funny story about how, after my grandmother passed, my mother finally confessed she didn’t like śledź w śmietanie (pickled herring in sour cream) and I was just beside myself for, like, an hour. It was always about food and family, however. We attended candlelight services on Christmas Eve when I was younger, but they tended to be short things that were just a nice time to see my friends from Sunday school (or the preacher’s son who had a crush on me – it was not reciprocated, but he was a nice enough friend). And then we got to go home and open a gift – just one, and not a big one – with the rest waiting for Christmas morning. By high school we were barely still attending church (and would stop before my junior year), but dinner and family time were still very important parts of the holiday.

There is glitter IN THE CRANBERRY CURD! *dies*

Also, let’s not overlook the vast importance of the lights and decorations. Christmas is beautiful – sparkling lights, trees full of glass baubles and shimmering tinsel, glittering displays in a rainbow of colors. It is gloriously amazing. And for someone who continues to struggle with seasonal depression, Christmas is an intense uplift during a dark and gray time of year. I really need something this bright and happy in February to get me through the rest of the rainy season (don’t say Valentine’s Day, it’s forever tainted by bad movies and societal expectations). And the food! So much amazing food is paraded before us during this time of year, and it’s fun to look up recipes and try new things. I bought a Cranberry White Chocolate tart from Trophy Cupcakes this year. It’s the most gorgeous thing that has ever graced my holiday table, and it was delicious. I also made a twist on the Eton Mess, using chocolate meringues and cherries in a sauce to give it a Black Forest gateau feel and flavor. Not as beautiful, but super tasty.

These parts of the holiday that have so much significance to me, that are so important to me, were never about religion. They’re about family, about festiveness, about finding something beautiful and bright during a dark time. When I started my own family, I originally tried to shift the celebration to the solstice. After all, I spent a while dabbling with Wicca, and while it didn’t stick for many of the same reasons I left the church, I do still retain a number of pagan sympathies and beliefs. But here’s the thing – I was a single mother, with no money, and most of my children’s presents and certainly the big festive dinners all happened at relatives’ houses. On Christmas Eve or Christmas. What little I had the bandwidth to scramble together on 12/20 couldn’t hold a candle to what my family could do on 12/24, and I was already so exhausted it didn’t feel worth it to keep trying.

Things changed, I remarried, the financial situation dramatically improved, but by that point my children’s formative years had been spent celebrating Christmas. Their Christmas is entirely about family and togetherness, and Santa, with no religious overtones. Which, considering all Christmas decor comes from pagan traditions, and it’s only celebrated in December because early Christianity needed a holiday to compete with Saturnalia, kind of works out. Then again, our family donates to food banks and buys presents for kids whose families are struggling, and arguably those are the most Christ-like things you can do during the holiday. Definitely more Christ-like than screaming about Starbucks cups.

I don’t do green trees – if I’m going to have a fake tree, you will KNOW it’s a fake tree.

So, do we perpetuate Christian culture with our secular celebrations? Yeah, a bit. And right now I don’t have an alternative. Christian traditions are very accessible. I’d give Hanukkah a go if I didn’t think my Jewish friends would find it super rude of me (it would really just be an excuse for gelt, latkes, and sufganiyot). Now that my children are almost grown and we’re no longer dependent on my extended family for all holiday cheer, maybe we can start to shift back towards solstice again. It won’t get rid of the tree or the lights, though, so I feel like it doesn’t really matter. I will still be perceived as celebrating Christmas whether I am or not.

Perhaps the answer is just to continue to push the narrative that Christmas has evolved into a secular holiday, and make that more widely pronounced and understood. It will always have religious meaning and connotations for Christians, as it should, but quite frankly they stole the holiday and all its trappings from other religions to begin with, so maybe I’m just taking it back.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk

Writing

More old school work! This one was for structured essays, specifically hermit crab essays. For those of you whose lives do not revolve around writing, hermit crab essays are when an essay is structured to appear as something else. Like a hermit crab hiding in a shell, get it? Anyway, I decided to write up a snarky course synopsis. It made me giggle.

TEDxSeattle Presents

Sarcasm, Thick Thighs, and RBF: Making It Work For You

Saturday, December 2, 2017
6:00 p.m. to 12:45 a.m.
Church Key Pub (Edmonds, WA)
$25.00 (tuition includes two drink tickets) / class size limited to bar occupancy

taught by Drea Talley

Drea Talley has years of experience being the Mean Girl most of us are not willing to be. The second youngest of six children, she was raised in a household where a clever tongue and sharp wit were valued. From as early as 5-years-old she was trading quips with her brothers, and over time progressed from “You’re a butt,” to “Oh, sorry, let me make this as monosyllabic as possible: you smell and no one loves you.”

