THE GIRL SITS IN THE DARK.
The floor of her closet feels cold on her bare legs. The small blade rests in the palm of her open hand like an offering. Why am I not enough?
The house is silent, except for the rhythmic scratching of budding branches tapping on the window in the next room. The girl feels the power of the tiny blade calling her name, and she obeys. It grounds her and brings her release.
Mariah stands outside the closed door, remembering, afraid to enter. She touches the inside of her arm and blinks, and the little girl vanishes.
You pulled through, she tells herself, taking a deep breath of relief as she enters the room of sorrows.
“NEXT IN LINE!” the cashier called out.
Meg’s eyes traveled over the stout man in front
of her, observing his silver hair and the annoyance set into his jaw. He wasn’t happy to be waiting in line either. Her gaze moved down his back and took in the faded jeans and plaid shirt. She guessed he could have just come from a rodeo—if only he had a Stetson in his hand and worn leather boots on his feet. Just then he turned around; he’d felt her scrutiny. She jerked her head to the right and stared into the crowd to show him he was less than interesting.
The line moved, and the man moved forward with it. Now Meg could see the full length of his arms. He was holding a gallon of milk in one hand and a pack of breath mints in the other. What an odd combination, she thought, but decided to release the stranger from her thoughts.
She noticed the sale items displayed along the checkout line. She was tempted to grab the three-piece mini nail lacquer set, a beautiful combination of pastel blues, but the line’s progression saved her from the unnecessary indulgence.
The cashier smiled, looked up, and called out, “Next!”
Meg placed the bottle of anti-inflammatory pills on the counter. She reached inside her back pocket for her credit card. ”Let’s beat cancer together,” read the sign next to the signature pad.
“September is Cancer Awareness Month,” the cashier said, pointing at the sign. “Would you like to make a donation?” She looked at Meg expectantly.
Meg nodded and the cashier made a comment ... or maybe it was a question, but Meg had stopped listening. Her eyes glazed with a cloud of oncoming tears. A monotonous, one-toned symphony pounded her ears.
“How can you stand up against hell?” Meg asked no one in particular. The cashier returned Meg’s card and offered a grateful smile. She was one of those cheery types.
“Have a fabulous day,” she sang after Meg as she turned to leave.
Meg didn’t hear her. She was slipping back to the distant night, a long time ago, when her daughter came into the world. Her premature birth during an emergency Caesarean had saved both her and Meg. Such a miracle, they had thought at the time, not knowing the terror that silently lurked.
“September is Cancer Awareness Month,” Meg repeated out loud to herself as she started home.
September is also the month she buried her daughter.
THE GUESTS MEANDER INTO the luxurious, cus- tom-built residence nuzzled in a Boston suburb. Some enter through the front door, but those more familiar with the house take the side garden entrance. A small group talking by the entryway huddles closer against the cold draft as the front door opens. A couple walks in, and the musky scent of oud fills the air. They linger for a bit by the door, finishing a whispered conversation. He helps her out of her tight lilac jacket and gives her braided ponytail a playful tussle. She smiles, bright red lipstick framing the small gap in her front teeth, as she bends down to unzip her knee-high boots. She sets the boots to the side and opens her handbag. Out pops a pair of shoes, just like in a Mary Poppins scene. She neatly arranges them on the floor, side by side, and steps right in.
This girl clearly had dressed for the October New England weather, thinks Mariah, smiling as she realizes who accompanies her. The stout, ginger-haired man in Mariah’s group turns around. He, too, has noticed the new arrivals.
“Geez, Max,” his raspy voice bounces in unison with his belly pouch. “It’s so good of you to show up!” His perfectly round bald spot gleams on the crown of his head like a targeted helipad.
“C’mon Gus, that reputation is getting old!” the newcomer says dryly.
The two old college friends embrace and slap each others’ backs.
“This is my friend Luna.” Max brings his companion forward, his arm around the small of her back. Her pencil-thin eyebrows line up in alert.
Luna reaches out to shake Gus’s hand, but he quickly pulls her over, planting a loud kiss on her cheek.
“So nice to meet you, Luna,” Gus says, raising his eyebrows at Max. “I appreciate that your taste in women has been refined, old friend.”
Luna smiles shyly, readjusting her glasses to try to hide pink blotches forming on her cheeks, and Max sends Gus a warning gaze.
