Black/White: The Reckoning – Part Two

So the saga continues. I actually started this in December 2011 and finally finished it in April. You finally meet Magellan Lange. He reminds me (and with good reason) of another character in a similar situation–John and his quandary with Zora–and I cannot completely hate or love him, as nothing is truly black or white… No, that was not a pun. I think some of the best characters are well-meaning with good intentions because, after all, the way to Hell is paved with them.

(The featured image from this post was created by Asuka111 from deviantART–gorgeous, isn’t it?)


“Standing up for someone is like dancing in the rain. It may seem like a great idea at first, and there may be a pretty damn good reason for it, but then at some point you end up with putrid street water on your face.”
– The Warrior


The Lady in Black could tell when her inverse was unconscious when the weight pressing on her chest had eased fractionally. She neared her own quarters and became surrounded by her fellow soldiers, which was more comfortable than the alabaster trappings of the Lady in White. She was at home in the metal and the chaos.

Lockehart walked beside her, easily matching her ground-munching stride with his long graceful legs. He had been with her since they left the quarters of the Lady in White and had not uttered a single syllable. She figured he was wary of anyone on that side overhearing what would be exchanged between them. On familiar ground they now were, so Lockehart finally spoke.

“I have the feeling you do not plan to show him any mercy,” he remarked. The mouth of the Lady in Black merely tightened, but no words came forth. “Careful, my dear friend, that you do not forget yourself.”

“That he should be so lucky,” the Lady in Black said viciously, sidestepping a group of her officers deliberating trouble in the southern lands. They saluted as she went past, and she nodded and responded in kind. Lockehart gracefully followed her lead, not missing a step.

They entered her suite, which was far less elaborate and spacious than that of the Lady in White. The floor was black marble as pure as onyx. A gilt-edged table covered in maps and books took up an entire wall, while her darkly clothed bed seemed meager in comparison. However, judging from the armor and weapons strewn around the room, it appeared she didn’t spend much time lying down.

The Lady in Black began to undo her current armor and cape to change into something heavier and more forbidding. Lockehart watched quietly for a moment, then spoke again.

“Would you be content in ending his life, Yamiko?”

Her fingertips froze. Something in Lockehart’s voice gave her pause. Dimly, she understood the phenomenon; it meant that Lockehart may have had a different idea about the end of this situation. Something inside her faltered a bit, but it did not show on her face. She turned to face him.

“Would there be any other way?” the Lady in Black queried. Lockehart merely stared at her inquisitively. “I would like to ensure that he pays for what he did–and that he does not return.”

Lockehart made a gesture of uncertainty. “Ah…but perhaps we could just forcibly bar him from our lands and set fire to his workshop. That seems like a less violent and more lasting punishment.” A bit of mischief came into his tawny eyes. “And rather satisfying. He would be sure to never forget you then.”

The Lady in Black grunted as one side of her mouth twitched. She cast aside her former armor and it fell to the marble clamorously. “I would not like to drag this out, Lockehart. I told her that I would take care of him in my own way if he broke our agreement.” She picked up an iron breastplate fashioned in her honor. “She chooses not to fight, instead to languish in her woe and tears. I would rather pick up a weapon and end it promptly.” She maneuvered herself into the breastplate. “Don’t you agree?”

Lockehart shrugged uneasily. “I can see the merit in your approach,” he responded. “But I fear…”

The Lady in Black raised an eyebrow. She moved toward him slowly. “Out with it, Lockehart. If you can’t tell me, no one else will.”

The silence hummed between them for a few beats.

“I fear you are giving him too much of your energy and attention,” Lockehart revealed. “You are reacting as passionately as the Lady in White–only with fury instead of grief. To set out to kill him is rather extreme.”

The air crackled at Lockehart’s statement. The Lady in Black cursed ferociously and kicked at a bronze shield that had been in her path.

“He besmirched her honor, Lockehart,” the Lady in Black snapped. “He took advantage of her good heart and did nothing to temper her foolish illusions.”

Lockehart didn’t falter. “And she let him.”

The simple remark, and the truth behind it, was more staggering than a cannonball fired at close range. Underneath her armor, she felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. It was not a pleasant feeling.

Quietly, she felt the air change, as if she were going back in time. The floor segmented into a checkerboard pattern of alternating black and white; the light dimmed and she found herself bathed in near-darkness…

*     *     *

The ballroom was dimly lit. It was not in official use, therefore the grand flames that gave it light were at rest. The only constant was the middle chandelier the Lady in White illuminated to give light as she scribbled furiously in the red journal in her lace-covered lap. She was completely bathed in light. On the edges, sliding in and out of the shadows, was the Lady in Black. Pacing. Plotting. Predicting.

The Lady in White hummed a romantic tune as the quill danced over the paper. Her white silk-lined skirt fanned out around her over the white and black checkerboard floor. The only signs of her former distress were the hollowness in her cheeks and the scar along her left wrist.

The man with the map who knows the way
Through the forest of the familiar unknown
He enlightened my path with moving stars–

“Must you sprout that inane drivel?” the Lady in Black muttered. “I might just vomit at the sight of him now. It would be highly apropos.”

The Lady in White fumed as if her inverse were blaspheming a revered god. “You do not have to be present for this. I would much rather do this on my own.”

The end of the sheath of the Lady in Black hit the marble floor with a profound thud. The Lady in White jumped fractionally as the sound reverberated through the empty room.

“The storm,” the Lady in Black said meaningfully in a low tone. “Are you so lovestruck that you have forgotten something of your own creation?”

The Lady in White merely shrugged. “It was a momentary lapse. I didn’t have control over my emotions. Who could blame me?”

“That is a bleeding understatement,” the Lady in Black remarked dryly. “That would be akin to calling a monsoon a little disturbance. I cannot believe you could be so self-involved that you would overlook a basic fact. Do not forget that your state of mind affects us. All of us.”

The Lady in White pouted. “The real world is a bleeding nightmare. I refuse to take part.” She tossed her luxurious hair over her shoulder. “It gives me wrinkles.”

The Lady in Black tried to suppress an eyeroll. It didn’t work. “It would be much better if you set foot in it every now and again. At this rate you appear the eternal fool.”

The Lady in White scooped up the red journal and hugged it to her chest affectionately. “But I’m alovefool!” she giggled.

Her opposite merely growled and clenched her fists to keep her from delivering a swift backhand.

The sound of footsteps sobered them both.

Magellan Lange was not a large man. He was slightly shorter in stature than Lockehart, but they shared a similar build that boasted an abundant degree of physical conservation. The Lady in Black had fought and bested bigger men in her experience so she did not worry about his physical prowess. She was more worried about what sort of mental tactics he had in mind.

His amber-hued eyes rested upon the Lady in White first, who gazed at him with adoration she couldn’t suppress. Then his gaze slid to the Lady in Black. She merely stared at him, derision and distrust lurking in those brown depths. She was so guarded she didn’t even blink.

Lockehart began to make his departure, but the Lady in Black raised a hand. “Please remain, Captain, if it is not too much trouble.”

Something unreadable crossed Magellan’s features, but he remained silent, as Lockehart did as he leaned against the wall according to the orders of the Lady in Black.

“You must know now,” Magellan began, addressing the Lady in White, “I do not come here out of spite.”

The Lady in Black chuckled sardonically, cutting off her converse. “Oh, out of spite, sir? No. This is not an act of spite. You are merely here because you now understand the riches that you could be leaving behind.” Magellan’s mouth tightened. “No, sir, that is not spite. It is worse. Gross self-indulgence.”

“Desist in trying to make me out to be this incorrigible person who just moves from person to person and uses them at will,” Magellan snapped. He looked to the Lady in White. “I do not intend nor did intend to cause you any harm. Things happened so quickly that I got caught in the whirlwind.”

The Lady in White nodded. “I know, Magellan. I realize that some of this was my fault, as well.”

The Lady in Black whirled on her inverse. “Finally mature enough to shoulder some of the blame!” she muttered.

Irritated, the Lady in White gritted her teeth and climbed to her feet. Her skirt hem fell gently to the floor. “Bloody hell, Yamiko! If you cannot stifle your bile, please leave. Magellan was courteous enough to come here so that we could discuss this properly. At least give him credit for that.” She turned to the brown-clad young man. “Forgive her, please Magellan. She means well. She just wants to make sure that I am happy. And for some odd reason she supposes I will be happy without you.”

“Perhaps you would be,” Magellan said quietly.

“I don’t quite agree,” the Lady in White disagreed.

“Maybe you should,” the Lady in Black retorted.

A frustrated sigh. “I believe we should be left alone so that we can reach a consensus on the situation,” Magellan said to the Lady in Black. “This is not something I want to arrange in error—or malevolence.”

It was his turn to be whirled upon. The gaze that he and the darkly clad warrior shared was fraught with vehemence. The Lady in White opened her mouth to speak, but the fierce-eyed foil shot back, “You want to reach a consensus, sir? I’ll show you one—right between your shoulder blades.”

“Yamiko!” Lockehart hissed, the one word a warning of sorts. The Lady in Black backed down, but she was astute enough to catch the hint of mirth in Lockehart’s voice. Wordlessly, she slipped into the shadows. Magellan once again turned to the Lady in White.

“I want to express my gratitude for your forgiveness,” Magellan remarked. “You are a rare and true lady indeed. And I…” He glanced downward for a moment, nervous. “I find myself reluctant to be out of your acquaintance completely.”

The Lady in White instantly brightened; Lockehart and the Lady in Black shared a skeptical glance. They heard something different in that last admission than she did.

“There is no half doing this, Lange,” the Lady in Black told him.

“Let it be,” Lockehart said mildly, the weight of his words stopping the Lady in Black short.

“Yes, Yamiko, let it be.” The Lady in White sighed and walked up to Magellan. “Whatever you would like, Magellan, I am sure it can be arranged. We can reach a compromise on the matter.”

As the Lady in White spoke, her inverse shook her head in frustration. She was so besotted with him that she couldn’t see that he was trying to do. Others, the Lady in Black thought as Magellan made his proposal. Didn’t he understand that for her, there could now be no others with him standing so close? Why would he be so crass in asking?

The Lady in Black shared another look with Lockehart. He merely stared back. Perhaps this is for the best. Her lips tightened. This is not the way it should be. But their voices did not matter; Magellan and the Lady in White were back in each other’s confidence, albeit with a few conditions.

To reassure him that she was comfortable with the arrangement, the Lady in White grazed his face with her fingertips, as loving as ever. She floated out of the room as if she were light as a dust mote.

The door opened and closed. The air and light seemed to sneak out of the room behind the Lady in White. The tension that remained was so heavy that it had its own weight. The Lady in Black itched to draw her sword and end it, right here.

“I think we have said all we need to say,” Magellan said to her.

She squared her shoulders, lifted her chin. They stood side-by-side with the Lady in Black facing the door and Magellan facing opposite.