Ms. Talley has also spent the last 24 years as the (not always) proud owner and manager of a zaftig figure, and has worked out a program for not hating yourself just because you don’t meet societal beauty standards as well as telling people where they can stick their comments about your weight. Ms. Talley has also developed strategies for addressing passive aggressive attempts to belittle your appearance, and the proper response for anyone who dares utilize the phrase, “I’m just saying something because I care.” Because let’s be honest, if they cared about anything other than their own perceptions and biases, they would want to know what you wanted.

Through this workshop, Ms. Talley will walk you through pushing past your self-conscious impulse not to say anything or wear drab palettes to go unnoticed. She will discuss with you your best colors, and why none of that matters if they’re not colors you like. Particular time will be spent reinforcing the mantra that black and grey are fine if that’s how you roll. Embrace the glitter. Those earrings are absolutely not too flashy for a casual lunch, and who asked Karen anyway?

Ms. Talley will help you lay the groundwork for calling forth the wild-eyed she/he/they-demon that already lives inside you and knows perfectly well that no one actually likes kale and will definitely say that to Becky’s face at the PTA meeting. While eating a brownie.

Ms. Talley’s other TEDx presentations include “Women Over 30 Can Wear What They Want” and “Tea and the Rise of Civilization.”

American Apostate

Memoir

I had an idea.

As a writer, I often plumb the depths of my soul and regurgitate it out onto the internet to share with strangers and the three family members who might look at my blog once a year. I have been letting the dust settle on my personal blog for a while as I worked on creative pursuits (more on that another day), but I haven’t had much I really wanted to dig up and examine about myself. Then, gentle reader, 2020 happened. In all its bewildering, excruciating glory. The pandemic, the election, the absolutely bat shit insanity of the evangelical church, all these factors have aligned to cause me to reflect on a topic that I am typically more private about.

I am an apostate. I typically describe myself as agnostic, but I am also an apostate. This lends me a certain perspective. So here is the start of my little project. I’m calling it American Apostate, because I’m an American, and apostasy in America is a strange thing that is both not considered of great consequence and yet simultaneously holds the potential to be very alienating. The chances of my being killed for my apostasy are minimal, but not completely nonexistent. Of course, I am also a “West Coast Liberal Elite” or whatever the favored term is these days, so it’s not a danger I’m exposed to. Regardless, I intend to write a short series of essays on my reflections of the state of the union as a former Christian.

Before we get started, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. So what is apostasy? Let’s ask Mirriam-Webster.

Definition of apostasy

apos·​ta·​sy | \ ə-ˈpä-stə-sē  \plural apostasies

1: an act of refusing to continue to follow, obey, or recognize a religious faith 2: abandonment of a previous loyalty 

Now, what makes me choose the word apostate? Well, for starters, because I like to use words that have meaning. I know, all words have meaning, but hear me out. Just calling myself an agnostic or a non-believer or a non-Christian does not convey my experience of this journey the way calling myself an apostate does. I was baptized. I grew up going to church in your Sunday best. I was in every weird Christmas pageant. I sang in the choir during the Christmas cantata every year once I was old enough for them to let me. I was a wise man and a shepherd in the live nativity on different years. I believed, whole heartedly, until I did not. I spent a year convinced I was damned because I had begun to doubt.

When I was doing my initial research for the project and looking up how the church defined and presented apostasy, I stumbled across Dr. Michael J. Kruger of the Reformed Theological Seminary. I’m not linking to them, because Dr. Kruger is a sanctimonious gentleman who thinks he’s special because he got his PhD from the University of Edinburgh. Something that he says several times is that apostates “seem” to be Christian, and implies that an apostate intentionally deceives those around them and leads them astray. “Apostates are not people who were Christians and then stop being Christians. Apostates were never Christians to begin with and only later did it become apparent that they weren’t Christians.”

Respectfully, Dr. Kruger, kindly stop talking out of your ass. I didn’t spend my life deceiving my family and friends and those around me. This feels akin to when your friend breaks off a toxic relationship and is all, “I never loved them!” and you’re sitting off to the side like, “No, you did, but I appreciate why you need to say that right now.” Christians like Dr. Kruger hold to the belief that we deceived them, because a true child of the Lord would never turn their back on the faith. This, of course, is paradoxical to the teachings that we are all children of God, regardless of belief, but we’ll get to the church and its paradoxes on a different day. Or days. There are a lot of them.

