We always meet here in the meadow with the oak tree. It's the most massive oak I've ever seen. The bark shimmers with a pearl-like hue and the leaves are golden. Not just an autumn gold, but gold! It is nighttime. It's always nighttime here. I can sense a breeze in the air, but it’s not too hot or cold, just a perfect fall night. Golden leaves adorn the earth, nestled with red and orange lying almost hand-placed on the ground. The earth beneath my feet is warm. I dig my toes down deeper, enjoying its warmth.
This is our spot. The place where he comes to see me. I know he can see me because the moonlit sky illuminates the area where I stand like a spotlight. But under the golden oak is shadow cast. I can only see his silhouette.
I’ve never seen his full face. Just his eyes. The look in his crystalline green eyes paralyzes me with awe, fear, endearment, and safety. Why do I feel safe with this man? He stands tall, perhaps over six feet. His shoulders and chest are brawny, but his waist is slender. He stays in the shadows, waiting for me to come closer. But I cannot. There are stirring shadows all around us. He is unmoved. I am afraid.
My fear keeps me from going closer and running into his embrace. I know that he will wrap me in his arms and I will be safe. But I stand still. Frozen.
I take a step forward away from the moonlight, and I feel the earth beneath me shift. No longer am I standing in the autumn meadow of the forest staring at him under the mountain-sized oak tree. My feet are wet. Cold. The air has shifted from a warm breeze that carries his spicy and sweet smell to my nostrils to a cold arctic blast that sends goosebumps throughout my body. I shiver in the freezing wind. The shadows come closer with hyena-like howls mixed with menacing growls.
I must go forward this time. I must commit to this move. This opportunity may never come again. I take a deep breath, grabbing the edges of my gown so I can run toward him. I know he will protect me, but I must make the first move.
His stance has changed. Has he noticed that I'm preparing to run to him? Is he about to run to me? It doesn't matter. The shadows are coming closer. I must run. Now.
I was so close that I could almost touch him this time. Who is he? My mystery man. I could practically smell him. Cinnamon. He smells of cinnamon. Spicy and sweet. Is it even possible to detect aromas in a dream? If not, then I have attained the impossible.
And just that fast it’s over. Again. I missed my opportunity with him again. My phone alarm is ringing like a banshee in my ears. Do I have to wake up?
Early mornings have never been my friend. The sales lady assured me when I purchased my curtains, they would block out the sun, yet I find the light will force its way through my smoky gray linen curtains with all tenacity. To make matters worse, I fell asleep with my earbuds in again. A stupid and lousy habit, I know, but I much prefer to snooze to the sounds of Boney James or Acoustic Alchemy than watch the evening news or better yet, have it watch me as I fall to sleep. My alarm attacked my ears like a reckoning at a grueling 7:45 am. It's not even 8 am.
It's my day off; I shouldn't have to wake up so early. It's my day off, and it's been a long one coming too. I can’t recall the last time I took a day off just for myself apart from being ill. But today isn’t just any day. It is the eve of my wedding day!
Most girls have dreamed of their wedding day since their first day of playing with Barbie and Ken. Not me. I never really thought much about a wedding day, much less a groom to accompany me on such a grand occasion. Losing both of my parents at the tender age of seven assured I didn’t grow up with images of two loving parents. I like to imagine that they were in love while making me. I wish I had them with me today and every day.
My grandmother and Aunt Delia did the best they could to raise me. They did a great job if I must say so myself. I'm a successful art buyer at the most reputable firm in the Washington Metropolitan area. I graduated with honors and had done a decent job being a strong independent woman. Perhaps it’s why I never thought marriage was in the cards for me. Although, I felt guilty just the other day when I found myself singing “I don’t wanna fall in love" by Jane Child on the train on the way home. Not so much because onlookers stared at me for singing loud on the train but because I realized I was singing lyrics to a song that almost invalidated my pending nuptials. I chuckle at the thought of how Jackson would look at me if he witnessed me making a fool of myself in front of strangers. My fiancé is very proper.
Let me get up! Dacari is here! Dang it! My cousin is always so frigging punctual that it irritates me sometimes.
"I only knocked out of courtesy you know," Dacari says as she storms through the front door, smashing her keys on the kitchen island. Oh and look—she’s carrying her big purse! That only means she has that wretched Yorkie with her. Does that dog have to go everywhere she goes?
“I thought you would be ready by now. I sat in the car waiting for you for ten minutes before I decided to come up,” Dacari says in her maternal yet condescending tone.
“Yes, I know what time it is Dacari! I'm exhausted. I worked late last night.”
“Why would you work so late? Can't that place function without you—you know, at least until you're Mrs. Jackson?"
Annoyed that Dacari refuses to use Jackson’s last name, Nash, when referring to my soon-to-be status, I roll my eyes and respond, "Well, I will be away for two weeks, so there's a lot to do to make sure no one calls me for anything while I'm—you know, honeymooning!"