“If you cross into transgression once again, Magellan Lange of the Western Lands, I will take matters into my own hands. And by that, sir, I mean with my sword.” She looked at his profile, saw his jaw working as he clenched it. “I sincerely hope you do not like the taste of metal.”

She started to walk away but Magellan remarked, “She won’t let you hurt me. What we have is between us and has no room for you. Remain in your own affairs.”

At that, the Lady in Black faced his profile. “Here is some verisimilitude for you, Magellan. I allowed you to direct this without interference from me before. This time, envision me as a poisonous, bloodsucking tick. I can survive anywhere without your knowledge—and I won’t be asking for permission when I deliver that final bite.”

With a swirl of the cape, she stalked across the floor, and the door closed behind her with a final, resounding thud.

*     *     *

Two brunettes entered the room, one with a long dark braid in light armor brandishing a bow, and the other outfitted in a maroon dress and brandishing a cup anemometer. Drucilla, one of the Lieutenants under the command of the Lady in Black, flanked by an anxious Claire, the Weather Warden, entered the room and broke the Lady in Black from her reverie. The quiver Dru had at her back was fully stocked with bows, which told the Lady in Black she was in a fighting mood.

“Commander?” Claire began shakily.

The Lady in Black nodded for her to continue. “Yes, Warden. Report.”

“Yes, sir.” Claire inhaled as if to steady herself. The Lady in Black waited patiently. “I ran from the Watch Tower as fast as I could to deliver this news. The air pressure is falling rapidly outside. There is a treacherous storm coming from the west, and it is quickly growing.”

Those words hung in the air for a few beats. Lockehart and the Lady in Black shared a look. She inhaled and turned away slightly, mind heavy with memory.

Is it redundant to say that history repeats itself? she mused.



The Lady in Black straightened at the sounds of Drucilla and Lockehart’s voices.

“Is he alone?” the Lady in Black wanted to know.

“He is on horseback on the boundary alone, sir,” Drucilla responded. “The watchmen confirm that he is accompanied by none of his allies.”

“Then why the storm?” the Lady in Black mused, mostly to herself. She did a half turn, frowning. “He knows I hate rain…”

“It’s an obvious affront to you, sir,” Drucilla said. She balled up her fist and punched her open palm. “I say we drive an arrow through his chest for being such a—”

The Lady in Black raised a hand. “No.” Drucilla looked slightly disappointed in a way that spoke to her quarreling urges. “We must retain our honor even when others do not.”

“And what is more honorable?” Lockehart ventured, breaking in before Drucilla could protest. “Rushing off into a fruitless battle that should be someone else’s to wage or letting it pass?”

“I made a promise.”

“This will end badly, Yamiko,” Lockehart warned. “Let him go.”

The sword gleamed in the firelight at her feet. It was rather inviting it was. There were many things that she could resist. A good fight was not one of them.

She bent over and wrapped her hand around the handle of her weapon.

“I will claim his life first,” the Lady in Black murmured, then exited.


Poetry Corner – “Declaration”

2011 continues to boggle my mind in hindsight. I started out the year searching, discovered and lost, and ended the year figuring I would be searching forever. It was not a welcome realization–until I realized that wonderful things come upon us in time. Even at your lowest, something kindles inside of your heart and soul to keep that fire going. If I can leave you with any thought…



In the still of the winter-night cold
I yearn for someone to hold
But I will not settle
In the bustle of life surrounding
Hand in hand everyone’s bounding
But I will not settle
Private memories break free
Like blood from a love wound, slyly
But I will not settle
Possibility muddies the rationale
And foes desire to be pals;
All the while, life goes blithely on
There’s more in store than is shown–
And somehow you think I’ll settle?

Lonely in the shower of chocolate hearts
And the barrage of sad-to-be-aparts
But no, I won’t settle
The luck is bestown on the others
Their cousins, sisters, and brothers
But no, I won’t settle
I have learned to wait my turn
Despite the heat of envy’s burn
So no I won’t settle
Quiet diligence eases the stings
While others have their flings;
I scan the horizon for a treasure
Accepting none under this high measure;
You’ve lost your mind if you think I will settle!

Even when the shields crumble
And I see you in half-slumber
Even when the slightest crack
Threatens full-fledged attack
Even if the sight of you with the next
Gives me the urge to cry till nothing’s left
I will not waste the time on you–
I will not settle for less than I am due

Poetry Corner – “Four [In the Deep]”

Once upon a time, a young woman and a young man met beneath a sky of moving stars–

Pfft…I don’t want to begin that way. I’d rather be simple and direct.

On February 14, 2012,  I awoke at 4 a.m. not able to sleep. It was Valentine’s Day; I had the itch to write something for my beloved (at the time). It was only the second time I had showed him something I had written, and I was scared that it was too saccharine, too long, too whatever. I worked all day and tried to put it out of my mind. When I had built up the nerve to check my messages, I learned that my fear was unfounded. I was a better writer than I thought.

It’s a little hard to post this. The memories are bittersweet and it makes me feel a little vulnerable. But that’s what time is for, right? To make us wiser and impervious. However, after I sent this to him, he shared it with his friends. So why shouldn’t I?

By the way, the singer referenced in this poem is…well, never mind. I think you’re smart enough to figure it out. 🙂


“Four [In the Deep]”

To Jeffrey
What happens when I am alone and can’t sleep? Drivel, apparently.

A soulful voice echoes in out of the dark–
a conflagration of the chest she declares–
and you and I are enthralled. (Mostly me.)
The journey begins on that rolling note;
It first hiccups over marriages of dichotomy–
You, reveling in the bold; me, cautious
while begging for space and time to grow–
Until we find ourselves face-to-face.
You hold the map, I blithely follow
As you show me the way through my own–
My personal Magellan. (Sort of has a ring, yes?)
The world takes on new dimension
As my knowledge expands with you at the helm.

The soundtrack gently ebbs–your tunes
in the background–as something forms
From our mutual attraction. What to call it?
Too precious to be a lark and damned
If I am the one to utter that swishy roll
of twelve letters. The kiss of death! Ah, maybe.
Suddenly, we are entrenched in one another–
Your fingertips grace my loathed skin
While I watch in wonder; fascinated you are–
To me my dermis is no work of art, riddled
With flaws a younger self inflicted heedlessly.
Yet, still you stroke and show me a Life Aquatic–
Smitten am I, as I don’t worry over my hair.

In my blood you have assimilated with the normal–
Life falters within parameters that don’t include you.
We go in circles, lost then found, here then gone.
I claim befuddlement, but in my musing
Thucydides whacks me in the back of the head–
Yes, with the obvious!–as he would say in our vernacular, “Duh!”
Hindsight is a great teacher, but you defy
Ghosts that whisper of things past;
I am armed with expectation–you, however
Brandish a battle axe for these occasions.
Afterwards I feel like a downed pole,
Dizzy from the jarring collision with Planet Earth
But steadied, ready for anything in your embrace.

Despite the danger, I cannot quit you. She belts
And my heart quivers, my own hands itch
To touch and leave you in wonder–yes, my turn.
The delightful expanse of you holds
The same allure as an unplucked chord–
Wouldn’t you too like to make it thrum?
If I had my way, you would hear me croon
A siren’s song and too be stirred beyond logic.
If I had my way, I could press an ear to you
And hear myself humming under your skin.
I am wary of puppet strings, but to leave
A mark?–yes, a heady thrill indeed.

Sunday Snippet – “Unknown”

I was bored one night after Thanksgiving 2010; my best friend Rachel said that I should just sit down and write what came to mind. A few days before the holiday I’d had this odd dream that would not pass like dreams usually do. I sat down in front of my desktop, “Throw It On Me” blasting in my head, and wrote this scene from the dream I could not forget.

Before The Payback List came to mind, I had intended to do something different. When I think about the concept, it sort of reminds me of  the RSA but not as sleek. You also get to meet a early version of Adam Martin.

It is titled “Unknown” because I never gave it a proper name. This one will not reach completion, but the scene itself represents one of the best things I’ve written–at least in my opinion. 🙂


Near the end 

The bitter cold made all of the wounds numb, and the fresh, pure snow mingled with the blood running down her face. Her long, heavy breaths came out like puffs of steam from a train and she ignored the fact that it hurt to merely breathe. Instead of dwelling on the various injuries she now sported and the throbbing each one induced, her consciousness was centered on the man standing before her, on the fact that her hand itched for her weapon, which was buried in the snow.

Oh yeah…and then there was the gun that was aimed at her head. That was a very bitter pill to swallow, too.

Actually, the gun hadn’t done a damn thing to her so she couldn’t be too angry with it; it was the tall, dark-haired asshole with his finger on its trigger that made her a bit irked. Hey—guns don’t kill people, fuckhead—people with guns kill people!

I should have known better than to put my trust in anyone, she mused angrily. But there was no use in trying to wallow in hindsight now. She didn’t have much time left—she could feel it—and there was little point in kicking herself, especially since everything she had done, every choice she had made since the moment they had met led to this moment. She was as much an agent in her own downfall as he was. Maybe there was a nice circle of Hell for a woman like her. It would certainly be warmer than this shit.

“Any last words?” he asked, voice slightly husky. It made her think of more peaceful times, of warmer times. She banished that right of her head. It would only make her want to kick his ass more than she already did. If such was possible.

She fought the urge to tremble against the cold and clung to the last vestiges of insolence she possessed. “You’re mistaken if you think I’m going to beg.”

A side of his mouth twitched. A sliver of mirth. “Just like you to be a smart ass to the end. I knew you wouldn’t beg, darlin’. You never did in bed.”

She nearly snorted with derision at the private reference. “Classy of you to bring that up right now when you’ve got a fucking gun pointed at my head.”

“If you had been smarter you would have seen this coming.”

It was her turn to smile, a little. “Oh…my dear…you have no idea…”

She could tell that threw him off-balance, just a bit. The guy who could see through everyone, see through everything, had been thrown by that comment. Uh huh—what was that, fool? It gave her a grim pleasure. All she had in this dismal predicament in which she had gotten herself.

“There is no way in hell,” he said aloud as if he was starting to realize something. The truth perhaps. “No way in fucking hell.”

“You’re a tool, I’m a tool, we’re all tools,” she told him. “It makes for some very convenient disposal when we turn on each other, according to some.”

“Who do you mean?” She silently stared at him. He flicked the firearm at her menacingly and raised his voice. “Dammit, Nee, who? Tell me…”

Her dark gaze remained even. “Why don’t you shoot me and find out?”

He struggled several moments with this as snow fell lightly around them. The numbness became its own pain, and heat and adrenaline fled her half-prone form. She could see the moment when he decided to pull the trigger before it happened.

A part of her, the romantic and nonsensical part of her, imagined at that last instant his face, light eyes intensified by desire, looming over her. A memory.

Close your eyes. Hold on tight, darlin’.

She welcomed the black when it came.

Poetry Corner – “Magellan”

I feel bad for not posting anything yesterday like I had intended. So yay–two-for-one!