“They were never Christians!” No, we were. I was. And you need to make your peace with that just like I had to.

And so this writing experiment begins. I don’t know how far it will go right now, but I’ve got at least three subjects I am eager to expound upon. I imagine the first of these will find its way up here before that most popular of retail holidays descends.

Relating to Winter

Writing

So, I was digging through old school papers trying to find an essay I had written, and came across this exercise from 2016. It is an imitation exercise, and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the work we were imitating in the writing. If one of you clever darlings can place it, let me know. Anyway, as we are into December and certainly at the right time of year, I thought I would share.

Relating to Winter

This was supposed to be about moonlight filling the silence left in the wake of new snow. The kind that turns the hillside into a blanket of shimmering white glitter, unbroken save for a trail of fresh footprints. Like the girl in the stories that finds Frost in the woods and becomes his bride. This was supposed to be about cashmere scarves settled like silken armor about the neck and tucked into leather coats, about stinging kisses of wind to the cheeks and curls teased into tangles by every errant gust. About nights spent walking through the cold, sparkling city and admiring the twinkle of lights and stars. This was supposed to be about smiles and bright eyes. This was even supposed to be about driving slow through neighborhoods you would never be able to afford, hands wrapped around cups of chocolate warmth, breath fogging where little faces pressed against windows as you and your children murmured in awe over the colors and animatronic reindeer.

Or maybe it was supposed to be about watching holiday movies between contractions, or about the strangely cozy silence of 3 a.m. while wrapped in a blanket gazing at still fading embers, or sleeping through afternoons filled with gray and wind and rain on the living room couch with a child curled to your chest, and also behind your legs – a Tetris puzzle of limbs and blankets that comes together with an inborn artlessness. Or maybe it was just supposed to be about rain that only gives way to days of brittle sunlight and frozen streets with no sparkle. About tears freezing to cheeks in a hospital parking lot, stepping carefully around patches of ice before the heat of the lobby crashes over you like a wave, making your head swim. Watching holiday movies on a bigger TV now, waiting for doctors, and offering bland platitudes to a sobbing girl who keeps saying she just wants to go home.

Or maybe it was about something entirely different. The spicy smell of a candle. The weight of a fog that doesn’t lift for three days. The crinkle of a taffeta dress. The whistle of wind around the house. But disregard what was supposed to be. And know that this is not now nor will ever be about an insult and slammed door as you walk away without once turning around or looking back because he doesn’t deserve it. Not about the pointed fragments of a shattered china cup. Nor about malicious silence.

MerMay, kinda #19

Fiction, Writing

Hello, dear readers! Did you miss me? I missed you! In all seriousness, I had a bit of a hiccup, but I’m still here! This story of mine is still being written, and we’re all charging forward! Ha ha!

The Arms of the Ocean

Rilla woke with a start out of amorphous dreams, slightly disoriented. The bed was too big, and there was no canopy above her. Also, there was something very warm right behind her. Coming up into full wakefulness, she immediately remembered where she was, who was behind her, and bit her lip trying not to laugh or squeal or something in her elated excitement. She was at Marius’s house, this was his bed, and last night – oh, last night. She look in a deep breath and let it out slowly, smiling to herself. Nothing in her entire dating history – which, admittedly, wasn’t actually that long – could hold a candle to last night. She let out a soft, breathy laugh, unable to help herself, and the warm figure behind her shifted, sliding hands around her and pulling her in against him. Marius nuzzled at her neck and kissed her shoulder, and it made her smile even wider.

“Good morning,” Marius said softly, still leaving kisses across her neck, the rim of her ear, and at her temple. She could see a clock telling her that “morning” was a technicality – it would not still be morning for very long. It was surprisingly dark for how late in the day it was, but looking past the clock revealed that the expanse of windows on the far wall were now covered by rather dark solar shades.

MerMay, kinda #18

Fiction, Writing

So, this one is a little short, but that happens sometimes. I spent a long time debating over how explicit I wanted this interaction to be, and eventually decided that it would be better for the story as it has so far been written to sort of hand wave the sex and talk more about the emotions.

The Arms of the Ocean

As Rilla disappeared through the door, Marius took a breath and ran a hand through his hair. He heard her exclaim in surprise over something, and he laughed a little. It had to seem absurdly indulgent to her. Looking around the room, he considered making different adjustments to the lights, the blinds, finding music, and dismissed each idea in turn. He was nervous. That made him laugh again, and shake his head. Had it really been that long. He stripped off his sweater and his gloves, setting them aside. It was dark enough in here, he wasn’t worried about her noticing his coloring. He still wore a t-shirt and his jeans, and decided to keep those on for the moment. He laughed a third time as he realized there was not a condom to be had in the house. Why would there be? He had never brought a woman into his home, and on top of that his condition rendered him completely sterile. He heard the door open behind him and decided to worry about all that in a minute.