“Yeah whatever,” Dacari says, brushing me off. She rummages through the kitchen fruit bowl and grabs an apple. “We have a busy day ahead of us! Let’s see, we need to get breakfast, head to the spa, pick up your gown and meet Mom for lunch—all by noon! So let’s chop-chop!”
I walk off, deciding that I can either continue this unending tit for tat with Dacari—which she is famous for—or end it. I leave her to feed Doodle apple slices so I can wash up and get dressed. Alas, I opt for one final word.
“You know, Dacari, I am the bride. Which means I can take all the time I want this morning. Right?” I say as I peep around the bathroom door just in time to see her roll her eyes and tease Doodle with the last of the apple slices.
Dacari is so overbearing. She's five years younger than me but likes to act like she's the oldest. Funny enough, her overbearing demeanor is almost loveable, if it weren't for her slight hint of competitiveness that looms through our relationship. Whatever I did she wanted to do, and better. When I made all-county as a long jumper in high school with a 20-2 score, she vowed to break it when she got in high school. Her attempts at besting me always fall short. Much like her legs. At a petite five feet, she couldn't come near to matching my record, much less making the all-county team, but I salute her for trying. Dacari has said if we compared the measurement of our heights to our overall scores, we would be the same on the long jump. I seriously doubt it.
Aunt Delia was protective of Dacari when we were younger, and not much has changed. At twenty-four she still expects Dacari to call or text her when she gets home. My aunt treats her like a glass doll as if my cousin would break. While she didn't dote on her the way she did me, my grandmother was very gentle with Dacari while she was still alive. Perhaps it was because Dacari's father wasn't a part of her life. I'm not sure, but it was clear that Dacari was precious to them. Not to me. I was extremely rough with her until her teenage years. The way she cried when the first boy broke her heart also broke my mine and changed how I saw her. I had never seen anyone react the way she had when she found her first love kissing another girl. She was fragile. She was delicate.
From that moment I decided I would let her win—mostly. I knew most of her antagonism toward me had much to do with my freedom and independence, of which she had none. She still works for my aunt as an interior decorator. I would have thought she would've found a way out from under Delia's thumb by now, but it appears she's become quite comfortable with it. To each their own, I suppose, but it makes her insufferable from time to time.
My aunt and grandmother always treated me as if they expected me to be independent. By the age of twelve, I could cook a rather vast repertoire of dishes, from omelets to meatloaf and even roasted chicken. My grandmother's arthritis limited her hands from making all the great food we loved, so I took auditory instruction from her to help prepare our meals. Meanwhile, my aunt was starting her studio from the ground, which meant a lot of late nights and early mornings. It also meant I had to pick my younger cousin Dacari up from school and take her to after-school activities often. It made me grow up fast. Being an orphan seems to make one independent in the eyes of others. I’ve learned to live with it.
I hear Dacari in the kitchen fussing at me and rushing me to come out of my room. She should be thankful that I’m up this early on my day off. She should also be glad I picked my outfit and accessories out last night, so I wouldn't hold her up trying to figure out what to wear. I'm sure she's only been here a mere fifteen minutes. Our appointment at the spa is at nine thirty this morning. We have more than enough time to grab a light breakfast from the coffee shop on the way to the spa. Besides, I barely have any nails for the technician to polish. They're more like nubs than nails. Oh well, it is what it is.
One last glance in the mirror before heading out to make sure the clothes I picked out with glassy, tired eyes match. I look fairly decent. A bit rumpled compared to Dacari and my aunt, which I'm sure they'll notice. I'm not a big summer girl. Again, too much sun for me. I'm not a big fan of the heat that the Mid-Atlantic brings in late August. I would more willingly stew in an autumn breeze than a summer sweat. , I don't shop well for the summer. No cute maxi dresses or flip-flops are in my arsenal. A purple and yellow peasant top and ripped jeans are my selection of the day. The shirt allows the breeze flow in, and the jeans are plain comfortable. I'll never give them up! I'm only wearing sandals because we're getting our feet done; I suppose that's appropriate.
My grandmother always said a woman's glory was her head. And she meant the whole thing—face and hair. I keep a decent facial regimen, opting for the less is more look. My hair has finally grown back from that awful spring cut. The bronze highlights were perfection; the cut, not so much. At least now I have long coils of bronze and honey brown draping my shoulders in mild layers that look almost purposeful to anyone who didn't witness the wretched cut of the past spring. I'm maintaining my figure on a daily serving of soups and sandwiches. It’s not an actual diet but my typical go-to food choices with such a demanding schedule.
“DAMINA!!!” I hear Dacari yell from the kitchen.
“I’m coming, Dacari! I’m coming!” I yell back and head out of the condo.