I wrote this poem earlier this year shortly after completing the companion piece to “Twelve [The End].” You’ll also notice that the poem’s titular character sounds familiar…yes, it is the same Magellan Lange from The Reckoning. It reads similar to the verse the Lady in White is writing in Part Two (coming next week!).



To whom it may concern
(The first stanza gives it away)

In our history, he is the man with the map
Who always knows the way,
Who knows where the danger lurks
And the road best not to take. 

He came into view with a discerning scope
And revealed the sky with its moving lights;
What beauty lies there in the unknown!
To be constrained is a deplorable plight. 

Nightly, she had wished for a guide to reveal
Exotic paths of which she had feared
Needlessly, almost with irrational fervor
That left her from exploration sheared. 

By Selene’s light, she peered from her fortified tower,
Mind roving about in imagined spaces;
How excited was she when the course veered
And cannily intersected with his traveling graces. 

The stories he told she could barely fathom;
The world he held in his palm to her was rare,
And she could not contain her fascination
As he pioneered her emergence with greatest care. 

But simple and singular was this, in odd fashion
For she found she could have ventured on her own;
However in his presence she was sheltered
In a way that assured she could be grown. 

So their history was drawn, his and hers,
With lines jagged, curved, intersecting, and parallel
Places of interest dotted, each a mini-metropolis
To where visits are often and in shadows memories dwell. 

A picture in time of a landscape in constant change;
He was able to capture the transformation—
This slightly deficient world expanded at his behest
And her growing wisdom was his confirmation. 

This shrewd work of expansion and artful rearrange
Is signed with one name: Magellan Lange.

RSA – “Payback”

Apologies for the delay, folks! Yesterday happened to be the longest day in creation–or at least it seemed that way. Full steam from 5:00 a.m. to nearly 11:00 p.m. It’s any wonder I am up right now composing this thirteen hours later and with two hours of sleep…oh well!

Anyhow, this is another installment from the Recon Specialist Agency. I wrote this one a little before my birthday this year; Zora and I share similar sentiments about birthdays. Sadly I was stuck in bed on the day of my birth–stupid sinus infection. I think at some point you’ll see Zora doing the same thing to John…that’s going to be a blast to write 🙂

I am planning a meeting with my “panel” so you might get some John/Zora backstory–I can’t wait to see what results from that…





She stood in a defensive stance, hands crossed over her chest. Her voice was filled with ice as sharp as her stilettos when she spoke. “You rang?”

He flicked a glance at her as he tweaked the circuitry in his new invention. “End that with Master.”

She fumed. “Leave me alone, J. I am not in the mood.”

The dark-haired man sitting behind the desk in jeans and a blazer over a T-shirt that proclaimed, Warning, If Zombies Chase Us, I Am Tripping You raised an eyebrow as he put his current project aside. “You’ve been acting like more of a bitch than usual. I just wanted to know what was wrong.”

She beaned him with a glare. “Yeah, I’m on my period, Neanderthal.”

That got the desired wince out of him. He hated blood. She smiled. Fractionally. After a moment, he frowned at her. “No you’re not. There wasn’t any blood on my sheets this morning.”

That earned another glare. “I wasn’t even in your bed this morning, John. It must have been one of your backup hoes that you’re mixing me up with. And I oughta kick your ass for that.”

He guffawed. “The hell? I don’t let those dirty hoes in my bed. Those sheets are freakin’ Egyptian.” She cocked an eyebrow. “You’re supposed to laugh right there. It was a joke.”

“Yeah ‘cause the thought of you having hoes with your dorky ass is hilarious,” she quipped with an ungraceful snort. After her mirth passed, she griped, “Could we get this over with? You know how it looks when you call me in here like this.”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I could bend you over the desk. Tends to be hard with the glass walls.”

“Like that would stop you.” He smirked. Yeah it wouldn’t. “Pervert.”

“I am trying to be serious here. Show some concern over you.” The more he stared at her, the less angry she became. In fact, she was starting to…fidget. “Is something going on that I should know about?”

“No. Not at all.” 

Insert bland stare here. “Don’t lie to me. I can make your life hell for lying to me. You’ve been treating everyone like shit for like a month, and Stella says you nearly killed Drake in the sparring ring with the new prototype I made for you. I know you want to be some badass vagina, but you will show some restraint with my inventions under my roof. Your coworkers are not sparring droids.”

Blink, blink. She put a hand to her chest. “Are you…scolding me, J?”

He leveled the sternest look he could manage upon her. “I am. And stop calling me J. The name is Andy.”

Pause. She guffawed so loud that the glass walls quivered. His face fell in complete shock. He watched as she stumbled to the door and let herself out, laughing so hard everyone turned to look at her, then at their esteemed boss, who looked like he had been poleaxed.

As the troops returned to their work, he could all but taste the acrid tang of mutiny in the air.

She was going to pay for that one.



That evening


“That bitch has no respect,” John groused into his glass of Guinness. “No respect at all.”

The Friday evening din at their regular bar nearly overshadowed their meager conversation and John had to raise his voice to be heard. Edward Dean, better known as Eddie, took a swig of his own beer. Beside him, Stella Stevens enjoyed a nice glass of wine and raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at their friend who seemed irritatingly angst-ridden and Rodney Dangerfield-esque for the evening.

“Yeah, I heard she was laughing her ass off when she left,” Stella said. “What did you say to her?” John told her. “And she laughed at that?” She shook her head in disbelief. “That bitch has balls.”

“Well, it doesn’t help Andy lets her get away with murder,” Eddie remarked. That earned a glare from John. “She’s a good recon agent with awesome instincts, but she has an insolent streak—one that Andy indulges.”

“I do not!” John protested. Eddie just gave him a bland stare. “I reprimand her on a regular basis. She has the wrong idea that she’s special or something, and there is nothing special about her.”

Eddie opened his mouth to say something, but Stella sent him a hard look. They weren’t supposed to know that tiny piece of information that John didn’t want them to know—and they weren’t going to reveal their knowing anytime soon. Eddie pursed his lips together and spoke on a slightly different course—one that wouldn’t get him in trouble with his best friend.

“Someone told me that she was having some kind of dinner party at her house tonight,” Eddie revealed.

“A dinner party?” John frowned. “Why is she having a dinner party?” And why wasn’t I invited?

“Word on the street is that it’s a special occasion.” Stella tapped her wineglass with a nail. “Apparently, it’s her birthday.” John’s face went slack with shock. How could he not have known this? “Maybe you should put in an appearance and score some cake and show her who’s boss.”

“Maybe that isn’t a good idea,” Eddie said primly.

Stella scoffed. “Like hell. I think it’s a brilliant one. That’s what she gets for not respecting his authority. After this, she won’t have any choice but to respect him.”

“Yeah, but there are better ways to set someone straight. Especially since he’s had like five beers since we got here. He’s gonna do something stupid and get in trouble.”

Stella looked at John with hawk eyes. “Andy, can you walk in a straight line?”

John shrugged. “I mean, probably.” He drained his glass.

Eddie shook his head. “I don’t believe it. He’s lying.” He watched as John took out his wallet. “You’re not going to Zora’s house to embarrass her. Leave it alone, Andy. Dock her pay or something. Or fire her.”

“No,” John disagreed, throwing a bill on the table. “Stella’s right. She messes with my reputation, I mess with hers.” He replaced his wallet and stalked off, a plan formulating in his head.

“Make sure to get it on video!” Stella called after him. Eddie gave her a reproachful look and she merely tossed her luxurious hair over her shoulder in a gesture of defiance.





So yes, if you were wondering, something was up with Zora Scott.

If you were to ask, she would shrug and say nothing or mind your own damn business. If you were John Anderson Leath asking, she would lie and say she was on her period. (That usually worked, but it was becoming a bit trite.) But if anyone at the Recon Specialist Agency had been paying attention, they would have noticed Zora’s attitude worsening in a crescendo. And today was the accent note.

It was the middle of July. For most, this particular block of the year meant nothing more than time spent poolside with a bimini. For Zora Neale Scott, it was a dreaded time—her birthday.

Unlike her contemporaries, the coming of her birthday brought dismay, not excitement. A day where she was the spotlight, the center of attention. A day where she was the butt of getting-old jokes, the recipient of too-sweet cake and sloppy kisses from relatives.

She would’ve taken a month-long sojourn to Spain if it wouldn’t have sent up red flags to the wrong people.

She stood in her kitchen, flushed in the face and wishing for a sleeping pill, and checked on the asparagus that her mother was cooking on the stovetop. She was antsy, wanting to do something to keep her mind off of her impending doom. She knew there was frosted angel food somewhere. She just wasn’t able to find it.

Zanelle Scott, her big sister, sauntered into the kitchen then. The air about her was decidedly smug. Zora couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t her birthday again—not for another six months.

“Having fun, sister boo?” Zanelle teased.

Zora grumbled. “I think an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills would be better than this.” Before Zanelle could comment, her doorbell rang. She sighed. “It’s my house, I’ll get it.”

“Who knows? It could be a birthday surprise.”

Zora smirked. “Only if it’s Henry Cavill in a Speedo would it be a worthy birthday surprise.”

It was a shame, she thought later, that it was not Henry Cavill standing on her doorstep. In fact, she would have taken any alternative over what was actually there.

Zora could do nothing but gape.

“Guess who’s here for dinner?” John Anderson Leath declared, holding up two bottles like award statues.

The gape turned into a glare. And she slammed the door in his face.

A second passed. The doorbell rang again. Zora growled.

Mama Scott frowned as she came around the corner, hearing the sound of the bell. “Zora, aren’t you going to answer the door?”

Zora grumbled something under her breath that was best left unheard. Grudgingly she opened the door again. John was still standing there grinning like a serial killer. Without preamble, a curly-haired streak came zipping out of the living room and ran into John. Thrown off balance—and drunk to boot, he stumbled and fell off of the porch.

A moment later, a woman with light brown hair appeared, slate-green eyes wide as she took in the scene. “Leila?!”

The pretty child grinned impishly at her mama. “Look, Mama! He hurt himself. I should help him.”

Zora grinned, too, but malice was in her eyes. “Yes sweet pea, you can help him all you want.”

Embarrassed, Leila’s mother ushered her to the bathroom to wash her hands for dinner. John appeared then, brandishing unbroken bottles. “No need,” he assured them. “I am quite all right.” He gave Zora a pointed look. “I decided to stop by and check out your dinner party since you mentioned it.”

Zora, smile fixed in place, said through her teeth, “I don’t recall mentioning it to you.”

“Word travels.” He grinned at Mama Scott. “You must be Zora’s mother. Wonderful to finally meet you.”

Mama Scott, who was well versed in the art of politeness, responded, “Yes…and you are, again?”

“John Anderson Leath,” John introduced himself. “But you can call me Andy. Zora works for me.”

A male voice radiated from the kitchen. “That’s the sonofabitch who nearly got her arrested and killed.”