“You’re lucky I came back out,” Rilla said with a playful smile. She had taken off her jewelry, unpinned her hair, and lost her leggings, now just wearing her soft gray dress. “Your bathtub was making a most convincing argument for me to stay.”

“That must have taken an iron will, it’s a very seductive bath tub,” Marius responded with a laugh, stepping up close to Rilla. He reached up to cup her face, and smiled again as he watched her eyes grow wide when she realized she was feeling the skin of his hands, not his gloves. He stroked her cheeks, and down her neck. She was so soft. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her in to kiss her again, his hands moving down over the almost velveteen material of her dress.

“I feel like I need to warn you,” he said after a minute, pulling back to look into her eyes, feeling a little embarrassed. “It’s been…a very long time. I…I really haven’t been with anyone since I left the navy. And that was quite a while ago.”

Laughing softly, Rilla reached up and cupped his face. “And here I was going to tell you I was nervous for the same reasons. I think we’ll be fine. It might be an old dance, but I think we can remember the steps.”

Smiling again, Marius nodded, and leaned in for another kiss. They took their time with it. Yes, they wanted each other, but they wanted all of each other. Marius explored every inch of Rilla, doing his best to memorize every curve and freckle, remembering what it felt like to hold someone and also savoring what he hoped would be the first of many nights together. The Song trembled at the edges of Rilla’s voice with each gasp and cry, and through it Marius could hear not just what was exciting her physically but how she adored him, and how quickly she was losing her heart to him. It was strange and unsettling but also beautiful and moving. He had never experienced anything like it, and he wondered if she felt anything in return from him. He told her she was beautiful, how she felt perfect in his arms, how she was everything he’d ever wanted, and hoped she heard the truth in it.

Hours later, as a blissful and exhausted Rilla dozed beside him, Marius held her and looked out the windows at the water. It was too soon to call it love. It was too soon to call it anything other than attraction and fascination. He knew, though, that it didn’t make much of a difference. Whatever it was that he did or did not feel, right now he would do anything for her. And whatever plans or machinations Janus had in mind would take a back seat to her safety. Marius ran a hand gently down her side and she murmured in her sleep, a soft smile hovering on her lips. There was a selfish aspect to it as well. Not only did he need to make sure she was safe, he needed to make sure nothing Janus did would jeopardize what he had just found.

Marius bowed his head and kissed Rilla’s shoulder. She let out a drowsy murmur and rolled towards him, surprising him by pulling him in for a fuller kiss, her hands sleepily caressing him. Settling in next to her, they kissed and caressed and eventually passed completely into sleep, tangled up in the sheets and each other.

MerMay, kinda #17

Fiction, Writing

So, more fun tidbits – there is a sea shanty mentioned and sung in this installment. The shanty is my favorite shanty from Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, and it is called Lowlands Away. The sea shanties were easily my favorite part of Black Flag, for the record, though I did also like how they incorporated Mary Read and Anne Bonny. Anyway! The song is slow, and a bit sad as it sings about a sailor being visited by the ghost of his dead lover, but it’s also as close to romantic as most shanties ever get. All that said, if you like sea shanties, and you want to experience something amazing, go listen to this.

The Arms of the Ocean

Leaning against the window outside, Marius waited for Rilla to come back out. He hadn’t entirely meant for dinner to happen. He called because he said he would, and then had heard her voice on the phone and – well, here they were. Sighing, he looked down the street. He really was enchanted with her, and he was starting to wish he hadn’t said anything to Priska. Which was a strange feeling in itself – since the Dive, he had always been able to go to her with concerns or when seeking advice. Feeling like he had done something wrong wasn’t sitting well. Maybe he needed to talk to her again – Priska wasn’t as old as Janus, but she was well respected, and she might have better luck getting information out of the elder.

Jingling behind Marius told him that Rilla was coming out, and he turned around as she locked the door and then also locked the metal grate over the glass door. She wore a cross body purse today that was about twice as large as the one she had taken on their date, and dropped the keys into its recesses before coming around and taking his arm. That was a welcome surprise that made Marius smile, and he adjusted for it quickly.

“So, this is your stomping grounds,” Marius said as they walked down the street. “I’ll take your suggestion on where we should go.”

