“That’s the thing about this city….” she hesitated, taking a shaky breath, before shaking her head and looking away.
“What,” I prompted, softly, already knowing what she meant to say but needing that validation, that hope, that knowledge that somebody hated this place just as much as I did.
She shrugged, looking up at me with a wistful smile. “It’s lonely. That’s all.”
She gathered her books in her arms, taking the receipt from my hand and rushing out the door.
I was ready for her the next time she came.
“Quite the plot twist, that ending, huh?”
“Excuse me?” She glanced up, the recognition immediately followed by a flash of annoyance, maybe even anxiety.
I gave a little wave, suddenly self conscious. “Hey, remember me?”
The annoyance gave way to a hesitant amusement. “Yep. I sure do.”
“So…. that ending?”
She raised a quizzical eyebrow. “You’ve read the Lady in Lace Saga? You read the Proper Romance Collection?”
I blushed. “Well…. sorta. It’s a long story.”
She debated for a moment, before her curiosity got the better of her. “I’ve got some time.”
“Oh. Ok. Ummm. Well. It’s kind of just like you said. This city is lonely. And since I…. don’t have any real friends here yet…. well, I guess I just sort of adopt friends?”
“Weird? Yeah, I know. I’m… yeah. It’s just that when I see someone who seems like someone I could be friends with I adopt them as a friend, which just means I’ll order the same coffee, or read the same book or whatever. Just to have that small connection, so we’ll have something to talk about if we ever…. You know, really do become friends.”
Her expression seemed to soften as she considered. I began to bag her items, suddenly wanting her to leave even though I’d spent the last month and a half hoping she’d come back.... She probably thought I was crazy.
Heck, I probably was crazy.
“Do you think Lord Eldon should have chosen Mary or Lady Cathryn?”
Her comment brought me back to reality, and I was momentarily stunned by the sincerity in her eyes. They were blue, almost exactly the same shade of the cover of book 4. Not my favorite book in the saga, but most definitely my new favorite color.
“Ummm, well….. Lady Cathryn still seems kind of sketchy to me, and I feel like Mary was way too obvious as a plot twist. If I’m being completely honest I think he should have picked Dinah instead.”
She seemed surprised, but satisfied, with that answer. Gathering her books and grabbing her receipt.
She stopped at the door, turning to face me and offering a small smile.
“I think so too.”
I didn’t have to wait as long for the next time she came. I was stocking shelves, completely oblivious to anyone and everything.
“What chapter are you on?”
I jumped, the sudden heart palpitations in part from her sudden appearance and in part from her existence.
She was practically bouncing up and down.
“Book 6. What chapter?”
“Uh oh, should I be scared? Is it good or bad? Did somebody die??”
She shook her head and laughed.
“No spoilers. Just answer the question?”
“I’m only to chapter 3….. I’m sorry, I’ve been really busy…..”
She moaned, burying her face in her hands before looking back up with a pleading expression and an excited glimmer in her eyes.
“How soon do you get off work? You need to get to chapter 7, and it’s going to drive me crazy if I can’t freak out with someone.”
I laughed, pleasantly surprised. She was absolutely adorable when she was excited, and her enthusiasm was contagious.
“I get off at 4. Want to meet me at Ashwood Park at 5:30? I’ll bring you dinner.”
“Perfect.” We stood there, almost awkwardly, but not uncomfortably. “So…. does this mean we’re real friends now?”
She bit her lip, smiling a little.
“Yeah. I guess it does.”
“Pleasure to meet you friend. As you already know,” I gestured to my ever present nametag. “I’m Ryan.”
She laughed, shaking my hand. “Maya. Maya Summers.”
“That’s the thing about this city…. you’re right, it is lonely but it’s not a place where you can ever actually be alone. It’s full to the brim, crowded, almost suffocating. And we’re all here suffering and suffocating all by ourselves, surrounded by people. For what? Why do we do this to ourselves?”
It was getting dark out but as far as I could tell neither one of us had any intention of leaving each other’s company to go home. We were on our 5th time walking around the park, having finished our dinner and our lengthy book discussion hours ago. I was beginning to wonder if I should offer to walk her home….. I didn’t want to, but it would probably be the gentlemanly thing to do.
She shrugged. “It’s safer. Living in your own little cocoon.”
“But what if I don’t want to be safe?” I shot back as I hopped up on the side of the bridge, carefully balancing as we walked across.
She watched me with apprehension, making sure I was safely off before answering my question.
“You only say that because you haven’t fallen, yet. You’ll be more careful once you get hurt.”
The way she resisted eye contact when she said it, the weight of her implications crushed me. The fact that she would rather suffocate, safe in her own little cocoon, than risk coming out again. I remembered her earlier enthusiasm, bright and bubbly, as she let down her guard, letting herself spread her wings, even if it was just a little bit.
“Maybe,” I admitted. “But it’s not as scary knowing there’s someone who’s there to catch me. Or at least to help me up when I do fall. After they laugh and say I told you so, of course.”
She laughed, shaking her head, and we walked in comfortable silence for a while. It was a beautiful night, a little chilly since I’d given her my jacket, but not too bad. I absently wondered how late it was…...
“I should probably get home,” she finally admitted, as if she’d read my mind.
“Yeah, probably,” I sighed. “I’ll walk you. 85 Bleeker Street, right?”
She nodded and we changed course to walk in that direction. She had grown quiet, maybe tired, maybe lost in her own thoughts. I wondered if I said something wrong and I was about to ask her what she was thinking.
I turned to her as she hopped up on the fence post, carefully balancing, swaying slightly, scared, but the earlier glint of excitement in her eyes. My heart skipped a beat as I realized how precarious her perch was, much more dangerous than the sturdiness of the stone bridge.
“Wha-- Maya, be careful! You’ll fall.”
She shook her head, looking down at me.
“But you’ll catch me?”
My breath caught in my throat, the moon framing her silhouette, the shadows wrapping around her like wings. Beautiful. A butterfly, leaving her cocoon.
She wobbled, waving her arms, falling, flying……
I rushed forward.
3 years later
I looked up from the dishes I was washing in the sink, to where Maya stood, hand on her hip, waving my unfinished first draft with her other hand.
“Just the manuscript for the final book in the trilogy,” I replied, drying off my hands and trying to stay calm. She wasn’t supposed to see that for another week or so! I wasn’t ready! “It’s not done yet…..”
“You’re calling it ‘The Butterfly Bride’?”
“You like that?”
“Oh, yes, of course I do, but I just thought…..”
“What chapter are you on?”
“9. But I thought Elora and Trenton…..”
“I know, I know, but that plot twist was too obvious!”
She rolled her eyes affectionately.
“Ok, but what about…..”
“Nope, no more spoilers. You weren’t even supposed to read it yet!”
She pouted a little, giving a little sigh of resignation. I could see how impatient and conflicted she was. She needed answers and she needed them now.
I walked over and wrapped her in a hug, taking a deep breath and kissing her forehead.
“Look, I’ll tell you, but just know it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I was doing so good at not spoiling the ending…..”
By now she was completely and utterly lost, looking confused but hopeful.
“I love you, Maya. More than anything. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, my favorite plot twist, my only conceivable happy ending.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she realized what I was saying, what was coming.
“Maya Summers,” I got down on one knee, offering her my hands and my heart, in place of the ring that wouldn’t arrive until next week. “Will you be my beautiful beautiful butterfly bride?”