Zora sighed, not wanting to be reminded of Nathaniel Cole’s debauchery (especially in front of her mother who was given a watered-down version that didn’t supply names—including John Anderson Leath). “Could we not talk about that?”

Winston Monroe, dishtowel in hand, stuck his head out of the kitchen. “If that asshole is here, we will be talking about it if I got something to say about it.”

“Winston,” Mama Scott admonished. Winston disappeared back into the kitchen, muttering irritably under his breath. Curious—and a mite suspicious—she turned to John. “Dinner is almost ready. We were just about to sit down if you would like to join us.”

Zanelle appeared and took the wine bottles. “I mean, he brought liquor so I’m down.”

John grinned that creepy serial killer smile again. “Yes, I would be happy to.” He wrapped an arm around Zora’s shoulders. “Give me the spot next to this one.”

Zora tried to smile, but it looked like she was going to attack instead.


 At the dinner table…

 Mama Scott was shrewd enough to seat Zora inbetween Winston and her little sister Zandra, who sullenly picked through her dinner. She wasn’t sure about this person who had shown up on her daughter’s doorstep, so she placed him at the other end of the table where she could look him in the eye. Zanelle sat across from her little sister Zandra while ZJ, their baby brother had the spot to John’s right. Faye and Leila sat next to Mama Scott.

“This is a lovely dinner,” John remarked. “I don’t think I’ve ever had asparagus this good.”

“If I’d’ve know you were coming I woulda put cyanide in it,” Winston muttered. Zora nudged him not-too-subtly. Zandra snickered.

“I don’t like asparagus,” ZJ remarked. “You can have mine if you want.”

“No he cannot,” Mama Scott said sternly. ZJ deflated. “So what is it that you do?” Zora’s mother asked John, a dubious note to her voice. “Zora has never…mentioned you.”

Zora squirmed under her mother’s heavy gaze.

John considered this a humming moment. In the silence, utensils clanked on plates. He gave a long explanation about what he did for his father’s company, making it comprehensible to his audience. Zanelle sipped wine and looked intrigued.

He paused for effect while he cut a bite of steak as the others processed this. “Oh yeah. And I’m also screwing your daughter.” The grin he wore after this explanation punctuated it perfectly.

Crickets. Zora’s eyes nearly exploded.

Sensing her will to maim, Zandra slid the knife away from her sister. Shaking his head, Winston slid it back.

Frowning, ZJ turned to John. “But Zora is not a nail! How would you screw her?”

“Yeah how?” added little Leila.

Zanelle choked on her rice. Zora snapped out of her stupor and stood. She reached out and grabbed John by his collar as her mother told her to calm down. Faye was admonishing her own child as she told Zora, “Stop being so mean to him!”

“Outside, now!” Zora snapped as she dragged him out by the collar. There was a lot of cursing and banging. Faye sighed and covered her daughter’s ears.

“If you kill his ass, I got shovels!” Winston called after her. Mama Scott gave him a reproachful look. He merely shrugged and ate his asparagus.





“You motherfucking asshole!” Zora ranted. “I ought to take your testicles with my bare hands!”

John faced her calmly with his hands over his chest. “Problem, babe?”

Zora’s response sounded like the jagged lovechild of a scream and a growl. John just stared serenely.

“How dare you come into my house and make me out to be some sort of fornicating whore? And in front of my mother? My little brother and my goddaughter?”


“Payback’s a bitch ain’t it?” John asked.

Zora’s eyes nearly exploded again.

“Payback?” Zora spat. “You came here on my birthday to embarrass me for payback?!” Fed up, she struck out with a fist and clipped him on the temple. He caught her fist before it could do anymore damage.

“Yes, I did,” John answered testily. “And to teach you a lesson. You need to show me some respect, Zora. You may be…I mean, we may be…”

“Screwing each other?” Zora offered blandly.

“Yeah, whatever,” John resumed hastily. “But that doesn’t mean that you can walk all over me when we’re at work. I’m the boss, you know. And how my workers regard me assures whether or not they trust me to lead them. When you undermine my authority, it makes me look like a bullshit leader.”

Zora groaned, her anger draining. “Dammit…”

He released her hand. “You see that I’m right, don’t you?”

“You’re not wrong,” Zora contended. “But you’re not right either.” She placed her hands on her hips. “You can’t walk all over me either, John. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you can put footprints on my back. Respect is mutual.”

“I guess you’re not wrong either,” John admitted grudgingly. “Maybe we both need to work at it.”

“Damn straight.” She glanced at her front door. “But in the meantime, you need to go apologize to my mama before she gets the edge weapons.”



That Monday…

The agents and scientists of the RSA gathered in the conference room Monday morning. There was a distinct buzz in the air. All eyes were on Andy Leath and Zora Scott. Everyone wondered what they would say or do next.

The answer came when, in the middle of a tech briefing, John lifted his head and said, “Ms. Scott?”

Everyone looked to Zora.

Zora looked at him calmly. “Yes, Andy?”

“Could you get me a coffee please?”

The group barely managed to stifle a gasp. Oh shit! What was going to happen next? Was she going to issue a fuck you, get it yourself or pour the hot liquid on his lap or atop his head?

With rapt attention, the employees watched as Zora rose and smoothly retrieved his coffee. She held it for a moment, standing over him. Ah, this is it! they all thought.

They were disappointed when Zora merely handed it to him.

After he took a sip, she asked, “Is it satisfactory, sir?”

“Indeed,” he replied, and she regained her seat.

There was a change in the air then. John Anderson Leath had regained his greatness, and yes it felt so good.

John grinned into his cup. “Result,” he murmured.


Black/White: The Reckoning – Part One

It’s December 28, 2011, and I am pissed. Unfortunately, the person I want to take this out on is beyond my grasp, so I seek my laptop to ease my fury. And this is what comes out.

I have forever thought of myself in thirds, probably due to my study of that section of English lit that deals with psychoanalysis–namely Freud’s tripartite model. Both the Ladies of White and Black are me–just different sides, similar to different side of the same coin. The Lady in White is innocent and naive and focused on her needs, no matter what the cost. The Lady in Black is more cynical, though I have to admit they are both very passionate in their own ways. And you can probably guess the role the antagonist played in my reality.

Isn’t it fun how I see the world? 🙂

P.S.: The quotes used at the beginning of these installments are made by MM characters.


“Hell hath no fury like an armed woman scorned and prepared to battle.”
– The Chameleon




The air in the castle was thick, so heavy that when anyone entered from the tempest growing outside, it clung to the skin, leaving a phantom wax-like coating behind. Firelight affected by the wind gusts from the outside flickered on the walls, distorting the shadows of the Lady in Black and her forbidding cape. Underlings watched warily as she marched past, sensing her wrath as it emanated off her taut body. No one asked any questions; if the stormy weeping from the Lady in White and the ominous clouds swooping in from the west were any indication, something indeed was amiss. And the Lady in Black was not going to hesitate to correct it permanently.

The Lady in White was a rather passionate young woman; she felt the same as she breathed–quick, deeply, and often. Due to her headstrong, tempestuous nature, she rarely acted on the advice of her opposite; it was limiting, she believed, and who wanted to be limited by Logic? She wanted to live, and in living, she wanted to experience everything, good and bad.

Needless to say, the Lady in Black ardently disapproved.

The Lady in Black was passionate in her own way; however, compared to her counterpart, she didn’t consider herself as fragile, as easily deterred. She had been fighting to protect the Lady in White all of their lives since she was so precious to the balance of their lives, and at times the battle over the degree of that protection between the two of them seemed more taxing than the dangers that lurked amid them. The dangers that threatened to sully her innocence and generous nature. The Lady in Black, intellectually, understood that one should exist with such attributes, but the Lady in White squandered them on those who didn’t deserve such attention. And again, she had gotten hurt in doing so.

But this would be the last time, the Lady in Black vowed. Her eyes narrowed as the words flashed in her brain, and anyone within seeing distance immediately jumped out of her way.

Finally she reached the quarters of the Lady in White. Predictably, the vast, plush space was outfitted in variations of white. The inundation of the lack of color nearly rendered the Lady in Black physically ill. She fought back the discomfort and searched the room for her quarry.

She found the Lady in White sitting on a padded chaise lounge in all of her tearful, ethereal glory. She wore a dress so white it was startling, almost wearisome, to the naked eye. A fitted bodice with short puff sleeves made her appear younger than her years, juvenile to her antithesis. Layers of silk and tulle fanned out around her, and her streaked light brown hair was artfully arranged in curls. A bouquet of white roses sat in her lap and she handled them gingerly as one of three attendants in white offered her a handkerchief to stem her tears. The remaining woman, clad in a hunter green dress, noticed the entrance of the Lady in Black and slipped silently away from her charge.

Faye pressed her lips together as she neared the Lady in Black. Misery swam in her gray-green eyes.

“She has been like this for seven days,” Faye informed her in a low tone. “I have done all I can do short of finding that lowlife and cutting out his eyes.”

If this had been a less grave situation, the Lady in Black would have smirked. Faye, in her outward appearance, was affectionate and maternal. However, on the inside, she possessed the heart of a warrior and would not hesitate to bear arms, which made her compatible with and respected by both the Ladies of Black and White.

“I have another pair of organs in mind,” the Lady in Black said sourly as her foil sniffled loudly. Faye grunted her approval.

“I hope he is nowhere to be found,” Faye said. “Have you heard any word on his whereabouts?”

The Lady in Black shook her head. “I have officers scouring the lands but so far, no one has discovered him. It is possible he is in his own territory by now and will not return here. If he were a smart man, he would not even think it.”

At that moment, the Lady in White noticed the new occupant in the room. The tears abated fractionally and she leapt up toward Faye and the Lady in Black. The anticipation in her eyes was so profound, they were nearly screaming. Him, here? Please?

“Good evening, O Dark One,” the Lady in White greeted her foil.”Have you any news for me?”

The Lady in Black merely stared at her. “There is a storm coming. And it is all your doing so perhaps you should desist with your foolish emotions.”

“My emotions are not foolish!” the Lady in White burst out furiously. The Lady in Black narrowed her eyes. “And if they run rampant, it is only because you have confined me like a criminal.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I demand to be freed to go find him.”

“You cannot see him again,” the Lady in Black told her flatly. “I forbid it.”

The Lady in White looked defiantly at her opposite. “You have no right to tell me how I should live!”

In a show of anger, the Lady in Black unsheathed her sword, the quick action halting the breaths of Faye and the other maidens in the room. Before the Lady in White could swallow, the sword was at her graceful throat.

“As long as I am responsible for your protection, as long as you have the power to affect those around you, I have more than just the right to tell you how you should live. I have the power to control you.”

“I am not a puppet,” the Lady in White said ardently. “You cannot bend me to your will. I will exist on my own terms, whether you like it or not.”