“Ever had Peruvian chicken,” Rilla asked almost immediately, as if she’d already been giving the issue some thought.

Smiling again, Marius shook his head. “Can’t say I have.”

“Then I know exactly where we’re going.”

Down a couple blocks and over, Rilla pulled Marius into a surprisingly bright little restaurant. The interior had largely been painted white, with colorful accents and metal bartops and tables. It was full of a variety of people, and a number of patrons looked like they’d dropped in after work for food or just drinks. They were seated, drinks were ordered, and Rilla informed the waiter that they would be sharing a whole Peruvian chicken.

“So I don’t even get to look at the menu,” Marius asked playfully.

That made Rilla grin. “Nope! You had your chance to deny your appreciation of chicken, so now we’re on this adventure together. And you looked at a menu when you ordered your drink. You’ll have to tell me how the Pisco sour is, by the way, I’ve never had it. Because I always order the slushies. Because I’m twelve.”

“But with alcohol,” Marius noted with a laugh, smiling at her again. She was far more relaxed today. He got the impression her work day had been busy. Perhaps she was just too worn out to be nervous right now.

“I exist in a magical state of being where I am both twelve and my actual age,” Rilla shot back with a smirk. She did look just a touch shy after that, as if she wasn’t sure if she was being too cavalier.

“That’s quite a trick,” Marius said, still smiling. He liked her like this, free and easy, not tense or hiding. “I knew you were special.”

That got that slightly stunned blush out of her, and she looked down for a minute before looking back up with a shy smile. Her lips parted as if she were about to say something, but of course that was when their drinks arrived. They thanked the waiter and each took a sip, at which point Marius confirmed that Rilla would definitely not like the Pisco sour, and Rilla did not seem upset.

“So you don’t go into an office or anything,” Rilla ventured after a moment while they waited. “How do you find work?”

“Through contacts, mostly,” Marius answered, setting his drink down. “I work with many local and international salvage teams, a number of commercial dive companies, and I’m a member of any number of World War II memorial associations. It’s about knowing people, honestly, and making a name for yourself. In a lot of ways I just got lucky.”

“Fascinating,” Rilla said, and sounded like she meant it. “And that seems to be true for almost every industry. A lot of it is just knowing people. I mean, that’s how I got started at the theater and with the burlesque troupe. I knew someone. I had actually gone a few years without performing and then both of those opportunities dropped into my lap within a few weeks of each other.”

“That still astounds me,” Marius commented, shaking his head and leaning back. “I could listen to you…for hours, probably. You should be giving concerts to thousands.”

Blushing again, Rilla looked away. “I can tell you mean it, but it just wasn’t to be. I am not the only talented singer who didn’t make it. Most days I’m not bitter about it.” Shrugging, she looked back at him, and smile. “It makes me happy there’s something about me you like so much, though.”

Marius’s smile softened, and he reached across the table to take Rilla’s hand. “There is a lot that I like about you.” Her hands were warm. He could feel it through the thin fabric of the gloves he was wearing. He wanted to touch her, wanted to peel the glove off and feel her skin. It was too bright in here, though, and in such a stark environment she would certainly be able to see what was off about his color.

Unaware of Marius’s conflict, Rilla simply smiled back at him, holding his hand, and didn’t let go of it until the food arrived. She had been right, the chicken was excellent, roasted in a thick marinade that made for an intense and flavorful sauce, served with fresh tortillas. They ate and chatted and eventually left the restaurant arm in arm again, wandering without direction but content in each other’s company. Then ended up heading down to the waterfront, walking up along it through the thinning crowds.

“Do you know any sea shanties,” Rilla asked after a moment, quite out of left field.

Marius blinked in surprise, then smiled. “Of course. I’d be a poor sailor if I didn’t. Though, admittedly, that’s more because I like history. They weren’t really a thing by the time I sailed.”

“True, 19th century sailors were the best source for shanties,” Rilla said with a smile. They had wandered out to the end of a pier near the aquarium, looking out over the dark water, the sun long set. “So could you sing one?”

Leaning on the railing, Marius looked her over suspiciously. “Maybe. Looking for something specific?”

“Do you know Lowlands Away? If you lead, I’ll answer.”

Marius was quiet for a moment, looking Rilla over. He hadn’t sang for a very long time. Well, other than occasionally to himself as he worked. To her credit, she waited with a smile. He knew that if he backed out, she wouldn’t be upset. Music was important to her, she was seeing if they could connect more through music. It wouldn’t break her if he shied away. He considered for another moment, then took a deep breath and looked out over the water.

“I dreamed a dream the other night,” he began, his voice a little quiet at first.

“Lowlands,” Rilla joined him in the return, matching his key perfectly but also not using her full voice. “Lowlands away me John.”

“My love she came, dressed all in white.”

“Lowlands away.”

Smiling a little, Marius looked back at Rilla as he began the second verse. “I dreamed my love came in my sleep.”

“Lowlands, lowlands away me John.”

His voice was warming with each verse, and Rilla seemed beyond excited that he was singing with her, indulging her. He took her hand again, pulling her a little closer. “Her cheeks were wet, her eyes did weep.”

“Lowlands away.”

As the song continued, the call and the answer, Marius’s voice grew stronger and warmer, and Rilla matched him in each response. He could feel…something. They both touched the Song, she through her gift, he through what he was, and a resonating sympathy was building between them as they sang. They were charming each other, building a melody and a spell that caught them both. Rilla’s eyes fairly glowed as he looked down into them, and her gaze never wavered as their voices melded into harmonies that echoed into his bones. He had never known he wanted this. Now he didn’t know how he would ever live without it.

The song ended, and they stood frozen for a moment, the resonance still humming in the air around him. Rilla didn’t understand what had just happened, but didn’t care. Marius stared down into her eyes for another moment, lips parted as if he wanted to speak, but nothing came out. Rilla almost trembled, and then her hands were moving, grabbing the collar of his coat as she had wanted to last night, pulling him in and pressing her lips to his. His arms came around her and she whimpered against him, letting go of his coat and sliding her hands up around his neck, holding onto him as if she were drowning as the kiss deepened. Finally they broke from each other with a gasp, and Rilla looked up at him panting softly.

“I have never wanted anyone so much in my life,” she confessed breathily, blushing as Marius’s eyes widened in surprise. “I…I’m sorry if that’s too much, or too soon, but you…I have never met anyone like you.”

“It’s not,” he said, almost whispered, and Rilla felt her heart surge as he pressed his lips to hers again. This next kiss was no less passionate, and when they parted again she could feel him hesitating again, as he had the night before. He looked into her eyes for a moment, almost searchingly it seemed, his hand reaching up to cup her face and caress her cheek. She turned her head and kissed his palm, still looking into his eyes, and his expression changed.

“Will you come home with me,” he asked softly. There was something strangely vulnerable in his voice.

“Yes,” she whispered in response, smiling tremulously. “I think I would follow you anywhere right now.”

The smile that had broken over his face when she said yes was beautiful, and he laughed a little before kissing her again, softly this time. “Hopefully West Seattle will do.” She giggled a little in return as he took her hand and began to lead her away from the pier. It was a little while before either of them said anything else, they just kept looking at each other and smiling. When they did start to talk again, it was pointless banter about the night, the stars, the city lights on the water. Getting to the car he opened the door for her, as always, and as they drove he made polite inquiries about where she had to be and when the next day. Rilla was utterly delighted to inform him that she didn’t work on Sundays, and his answering smile made her heart beat a little faster.

As they pulled up to Marius’s house, Rilla wavered for just a moment. It was a very nice property, not huge but a good size, and right on the water. He had his own beach. She felt insecure and inadequate for a moment as he came around and opened the door for her again. As her offered her a hand up and pulled her out of the car, she looked up into his eyes. This time she was searching, needing to see something that showed her this was real and he wasn’t playing with her. He looked at her curiously, not sure what she wanted, but still smiling softly, his hand reaching up to touch her cheek again.

“Are you sure this is what you want,” Marius asked softly, noticing her hesitation and not understanding the source of it. Interestingly, that was what reassured her. If he was toying with her, she didn’t think he would have stopped to ask.

“Yes,” she murmured, smiling in return, then giggled. “Now take me inside before the neighbors start talking.”

Laughing, Marius led her to the door, holding her hand the entire time as he unlocked it and they went inside. “I don’t even think my neighbors know who I am,” he said as they stepped into the house and he took off his coat and hung it on a rack by the door before turning to take hers. He also slipped off his shoes, and Rilla followed suite. “The house north of us is a vacation home, they come out in the summers with their grandchildren. And I don’t think the people to the south are concerned with much past their rather tall fence and gate.”

Hanging up Rilla’s coat, Marius turned back to her and pulled her back into his arms, kissing her once more, full and deep and with a yearning she could almost taste. Perhaps the most intoxicating thing about the man holding her was that Rilla could not remember ever having felt this wanted. It was not that she’d never shared a heated moment with anyone, and she’d certainly had boyfriends in the past who cared for and desired her, but never had she been kissed as if she were the only water in the desert.