“If you could act rationally, then I suppose you could,” the Lady in Black shot back. “However, since you insist on letting that mistake back into your confidence–”

The Lady in White moved sharply at the word mistake, forgetting that there was a weapon at her throat. Crimson dripped down her neck, down her chest, and stained the front of her dazzlingly white dress. One of the attendants gasped at the piquant contrast.

“Stand down before you kill her,” Faye murmured.

The sword hovered in place a moment more before the Lady in Black lowered and sheathed it. Faye retrieved a clean handkerchief and had the bleeding Lady in White press it to her wound. She peered at the Lady in Black resentfully.

“He will not come back here,” the Lady in Black said. “You may believe that he still has some loyalty to you, but it is nonexistent. You need to accept that truth so things can return to normal.”

The Second of the Lady in Black, Captain Lockehart, strode in at that moment, diverting the attention of the Lady in Black. Despite his impeccable appearance in military regalia similar to that of the Lady in Black, he seemed troubled. He paused beside her before bowing to the occupants.

“My apologies for the interruption,” Lockehart began, “but I believe the matter is urgent enough to warrant an intrusion.”

The Lady in Black stiffened as sneaky suspicion wove its frigid, tingling fingers up her spine. The Lady in White too went still, but hope oozed from her every pore. Anxious, Faye took one step away from the Lady in White toward Lockehart, the question in her eyes that everyone else was thinking.

“What is the trouble, Captain?” the Lady in Black asked.

The room held its breath as Lockehart paused to take in the faces around him, their rapt interest. He seemed reluctant to reveal the reason for his being there. As that Truth dawned on the Lady in Black, she felt sickness and fury grapple for precedence in the pit of her stomach.

“Lockehart?” the Lady in Black pressed.


He raised his caramel-hued eyes to hers. Her breath quickened.

“Magellan is here,” Lockehart revealed.

Magellan is here. The words sent sickness sprawling away in utter defeat, and fury exploded within her, leaving her insides searing. The unfettered optimism that slowly transformed the face of the Lady in White was utterly heartbreaking. Faye closed her eyes against the onslaught of the warring emotions. Something unintelligible flickered in Lockehart’s eyes but he said no more.

The Lady in White jumped up from her haunches, alabaster skirts bouncing. “Magellan! Oh dear Magellan…I must speak to him! I must see him, you understand. Perhaps if I can reason–”

The abrupt end of the sentence was punctuated by the sound of her fragile, slight body colliding with the wooden floor. It was a rather unpleasant sound. Faye couldn’t help but wince.

As The Lady in White whimpered at the pain, her inverse stood over her, face contorted with anger. A hard gust whipped the drapes so hard it nearly ripped them from their rod. Lightning crackled far off in the distance, strong enough to raise small hairs, even from that proximity.

“Do you not understand what you have done?” The sentence ended in a rough, low growl. “The abhorrent creature that stands on my hallowed ground threatens the very balance that keeps us alive. He has broken you when you have to be whole. Do you not remember what the first time was like? The storm that nearly killed us all?”

“It will be different this time,” the Lady in White insisted passionately. “I can handle him.” She climbed to her feet, slowly this time. It was almost like prey trying not to upset a predator. “He would not be here if he did not want to settle things. Please allow for me to converse with him. I will not lose control like the previous time.”

The two young women, one Bright, one Dark, stared at one another. One clung to an innocent, foolhardy hope. The other sought for the eradication of something that did not belong. The power of that gaze and the opposing sentiments hummed in the air for what seemed an eternity.

“Lock her in the Tower,” the Lady in Black ordered tonelessly.

Lockehart gave a signal to soldiers hovering outside the entrance. As the darkly clad men came toward her, the Lady in White took a step backward in an attempt to evade them, shaking her head hysterically. She whimpered the word no, and as they became more forceful in her containment, that tiny word grew in volume until it filled the room with its shrillness and sorrow.

Her three attendants wept as she struggled against captivity. Faye’s lips trembled, but no tears came forth. Even though the officers had managed to drag the Lady in White from the room, the ghost of her grief lingered in the still air.

“I want to go with you,” Faye said simply, pale eyes glowing with fury. “I want to cause him harm.”

Before the Lady in Black could, Lockehart shook his head and placed a hand on Faye’s shoulder. “My dear friend,  you will be better in use here where you can console our Bright One. She needs to hear a voice of reason that she trusts, and quite frankly, she loathes the very air that sustains our lives. That is perilous at this critical juncture.”

As Faye considered his statement, the Lady in Black added, “Perhaps you should sedate her. I believe that will prevent her from escaping.”

Believing that the matter was done, the Lady in Black started to turn away when Faye remarked, “I believe she needs some sort of closure. Perhaps a moment in his presence might mend her.”

“And so she does deserve an appropriate ending to this madness,” the Lady in Black concurred. “But it will be at my hand. I will not be dissuaded in this matter.”

Seeing that she could not persuade her Dark Comrade, Faye uttered nothing more. Cape swirling, the Lady in Black whirled and headed away and down, her quick footfalls a fierce drumbeat to the cacophony of the sobbing of the Lady in White heading in the opposite direction, away and up. Metal clanged against metal as the Lady in White was incarcerated against her will. Her pleas were faint but piercing. But the Lady in Black would not buckle against them. This was for her own good.

This time the battle for the preservation of the Lady in White would wage between the usurper Magellan…and the Lady in Black.

And she didn’t plan to lose.

Midnight Moon – Hummingbird

Angelia Sanford–formerly Angelia Bucchannan in my Pretty Soldier Midnight Moon days–was borne out of a wager with myself to see how many characters I could create with the base name “Angel.” No I am kidding, really. But I did make five of them in quick succession (the Wolfe triplets Angela, Angelica, and Angelique, and their little sister Evangelina aka Lina).

Each character’s value is precious; Angelia, in her current form, is one-fourth of the Novenine and the Crown Princess of the Kingdom of Asteria (my own made-up country of course–and sounds much better than Novena). Her beauty belies her strength and agility; bluntly, I wanted to capture Angelia roughing someone up. Though, her skirmishes are going to seem like tea parties next to anything Danie or Samantha gets into (which will be proven soon, no worries!).

Not to mention, even though I am wary of romance at the moment, I do rather enjoy the entrance of the Duke of Elwen. In my little movie Lee Pace would play him. Perfect fit, don’t you think?


Music: “Ah” by Superfly, “Idiot” by Lisa Marie Presley, “Anytime” by Crystal Kay, and “All I Need to Know” by Emma Bunton

Sunday, September 28, 1980

Generally, when a woman is due to give birth, there is a certain protocol; bags are gathered, family members and friends are called to make the pilgrimage to witness the coming of life. For the twenty-four-year-old Crown Princess of Asteria, the expectations were quite different. Preparations were made on a grander scale. The family tree branched out over geographical boundaries; therefore mass phone calls were made at varying degrees of an hour. The King of Asteria, softened by the impending grandfatherhood, spoke on the front lawn of the Palace Heulwen before departing for the medical center, revealing that his eldest daughter and successor was currently in transit to the hospital.

Everyone held their breath for the safe delivery of the firstborn of the heir.

Well, almost everyone.

The labor was difficult for Princess Katharine; fears that she would perish or her daughters would dominated her moods. The Prince Consort made great effort to console his young, terrified wife as the same feelings coursed through him as well. He figured that the only one who could give her any reassurance had not been born yet.

So he prayed that she would come soon.

She emerged from the womb that she had shared with her sister for thirty-six weeks, deep blue eyes gaping and hungrily taking in the sight of the delivery room. Katharine was uplifted with relief at the first hurdle being surpassed. The newborn barely made a peep until startled by the crash of thunder from an autumn storm outside. The irregularity was noted and was discussed, that is, until her companion made her entrance into this new world as soundlessly as her older sister had. The events were regarded with rapt interest by two new parents as the rest of the world waited for the Grand Reveal of Princesses Angelia Madeline and Aurora Magdalene.


The knobby-kneed, tawny-haired little girl who was to run the land had begun to understand certain things by the time she was five.

The first: she possessed power. Not just the mere ability of a gifted child to coerce others into doing what she desired, but something deeper—and grander. This thrilled her a bit because she always imagined that she could impose her own laws (mandatory ice cream for children was at the forefront of her legislation) and place her mark on the world.

“Sister,” Aurora would say to this whenever Angelia mentioned it, “I believe mandatory ice cream would be bad. Mommy says it would make everyone plump.”

And to that, Angelia would shrug and say, “But it’s made of milk and proteins, Mags. It simply can’t be all that bad can it? It’s sorta good for you.”

“But Annie…” And that was usually all Aurora would be able to get in edgewise.

Second: because of that power, she was not loved by all. When she was smaller, her parents had sheltered her from the brunt of it. They still did—however, there were moments when resentment leaked through the bonds of family.

One moment was particularly momentous in her history: the entire family had gathered at the Palace Heulwen with a sense of urgency. When the little ones had asked, the adults assured them all was fine, not to worry. Around them, in print, on television and radio, the country—the world—speculated about the impending death of King Galen IV and its aftermath.

Crown Princess Katharine had already begun assuming her father’s duties gradually as she became of age and it was determined that she was going to be his successor. Dissent came from Galen’s younger children, namely his son Francis. Because Clare, Francis’s mother, was the current Queen Consort, he felt he should follow his father to the throne. It was his birthright as the eldest son. However, since Anne, Katharine’s late mother, had died giving birth and still married to Galen, Katharine, by law, was the next sovereign.

The young children of the Sanford issue generally played together, but verbal jabs occasionally soured the dates. Francis had bestowed the honor of the bitterness he felt toward his older sister to his son Patrick, who was a year older and at least twenty pounds heavier than the twins. Bennett, the twins’ little brother, hated playing with him because he was rough and generally vulgar.

While the adults kept vigil around Galen’s deathbed, the Palace nanny kept watch over the Sanford-Randolph twins, their little brother, and their cousin. Since the quartet had been playing quietly, the nanny momentarily shifted her attention to what was going on with the adults.

“I wanna see Grandfather,” Bennett whined, three-year-old expectations flattened by the current state of things. He absently kicked at a toy—one that had happened to belong to Francis when he was little.

“Oi, that’s mine you little—” Patrick stood, towering over the small boy. Aurora, who had been reading Agatha Christie, looked up sharply. Angelia vaulted off of the couch and stood guard to her little brother. The plaid jumper in which her mother had fastidiously dressed her had not hampered her in the slightest.

“Don’t you dare lay a hand on my little brother or you’ll regret it,” Angelia warned.

Patrick narrowed his eyes at her. “You can’t order me around.”

“That was not an order,” Angelia shot back. “It was a warning.”

“What could you do?” He shoved at her shoulder.  She glowered but did not reciprocate. Aurora had stopped her cold with that look that said, Don’t Annie! You could get into trouble! Again! Damned that she was so predictable to her twin. “You’re just a skirt.”

“Annie’s not just a skirt!” Bennett piped up. “She’s a princess!”

“Quite right,” Angelia affirmed with a nod. “And someday this skirt’s gonna be your queen.”

Patrick stuck his tongue out at his cousin. “Whoever said you would be Queen?” he demanded petulantly. “Girls shouldn’t be allowed to run the country.”

If Angelia had known the term, she would have called herself a feminist. However, she found fault with her cousin at this moment simply because he was being a prick. Her young, supple mind understood that perfectly.

Brows furrowed in fury, Angelia gave the bigger kid a hard shove. He stumbled backwards and fell onto his ample behind. A lamp with a beaded fringe shivered slightly.

As he yelped, Angelia snapped, “My mommy is going to be queen! That is what Grandfather said. What he says goes. And if he heard you…”

Patrick, emboldened by his own fury, climbed to his feet and launched a rather sizable decorative rock at his little cousin. Aurora gasped and Bennett’s little face fell as he struggled with the urge to hurtle himself forward into the fray.

“Annie!” Aurora cried.

It was a moment in time that seemed to be slowed down for dramatic effect. Even as an adult, Angelia still didn’t know how she had managed it.

Blue eyes narrowed, Angelia caught the rock barehanded and launched it right back at Patrick like a seasoned baseball player. Its jagged edges left a rather painful indentation on Patrick’s broad forehead, and for a split second, surprise reigned until the pain took over.

Time zipped by, and suddenly they were no longer alone. Her mother stood at the door, tearstained and mortified at the scene before her. Angelia scented the shift in the air like one could smell smoke downwind from a burning house. She whirled as the other adults filtered into the parlor at the sound of Patrick’s mewling. Francis’s wife Jane went for her crying son, shrieking hysterically. Francis himself entered to assess the scene, then threw down the gauntlet at his older sister.

It was war with flowers flying.

As his parents carried Patrick away, Angelia went to her mother, sick with reprehension. Trembling, weak with this predicament on top of the death of her father, she shook her head at her eldest and went back into the Palace. Nigel watched Angelia’s little face scrunch, feature by feature. His heart cracked for them both.

“Papa,” Angelia began, tears starting to fill her eyes.

“It’s all right, sweet,” Nigel murmured, pulling her close. It was a little lie they could both cling to in the chaos that was rushing forth.

Late Adolescence

Because of her responsibilities, Angelia was often admonished about her growing insolence. The little girl who had deftly defended herself the day that her grandfather had passed had morphed into a young woman with a polished exterior—her mother’s doing. She had made superficial alliances with daughters of allies—also her mother’s doing. It was her father who reminded her that duty to the crown surpassed any base emotion or urge that came over her. It was her father she thought of disappointing more often than she did her mother.

In the twelve years that Katharine had been Queen, Angelia’s awareness had grown exponentially. She had also begun to chafe against her mother’s rule as a teenager did, amplified by the fact that her evolution was in view of the entire world.

Aurora and Nigel often acted as bystanders when the two women quarreled. Bennett usually escaped to find trouble of his own. To anyone watching, it was the equivalent to two snarling bulls brawling. Those two were too alike, and neither wanted to admit it.

However, in this stage of Angelia’s life, Katharine had all of the cards, made all of the rules. Angelia found herself consigned to events and roles that made her skin crawl.

“I don’t want to go to this bloody shindig!” Angelia cried on a particular night, tossing a red silk dress aside. “It’s just a breeding ground for sycophants and rubberneckers. I’d have more fun getting oral surgery with no anesthesia with a rusty butter knife.”

Aurora picked up the dress and put it properly away. “Well, Annie…you could just think of it as target practice.”

Eyebrows cocked, Angelia whirled. “Target practice?” She smirked. “Mags, you evil girl, you. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

Aurora chuckled. “I didn’t mean it in that way.”

“Blast. I was considering packing a pellet gun in my evening bag.” With an evil smile, she went for the closet. “I may still do it. Mother has me going to this thing with Harold Gray.”

Aurora choked on bile. “Excuse me—I’m sorry, Annie…did you say…Harold Gray?” She shuddered—and with good cause. Harold Gray was Asteria’s answer to Billy Zane’s character in Titanic. All Angelia wanted to do was hit him in the face. All anyone wanted to do was punch him in the face.

“Bennett’s idea,” Angelia muttered, eyes dark. Aurora winced. She only imagined what Angelia had in store for retaliation. “You know, they’re all like that at this age.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“That’s because you spend most of your time buried in books.”

Aurora threw at pillow at her twin. “There are all kinds of characters in books, you know. Where do you think authors get them? Thin air?”

Angelia caught the pillow. “Hey, who could tell with all those rampant imaginations?”

The duo laughed, not aware of what was in store for the evening.

Much to Angelia’s chagrin, Katharine was overjoyed in Harold’s presence. In front of her, he was charming, demure, and respectful. Nigel, being a typical father, distrusted Harold immediately. However, he was astute enough to sense his nefariousness when Katharine didn’t.

He had tried to voice his concerns. Katharine chattered them away.

Unfortunately, this time Her Majesty had made an egregious error.

During the event, Angelia had tried to escape from Harold. He had found liquor and was up to nothing but debauchery. She would have gleaned some satisfaction from preserving some evidence of this and proving her mother wrong, but she was too disgusted.

She walked outside to get some fresh air. Harold was attentive enough to follow. Bollocks.

She tried to keep her voice even as she spoke. “Harold, I think you need to go home. You are embarrassing yourself. You obviously have had too much to drink.”

Harold snorted. “Angie, you are far too uptight.”

Angelia inwardly bristled at Angie. She fought a full-body shudder. “No, I am not. I am the future Queen of Asteria, and it would hardly do for me to start stumbling around here like you and slurring my words.”

Harold leered at her. “You royal girls are all the same. All breeding and stiff upper lip.” His leer deepened with the weight of experience. “That is, until someone gets you out of your knickers.”

“I assure you, you will not have the honor, sir,” Angelia said, well, stiffly.

“I don’t know about that,” Harold shot back and reached for her crotch.

Angelia’s eyes went wide. “You cheeky bastard!” She twisted deftly out of his grasp. When he made another drunken pass at her, she firmed her mouth—and punched him in his with all of her power. He went flying backwards and landed with a thud. As he groaned with confusion and pain, she shook out her throbbing hand. Damn he’s got a hard head.

“Your Highness?”

Aw bloody hell, was all Angelia could think. If this part got back to her mother, she would never hear the end of it. At least before she had been free of reproach. Now? She whirled around, a dozen excuses and rebuttals on her lips.

They all withered when she rested her gaze upon the person who had spoken.

He was tall, slightly taller than convention. His brown hair was slicked back elegantly, and he was quietly debonair in his tuxedo with the white jacket that his mother insisted that he wear. True concern emanated from every pore. This was not your run-of-the-mill looky-loo. He was in a different league altogether.

“I…” Angelia began, unsure.

He made a minuscule step forward. “I heard you…were having difficulty with your…date.”

“Using the term date for that steaming pile of horse excrement would be an insult,” Angelia remarked. Pissed all over again, she kicked Harold in the crotch. She was pleased at the whimper that came from him and turned on a smile to her attempted rescuer. She didn’t realize the effect she was having on him; it was like she had socked him one, too. She squared her slim shoulders. “But no worries here. I’ve resolved the matter.”

He chuckled nervously at Harold curled up in pain. “So it appears.” Then he frowned. “But your dress…”

“I’m sorry?” She realized what he meant, and looked down. In the struggle, Harold had ripped the right strap of her dress, and a dangerous amount of precious skin was exposed. As she gasped, her mysterious counterpart worked off his tuxedo jacket and offered it. Perplexed at the gesture, she hesitated before taking it. Deciding it was not perilous, she slipped it on.

“Who are you?” she inquired.

“I am the Duke of Elwen, Duncan Bernard Ainsley.” He bowed before her. “At your service, Your Highness.”

She was startled at his manners, and covered herself to preserve her propriety. “I am forever in your debt, Your Grace.”

“You owe me nothing,” Duncan assured her, and led her toward the lights and away from the waiting, prying eyes.


Angelia felt that she became a woman the moment she began not to fear anything.

During the years that had passed between that annoying moment at Hartsborough Prep with Harold Gray and the present, she had learned a great deal about herself, her history, and her destiny. She was not merely a princess, and she would not merely be a princess either. Princesses were meant to exist in fairytales where everything was given to them. She had to learn to grapple and felt herself expert at it. Cinderella probably could not say the same, that humble dame.

She had looked Death in its eyes. There was nothing more terrifying than that. Anything that came after was elementary.

Even her first official Parliament appearance.

“Fear,” Nigel said to her prior, “does nothing but limit the things you can do.”

Angelia turned from the grand window in her father’s study. He tried not to be staggered by the sight of her looking regal beyond her years. The robe suited her. “But isn’t fear useful in some aspect, Father? Fear can control, can coerce.” Her lips curved in an ironic smile. “Fear can even repel when it’s handy.”

Nigel gave a small, considering nod. “Perhaps, my dear. Your mother would certainly agree with that tactic on some level and it should not be ignored. But which would you cherish more? A leader you feared and reviled or a leader you could truly count upon?”

Angelia frowned thoughtfully. Nigel continued. “Yes, fear can be useful against an adversary. But on those with which we should work?—no. It breeds mistrust and mutiny, Annie.” He rose, towering over her, but not by much in those heels she wore. “Charm them. Regard them with the respect they deserve.” Something flickered in Angelia’s eyes—indignation, if knew his eldest. “But at the end of the day, the biggest weapon you have is your authority. By the law of the land and the blood of our ancestors coursing through your veins, you have it. Use it.”

As his words fortified her, John Larson, the head of Palace security, came into the study. He was a dark suit and a comm. piece in his ear. He was accompanied by Queen Katharine and Princess Aurora. Aurora wore a gray suit while padparadsha earrings glittered at her ears. Katharine was dressed in an identical robe as her daughter. When she saw her daughter, she lifted her chin, assessing, then nodded in approval.

“I think we are ready to depart,” Katharine announced.

“Very well, Your Majesty,” Larson demurred. “I will alert the rest of the detail.”

Katharine thanked him. She turned to her eldest daughter, her successor. Something like pride gleamed in her eyes. She placed a hand on Angelia’s shoulder.

“I know we may not always see eye-to-eye—”

“Huge understatement, Mother.” Angelia couldn’t help it. Nigel coughed to conceal a laugh.

“But I always want you to know,” Katharine continued, “that I am proud of you. And that if your grandfather were still alive, he would be very, very proud of you, too.”

Years of battling vanished momentarily. They were just mother and daughter, and Angelia felt love blooming in her heart. Fighting tears, she embraced her mother.

At that moment, Larson entered the room. He paused respectfully for the scene before him. Angelia and Katharine disentangled themselves and straightened their garb.

“The cars are here,” he announced.

“Thank you, Larson,” Nigel said.

The family left, departing with their full security detail. Nigel and Katharine took the first while the twins (Bennett was on a diplomatic trip to Russia) took the second one. The women sat in the backseat jittery with nerves.