“I am forgetting all my manners,” Marius said with a quiet chuckle as they parted again. “I should offer you a drink or something, but all I want to do is take you upstairs.”

What was it Karin had said? Don’t play games, be honest with what she wanted. “I don’t need a drink, we had one at dinner,” Rilla said with a smile. “I don’t need anything other than you right now. Let’s go upstairs.”

Taking Rilla’s hand again, Marius led her up the stairs into a bedroom that surely took up the entire top floor. A wheel from an old ship was mounted close to the stairway, and Rilla tried to make a note to ask about it later. Windows looked out over the water, and were the primary source of light in the room other than some very low lamps on either side of the bed. Looking around, Rilla blushed a little but was past worrying about whether or not she belonged there. As far as she was concerned at this point, she belonged anywhere Marius did.

“I’m assuming that door is the lou,” she asked with a grin.

Marius grinned back. “Yes, and do you always call it that or was that just for me?”

“I suppose we’ll never know,” Rilla answered, the grin persisting. “I’ll be out in three. Don’t go anywhere.”

MerMay, kinda #16

Fiction, Writing

So, I forgot to finish scheduling this. Oops! But it’s still up today, so it counts, right? Right. Good, I’m glad you’re going with me on this.

The Arms of the Ocean

Across Elliott Bay, and further up past the canal, 3 am found Rilla waking up. Again. It was hard to say if she were waking up, or if she had never properly fallen asleep. She had laid in bed for an hour wondering if she had done the right thing, if she should have asked Marius to stay, if she should have been insistent. The kiss had been beyond words. Whether because she had been single for so long or he was just an exceptionally good kisser or because they had chemistry – whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. What mattered was how long it had taken her heart to calm down after. Staring at her little anachronistic clock, she groaned, and rolled over again.

Sleep eventually came, and like most people who stay up too late, Rilla overcompensated. She didn’t remember shutting off the alarm, she just knew that by the time she rolled back over and looked at the clock again it was an hour past when she should have gotten up. Letting out what could only be described as a short, mournful wail, Rilla rolled out of bed and rushed through her room. No shower, but thankfully her hair was still manageable after the thorough dousing in hairspray it had gotten the night before. In a way it was better, as sleeping had broken it up a little and made it softer but still kept the general shape and kept it from getting oily. A few bobby pins, and it would certainly do. A little doctoring made last night’s eyeliner look like an intentional smoky eye. Leggings, a delightfully soft, pettable dress with what was almost too low of a neckline for work, and last night’s boots came together in a surprisingly fetching ensemble considering how last minute it was.

Running down the stairs, Rilla almost collided with Karin.

“Overslept,” Karin asked with a bit of a smirk.

“Yes, but not for those reasons,” Rilla countered, sticking out her tongue before heading into the kitchen as Karin followed, laughing quietly.
“Sorry? Or is it okay? Do you have time to tell me how it went?”

Looking down at her phone, Rilla muttered to herself. Too late for the bus, she’d have to use a ride-sharing company. She pulled up the app on her phone. “Yes, I have time, but only until my ride gets here,” Rilla said, punching in the request and then setting the phone down to cobble together breakfast.

Sitting down at the table, Karin waited patiently as Rilla rummaged around for the last crumpet and popped it in the toaster. Well, mostly patiently, there may have been some tapping of fingernails on the tabletop. Topping the crumpet with a suitable amount of jam, Rilla sat down and looked over at Karin.

“All right,” Rilla began, and took a breath. “The Cliff’s Notes version. It was absolutely lovely, he was a complete gentleman. We had Thai for dinner, than walked down to get cheesecake at my favorite place. Played the getting to know you game, and despite some questionable tastes in music we have enough in common to work with. I did get a little panicky when I realized how much money he had – did you know he owns his own place on the water in West Seattle?”

Arching an eyebrow, Karin grinned a little. “I did not know that, having no way to know that, but I’m definitely impressed.”

“I’m glad you’re impressed, I was terrified,” Rilla answered with a touch of exacerbation. “And of course I mention that I’m feeling intimidated, at which point he takes my hand and says something heartfelt and romantic about how talented I am. Karin, seriously, Danielle Steele could not have written this night and had it come out better. Then he takes me home, and…and kisses me goodnight, asks to call today, and off we go.”

Karin started to smirk again, and propper up her chin with her hand. “And how was the kiss?”

“Oh, God, it was everything I’ve ever wanted,” Rilla admitted, covering her face with her hands and taking a deep breath, pink staining her cheeks. “He…I was hesitating, and he just lifted up my chin and…and it was perfect and his arms came around me and dammit, Karin, I couldn’t sleep I wanted him so badly after that.”