Larson nodded, and spoke into his comm. piece. “The hummingbird is coming for the flower patch.” He paused for a moment, listening to the answering call. Then he looked over his shoulder at the blonde behind him. “Everything’s in place, Your Highness. Never to fear.”

Never to fear. Angelia grinned to herself when Larson faced forward. She? Scared?

Not in a million light years.

Poetry Corner – “Twelve [The End]”

On October 10, 2011, I came face to face with someone who changed my world. I am a firm believer in the effect we have on the lives of the people we cross; you can choose to be a good influence or a bad one. I hope that I have affected or will affect anyone the way he affected me.

I wrote a companion piece but…some other day.


“Twelve [The End]”

Count backwards, see where you land–
A candle burning soft, wineglass in hand.
The whirlwind that ensued left marks unseen,
Witches and mummies and fairies roaming in a dream–
Silly me–you believe I’m prone to romantize?
No silly you, with no chance to see through my eyes.

A student I–and learned I did lessons myriad,
Vexed was I when your tutelage paused on a period!
And you wouldn’t know that failed flower,
Waiting for a blooming chance when she had power
To dazzle all along–ah, for the trickier is heartsight
Steering when Reason should have the might;
Quiet is she now, her fiery voice I cannot hear
With the knowledge that the future lingers near.

Mon ami, never be lonely or wade in nostalgia too Long
For Life is better when it hums progressively along–
Nothing forever lasts but savor the brevity of the make
Like a favored song that doesn’t stop, just fades.

The Payback List – I: Della

In late 2010, I had the unfortunate experience of dating a young man…well, I won’t start of the explanation that way because honestly,  that part is no divertido! I started this story as sort of payback in my own nerdy girl manner, hoping it would spread among avid readers who would recognize and sneer at his inappropriate cockiness…but I ended up liking the character development more. Each of the five female protagonists will have a chance at telling the story. At the moment, speaking in Della’s voice is rather cathartic; she is another flavor of Inner Bitch that sort of reminds me of my brother, and his candor, while brutal at times, can be entertaining.

I can’t wait to finish “Man Candy” inspired by Mr. Adam Martin. It’s cheeky fun. 😉




Our tale of heartbreak and vengeance begins in the house of flying noodles.

And—what do you know?—it’ll end here, too.

Shit, forgive me—I’m giving some of the ending away like a horrible storyteller. I might as well start it off correctly so I don’t lose you in all of this opening madness.

The name’s Adelaide Henderson, but I’ll punch anyone in the gonads if they don’t call me Della. I think my mother sought to punish me right from the beginning for all of the gray hairs I was going to give her and gave me that horrendous name. I’m the youngest in the Henderson family, which automatically designates me as the butt of all pranks, teasing, and jokes. (The only one who may have it just as bad is Laine, and being the middle child isn’t a picnic either.) The short of it is—and that isn’t a self-deprecating crack about my height I assure you—I make the best of it. I try to make the best of everything.

Right at the moment, I am in the middle of carrying a big tray of entrée plates out to a table of soccer moms who are on their second bottle of wine. I don’t begrudge them their loud laughter and girlish banter; after all, how often are they free of their shackles—ahem, I mean, kids? Besides, if I can touch their lives with a bit of delight, I will—and not only because it’s my job. I wait tables to keep the lights on, and on weekend nights, I perform in a band with my cousin Margaret (better known as Margo and another victim of Masochistic Nomenclature) and our friend Nicholas Barton. We don’t believe ourselves to be the next big thing, but we have enough fans that I am constantly stopped at work. ‘Tis a small world after all—

Ouch. Dammit… I catch myself before I stumble and whip my head around quickly to find some bungling coworker’s retreating back. Small world, yeah, but a warning would have been nice. Being on the Saturday night shift at Corrigan’s, I’m convinced, is like being a part of a circus. There’s a great deal of trickery, acrobatics involving concave or sharp objects, fire showing itself at random moments, and enough animals to make your head spin.

My co-workers are a rowdy, wayward bunch, for the most part. There are a few exceptions (me, for one, my cousin Margo—she’s the blonde with the bottle of Zinfandel—and my big sis Elizabeth, whom you will meet later). They can feign refinement for their tables, but when the doors click shut and the building’s closed for the evening, my waiters-in-arms turn into cast member rejects from the Real World. Behind the wall that separates sophistication from the chaos, conversations ensue about various acts of drug use, nefarious shenanigans, and feats of sexual excess. Animals, indeed.

And then, of course, there’s the ringleader.

My cousin Vanessa should have stuck to her career in show business. Don’t get me wrong; she isn’t awful at this whole restaurant management thing. She can handle a party of thirty from some lofty locale while wooing a throng of rowdy college boys from Texas at the same time. She can cajole anyone into anything, and she has enough class and spine to earn respect from everyone on staff. She has known how to schmooze from birth, Aunt Sally would say to that, with that hint of pride that either makes you preen or flinch. (In Ness’s case, she would flinch.) However, she is way too beautiful (again my opinion) and talented to be touting some stupid pasta amid Neanderthals when there’s an Academy Award on her mantle. She only does it for love.

Love? you say. Well, of course it’s love. It’s the only thing that would drive a gorgeous woman to lower her standards and endure utter nonsense. Well, yeah, some would do it for shoes or something, too, but they’re just stupid. Do I sound pessimistic? I apologize, but I’m telling you—you would too if you knew what was going on—or rather who.

Silly me—I guess I’d better explain.

The who in question smoothly strides onto the dining room floor in his signature black suit, earning speculative stares from most of the females. My soccer mom table can barely keep themselves from salivating on their chicken and fish. His movements are as slight and slick as the silk on his back, and, if you were unaware of his true nature, you would definitely admire it. (I, for one, do not admire it. But I digress, because I am supposed to be sharing my knowledge.)

The object of our temporary attention is named Cameron Byrne. Hailing from the good ol’ UK, he is the owner of Corrigan’s and a world-class skeeze. He eerily resembles an Alfie-esque Jude Law, right down to the designer shoes. Now, lest you think I am judging him too harshly, let me reveal that he is the reason that my illustrious cousin Ness is peddling pasta. Under normal circumstances, I would just shake my head with slight disbelief and move on. However, in this case, Vanessa’s other half exploits her celebrity and wealth and I greatly disapprove. When they had met three years ago, Corrigan’s had been fledgling; the food had been sub par and the service even worse. Cameron sneakily slid Vanessa into the manager position, and she was too enthralled with him to protest. Word got out that an Oscar-winning actress was managing a restaurant and the people started coming in droves.

Then Ness hired Elizabeth, and Corrigan’s salvation was assured.

I sense Margo at my elbow without even looking to see that she’s there. We are well out of everyone’s way just short of the doorway into the dining room. “Well, there he is, making his grand appearance to spread sexiness on everyone’s dinner.” I snicker as she tilts her head in mock pensiveness. “I wonder if it sprinkles on like the salt and pepper.”

I smirk. “Oh, that was sexiness? I thought it was pubic lice.”

It’s Margo’s turn to snicker, and she covers her mouth to conceal her mirth as Vanessa breezes by with a piece of red velvet cake, staring at us. Suspicion has her eyes narrowed, but we give her innocuous smiles.

She knows us too well. A brow arch gives away her perception.

“Don’t you have work to do, ladies?” Vanessa asks.

Margo offers up a mock salute. “Yes, whatever you say, Captain McBeth. We’ll get right back to it.”

To our impertinence, Vanessa warns, “You had better…or you’re on dressing duty for a month.”

We waste no time getting back to our tables to check on our customers. Some minutes later, Margo and I meet on the servers’ line where we pretend to look busy. If you didn’t catch that, dressing duty is equivalent of going dumpster diving, and Margo and I do not want to be subjected to that again. We both stank of balsamic vingarette for three weeks after the first time, and once bitten is my stance on dressing duty.

On the servers’ line, behind the aforementioned wall, the clamor changes volume and pitch; in the dining room, the sound is an understated din, a discreet bumbling. Back here, the volume increases and comparatively sounds like war. In the midst of it all there is a woman yelling out orders and arranging dishes to be taken out to tables.

I have to take a moment to speak to you about my big sister. You see her? She’s the redhead in white arguing with that tall guy with the tray. Arguments around Liz are pretty commonplace because she takes no shit. As the oldest in a family of all girls, she grew up that way; her buxom figure (a gift from our paternal grandmother) has been a curse all her life and people often assume the wrong thing about her. She is tough without being hard; she knows when she’s gotta throw that iron fist around and at whom. You can’t be a good big sister without that skill.

Margo shakes her head. “Go Liz. Kicking ass and taking names.”

I shrug as her opponent tells her she needs to lighten up and Elizabeth vehemently disagrees with a rather painful threat. “Well she has to or else they’d walk all over her. Remember how Pierre used to puss out all the time if anyone disagreed with him? His food was crappy because he didn’t stand up for his dishes.”

Margo picks up a midnight-blue linen (one of Ness’s more likeable tweaks) and folds it into fourths diagonally. “I just thought it was because his real name was Louie and he never set foot in Paris and we all knew it.”

I chuckle. Cameron’s former cook had some less-than-reputable credentials, and Cameron had been too desperate to check them. Another one of his many blunders that Vanessa had to rectify.

The argument ends with Elizabeth going back to her work and dismissing the server with a wave of her hand and a turn of her back. The server turns and notices Margo and me.

Something like revulsion turns my stomach when we lock eyes.

Why this reaction? you wonder. Because it’s Adam.

If there is another male underneath this roof that causes me excessive vexation, it is Adam Martin. With Cameron Byrne, there at least is this air of urbanity that surrounds him; when he feigns refinement, you can almost believe that he cracks open champagne with high rollers and eats caviar every night. Adam? Oh no. He is all Bud Light and football games and random bouts of flatulence that can clear a room.

And even worse, he is dating my best friend.

Emily Spence is Adam’s polar opposite; she drinks Vitamin Water and watches BBC America, and the thought of passing gas in front of anyone, even her mother, would absolutely chafe her. To her, Adam is a version of Prince Charming, and he is supposed to save her from all of the other jerks she has had to deal with. Needless to say, she is a bit naïve about Adam. While she is achingly faithful to him, he flirts with all the females within a two-mile radius of wherever he is at a time (hey—in the age of texting, anything is possible), and I know it bothers her, but she has yet to tell him. She assures me he “takes care” of her when they are alone. Whatever that means. I just know what I see when we have to work together, and it’s not encouraging.

“She’s just mad because she still wants to screw me,” Adam says aside to me and Margo.

Uh huh. Like that.

Margo chokes on her own spit so I am left to address this boldfaced display of revolting chauvinism. “Oh, she’s mad because she wants a mediocre bout of sex with Monday Night Football going on in the background and you won’t give it to her? Wow. I have clearly misjudged my sister all these years. I thought she had good taste.”

Anyone within earshot laughs, including my cousin, and Adam tries to counter with his usual arrogance: “Haven’t heard any complaints so far.”