Two arched eyebrows this time. “Now I am definitely impressed,” Karin said, the playfulness gone from her tone. “And then he went home. But he asked if you were free today?”

“Yes,” Rilla said with a sigh, pulling herself back together. “Or rather, he asked if he could call. Because of course he did. And I know you’re probably going to tell me that if he wants to see me today I should say no, but I can more or less guarantee that I won’t do that.”

Karin snorted, and shook her head. “No, that ‘make them wait’ stuff is bullshit. He should be excited that you’re interested enough to see him again so soon. And if he’s not, then you don’t want someone who plays those kind of dumb ass mind games anyway.”

Blinking in surprise, Rilla just looked at Karin for a minute. “Um, you’re not wrong, but that was very…vehement.”

“Experience,” Karin answered with a shrug and a sigh. “If they don’t like you the way you are, they can walk. Remember that.”

Nodding, Rilla was tempted to make an offhand, playful comment to break the tension, but it didn’t feel right. Karin was speaking her truth, and it sounded like that truth had been found painfully. The quiet stretched for another minute, then Rilla’s phone chimed, indicating her ride was there. “And I’m off! We’ll catch up soon and have a real conversation. And I want to hear about how things are going with Chris!”

The mention of Chris actually made Karin smile, for which Rilla was thankful as she waved and ran out the door. The cute little red hatchback waiting for her got her down to her shop in record time, and so despite being super late she still opened the shop up at 10 a.m. on the dot. Which was good, because people started coming in almost immediately. Saturdays were good days for retail, and they were on a road with good foot traffic in a part of town that still got plenty of tourists, even in the off season. When the owner’s son ran in with another batch of cocoa supplies, he was informed in no uncertain terms that he could stick around and put everything away while she continued to see to customers. Thankfully he was a good sport about it.

At about an hour before closing, during a much needed lull after an entire tour group marched through and bought every copy of a book on the seedy history of Pioneer Square, Rilla’s phone rang. The day had been long enough that she actually pulled it out of her pocked with some irritation and was preparing to send the caller to voice mail when she remembered who it might be. With a small squeak, she didn’t quite punch the accept button. “Hello, this is Rilla.”

“You know, I probably should have just texted you,” Marius voice came through, tinged with amusement. “Because I’m getting you at work, aren’t I?”

Rilla grinned. “You are, but you actually just caught me after the store cleared out. So I might have a whole minute.”

“I’ll make it quick, then. You close at 6, right? Can I come sweep you away for dinner? Nothing fancy, we can just walk around and find a place.”

Panicking for a moment, Rilla took a breath and told the voice in her head screaming about how she hadn’t showered or done her hair to go jump in the Sound. “Absolutely.”

“Brilliant. See you then.”

“Looking forward to it.” Setting the phone down, Rilla took another breath. This was good, right? Dinner tonight was good? Because that meant that he liked her enough that he wanted to see her again right away. Right? She wasn’t given time to have anxiety over the issue, because her prediction about how much time she’d have to herself turned out to be correct. The bell on the door rang out that more people were coming in, and Rilla put on her game face and got back to it.

The last hour was filled with another tour group, in addition to some unattached shoppers, and one gentleman who actually had Rilla grinning as she helped him cobble together an anniversary gift for his wife. Ringing the excited husband up and sending him off, she looked up to see Marius standing just inside the door, smiling, looking immaculate if less formal in jeans, a sweater, and a peacoat. She smiled in return, and just managed not to blush.

“Welcome to my tiny kingdom,” Rilla said, gesturing around her to the overcrowded bookstore. “Oh, flip the sign, will you? I’ll start closing things down.”

“Of course,” Marius said, moving to comply with your request. “Should I have come a little later?”

“No, no, you’re fine,” Rilla called back as she headed over to the hot chocolate bar and made sure everything was poured out, washed down, and turned off. “Though I will kick you out just ahead of me so I can set the alarm and all that. But you being here isn’t a problem, and now I have someone to talk to while I go through the boring steps.”

Marius seemed to have the sense to just wait patiently as she counted out the till and locked up the deposit – the owner would come by for it Monday morning. There were a few extra steps since it was a Saturday and they wouldn’t be open for the next two days. Rilla and Marius exchanged a handful of pleasantries about their day, the weather, inconsequential things that wouldn’t interrupt her pattern and also effectively got the pleasantries out of the way. Finally, Rilla shooed him outside for final lock up.