“Probably because they shut up and just smirk at you when you enter the room,” Margo contests. She folds another linen while shaking her head in dismay. “It’s a shame when you’re so bad at it that they don’t even have the respect to tell you to your face.”

I can’t help it; that comment sends me into peals of laughter. Adam leans in as if he is about to tell me something private. I try not to cringe.

“Don’t feel left out, Dell. You’re more than welcome to join in and find out for yourself.”

My eyes widen. Dell?! I oughta punch him in the gonads.

As you might have already noticed (and hopefully it didn’t make you want to throw up), Adam is of the ilk who believes he has a ten-inch penis when he hasn’t bothered to look down and realize it’s only four. I deplore the type because they are the cockiest (no pun intended) without reason. They are full of nothing but artificial swagger and don’t care about anything but the pleasure of the conquest so they turn out to be the worst lovers you ever had. (Emily has yet to dish about Adam’s sexual prowess no matter how much we press her on it, but I have a feeling that she is far from satisfied. Only likes the intimacy, my ass.)

As for his looks, I have to say, Adam is fairly good-looking. Sigh. All right fine—if you can overlook his personality, he is one fine piece of man candy. (Wait…but then again, he is merely man candy because of his personality…aw hell, I’ll let Margo and Michelle tell you properly. They coined the phrase and predictably will have a portion of this tale to tell.) He possesses that tall, toned stature of an athlete with dark hair threaded with random strands of gray. Apparently it runs in the family and he will be completely silver haired by thirty-five. Emily gushes that her favorite feature are his eyes, which are a lovely (ech) cornflower blue.

I had a cat with gray eyes once. Beautiful kitty Oscar was—but you didn’t see me turning a blind eye when Ozzy pissed on my favorite boots now did you? Just saying.

I suppress an eyeroll and return to my linen-folding. “Martin, I think it goes without saying that not every woman that claps eyes on your loathsome figure finds you appealing. Present company included.”

His mouth curves up on one side in a smug grin and he delivers this killshot: “Emily likes me well enough.”

The heat comes from my eyes unbidden. If looks could burn, Adam would be a charcoal briquette. It would be a welcome change from the current (and more convenient than having to deal with him socially), I tell you, but humans weren’t blessed with that ability. Where is Scott Summers when you need him?

He swaggers off the line triumphantly, leaving me to smolder.

“Asshole,” I mutter.

“Remind me again what it is that Em sees in him,” Margo says.

“She got caught up in his eyes,” I respond dryly.

“Then she oughta take a picture and save herself the trouble.” She raises an eyebrow. “I wish you would have done that with Adrian.”

I press my lips together and exhale through my nose, wishing she wouldn’t have brought Adrian up. The thing about family? While they are the foundation of our well-being and existence, they have a knack for bringing up stuff that you wish you could forget. And Adrian Santos falls under that category for me.

Sigh. Adrian

Margo punches me in the arm and I crash back to the moment.

“Ow, dammit!” I bellow.

“Jesus, Della—snap out of it. You look all glassy like the time you overdosed on Nyquil and tried to work the Friday lunch rush.”

I rub my throbbing arm. Margo took a kickboxing class with me when we were eighteen, and she developed one hell of a right cross. “A nudge would’ve worked. You didn’t have to hit me so hard.”

Margo gives me a look. “You were over there about to start drooling over Adrian Santos. I think that’s a health code violation.”

“I was not drooling!”

“Oh yeah right. You still got some spit on your chin.”

“I do not!” I protest, but I wipe at my chin anyway.

“You were totally drooling…”

I growl under my breath. If you knew what Adrian was like…

Margo shoves me again. “Della!”

All right, fine. I’ll explain Adrian later.

*      *              *

The end of the night comes, and I’ve never been happier to see it in my life. I have a fistful of bills in my pocket and my celebratory licorice stick. When I was a little girl I would get candy when I was especially good; nowadays, if I can get through the shift without maiming or killing anyone (as you have seen, that is a feat all in itself), I allow myself a special treat. Hey, gotta reward big people for good behavior, too.

Margo joins me at the bar where I sit counting out the night’s haul and chewing on a grape licorice stick. Tonight’s indulgence comes from a pack of rainbow Twizzlers. She automatically slides out a watermelon one—her favorite flavor—and takes a bite out of it while holding her cell in her free hand.

“Just talked to Nick. He’s gonna meet us there,” Margo informs me as she settles onto the bar stool. “How much did you make?”

“Enough to pay my portion of the rent and buy that leather skirt,” I respond triumphantly. Margo shakes her head. There is this leather skirt I have been eyeing for weeks, but it is ridiculously expensive.

“You could also be saving up money to get a new guitar,” Margo prods me, as she does once a week. “That Fender is not cheap…”

I send a puff of air through my nose. While window shopping one day with Nick and Margo, I had let it slip that I wanted this badass turquoise Fender electric guitar—but it’s about two thousand dollars. If there is one thing you’d better understand about me up front, it’s that I don’t do long shots. Why waste the time? This leather skirt is far more accessible. Maybe someday I’ll take the plunge and get the Fender. But not now. Baby steps, right?

I say this much to Margo. She peers at me sidelong, shakes her head.

“What?” I inquire.

Margo fiddles with the edge of the Twizzler package as if she can’t commit to grabbing another one. “It just seems that you’ve been holding yourself back in strange ways since Adrian left…”

Remember that rot about family again? “What the hell, Margo?”

“I’m just saying,” Margo responds. “Before, you would have been all but selling your plasma for that Fender. Now all you can say is, ‘Baby steps, right?’ I’m the one who should be going what the hell, Della.”

I shake my head. “We shouldn’t be talking about this right now…”

“Trouble, ladies?”

The male voice makes me look up. A tall, dark-skinned young man stands in our midst, mirthfully puzzled.  Bennett Kyle is one of the bartenders at the restaurant and a good friend of ours. He is one of those former nerds who had the foresight to pick up a pair of dumbbells and anything else that would make him cooler. And he is cool, right down to his very core. Well, for a nerd.

My eyes narrow at the cozy scene. Ben sees my look and shakes his head. “Looks like the great Adam Martin strikes again,” he remarks.

I slide my gaze in his direction. “Bennett Kyle, what do you know about this?” I gesture with a blue raspberry licorice stick to Ginger smiling flirtatiously down at Adam in the group of servers.

Ben chuckles and stashes a bottle of Absolut. “Now ladies, you know it is a violation of the man code for me to reveal that sort of information to non-males.”

Margo scoffs. “Really, Ben?”

Ben puts his hands up. “What? I could lose my playa card.”

I throw a linen at him as Margo chokes on her watermelon Twizzler. “Shut up, Kyle. You’re a nerd with a predilection for chemistry and computer technology and would know how to make a stink bomb or hack into the Pentagon before you could get a chick out of her panties. Those so-called playas made your early adolescence hell. Fuck them. You’re on our side. So spill.”

I had him there. “All right, fine.” Ben leans in, forearms on the bar top. We mirror the action as Margo regains her composure. “Word on the street is that Martin and Miss Ginger Snap”—he snaps his fingers for emphasis in a manner reminiscent of Damon Wayans in Men on Film—“have been skulking around here trying to rekindle their old flame.”

Margo’s eyebrows shoot up a full inch. “Say what?” I manage.

“They had an old flame?” Margo asks.

“Before your time,” Ben explains. Which means it occurs before Margo and I started working at Corrigan’s. “Passion, drama—it was like watching Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They kept going back and forth and back and forth…”

I turn around as Ben trails off. Adam and Ginger break away from the group, talking in tones under the bumble of conversation from the other servers. Something inside of me clutches.

“Think they could be on the back part of the cycle?” Margo inquires.

Ben lifts a shoulder. “I mean, that’s open to interpretation…” Margo eyes him as he picks up his towel. “Look, I’m just on the fringes. Don’t know the inside scoop on that one.” Brow lift from Margo. “Nerd, remember?”

“Doesn’t surprise me that the social hierarchy of hospitality resembles high school bullshit,” I mutter, rolling my eyes. As my eyes roll toward Adam and Ginger, Adam turns toward the door, beckoning Ginger with a crooked finger. My eyes narrow.

I tug on Margo’s sleeve. She frowns at me. “What?”

“Let’s follow them,” I suggest.

Ben, polishing a wineglass, cocks an eyebrow. “Whoa, whoa. Wait. Pause before you get all Sydney Bristow up in this piece. Don’t you realize that eavesdropping is wrong on so many levels? Not to mention, you know this is going to turn to shit. This is gonna get ugly, like Gigli-ugly.”

“Look,” I begin, “do you think that assholes like that”—I jerk my thumb in Adam Martin’s direction—“deserve to make ripples in the fabric of our lives without reproach?”

Ben appears flustered. “Now I didn’t say that. What I had said was—”

Margo crosses her arms over her chest. “I think that means Ben isn’t gonna stop us.”

“Good. I’d hate to hurt a friend.” Satisfied, I slide off the stool and head toward the door. I sense Margo behind me.

“Fight on, Charlie’s Angels!” Ben exclaims to our backs. I fight a grin.

Outside, cool November air hits me like an open palm. My pale skin flushes almost instantly. I curse myself for neglecting my coat as a gentle north wind pulls my hair into my eyes.

“You know…” Margo exhales, breath a puff of air.

I level a glare upon my cousin. “Marg, you are not backing out on me now.”

She shakes her head. “That’s not what I mean. You know I got your back. Remember the time we overflowed the toilets in the boys’ locker room senior year? Who dug her hand in with the turd the size of Alaska?”

I fume. “Never gonna let me live that down, will you?”

“I’m just saying. Even if we catch Adam doing something—and the odds of that are pretty good considering—how are we going to tell Emily?”

Emily. I inhale, cold air prickling my lungs like tiny needles. I imagine Emily’s face in my mind, heartbreak in her eyes. Before I can speak, a rustle catches my attention. My gaze, adjusted to the dark, rests on a pair of figures some yards away.

“See?” Margo whispers. “They’re just standing there.”

“You can screw standing up. Some say it’s more fun that way.”

It’s Margo’s turn to roll her eyes. Adam removes a lighter from his pocket and ignites a cigarette.

I blow a lock of black hair out of my eyes so I can see more clearly. The cigarette passes from Adam’s mouth…oh, my jaw drops and my heart stutters…to Ginger’s curved lips.

After a moment in stupefaction, Margo mutters, “They’re sharing spit!” Her voice is laced with awe, as if she cannot believe her eyes.

Mine, meanwhile, narrow to slits. “That better be all they’re sharing.”

As if on cue, Ginger removes the cigarette and her hand falls to her side. She steps forward and up…and those curved red lips land on Adam’s. And he does not protest.

“Or not,” Margo quips to my earlier statement.

Fucking holy shit. Emily is going to have a coronary when she finds out about this…

…But first, I’m gonna kick Adam Martin’s philandering ass.