Mariah steps forward, inserting herself between the two friends. Even though it’s been more than a year since they last saw each other, clearly nothing has changed. He may have worked in the grownup job of engineer at a pharmaceutical company since grad school, but clearly Gus is stuck in his college years. She likes to think of him as a radiant sunflower always turning his head upward, searching. She is used to his impertinence and lack of finesse, but she senses Luna’s discomfort. She sticks out her hand in welcome.
“Hi Luna, I’m Mariah. I’m so glad to meet you.”
She reaches for Max, giving him a gentle hug and whispering, “It’s just our old wonderful Gus being himself. Keep breathing and cut him some slack.”
If Gus is a vibrant, attention-seeking sunflower, she thinks of Max as a calla lily, requiring minimum upkeep.
“The protector of women’s honor,” Eleanor, the fourth college friend, had named him.
Mariah takes Luna’s arm and sashays her toward the kitchen, deciding she needed a strong cocktail if she is to endure an evening listening to Gus. She maneuvers around the crowded space until she spots the citrusy cocktail dancing in a glass pitcher. She scans the counter for a margarita glass and, seeing none, grabs one of the water tumblers arranged in a neat row by the fridge. Noticing someone had made a spicy mixture of salt and cayenne pepper, Mariah adds a rim on Luna’s glass and swiftly pours some of the cocktail. Handing Luna her drink, she reaches for another glass.
Why the hell not, she reasons, making herself a matching drink.
“To Max,” she says, clinking Luna’s glass.
Mariah sips the refreshing liquid, savoring the spicy residue dancing on her tongue.
“Thank you,” Luna says and takes a long chug. ”Tasty.” The effect of the extra aged tequila is immediate. The splotches on her cheeks appear again, but this time Gus is not to blame.
Mariah finds a loose corner of cuticle and pulls at it eagerly with her teeth as she watches Luna stare into the crowd. Her large black eyes squint into the sea of faces as if the round, red- framed spectacles were failing to do their job. She is searching for him, Mariah smiles into her drink. Please make him happy, she pleads silently to the petite figure with the embroidered velvet lace choker.
She had known about Luna for a while now. Max’s old room- mate dated her sister a few years back. Max had a big crush on her then, but Luna had been in a relationship at the time. Mariah remembered a few months back when Max called her all excited. He had reconnected with his old roommate soon after moving back to the area. “I asked him about Luna, and what do you know?” Mariah remembered how thrilled he had been to find out Luna was single. “I should give her a call. Right?” he asked.
Luna’s bright smile indicates she has found Max. Mariah follows her gaze and watches Max easing his way through the crowd to the kitchen. He had left Gus behind, halfway through a story, she is certain. Max nods at Luna and locks eyes with Mariah.
“Thanks for rescuing Luna,” he whispers to her, planting a kiss on her cheek.
He steps away and puts his arm around Luna, who is looking a bit braver and ready to conquer an evening of strangers. He moves a strand of hair hanging loosely over her eye and taps her nose playfully.
“Thanks. That’s much better,” she says, reaching over for his hand while bringing her drink to his lips.
Mariah notes the tenderness of her gesture.
“Delicious, right? I seem to have fallen into the capable hands of the Margarita Pro, here.” She motions to Mariah.
Mariah nods, her ears registering the dry, screechy voice that pauses strategically, enunciating key syllables in each word, demanding the listener’s alertness and attention. She repeats this speaking pattern in her mind and wonders whether it would become tiresome for the listener.
Luna’s hand gestures become more animated with every statement as if delivering an unspoken message: Don’t let my size or my voice fool you.
Mariah diverts her attention to the loud clicking of approach- ing high heels. She recognizes that sound, a proclamation of confidence and demand for attention. She stares into the happy, green eyes of her dearest friend Eleanor, the party host and birthday girl, her “Kiss Me. I’m the Birthday Girl” tiara securely fastened into her expertly styled hair. Her thirty-three-year-old friend looks just as she did when she was eighteen.
“Can I have one of those?” Eleanor motions to the drink in Mariah’s hand. She hadn’t noticed the man at Mariah’s side. When she does, she cries out: “Max! You bastard! You came!” She throws her arms around Max and does a typical Eleanor- excited dance. Without missing a beat, she pulls Luna over and sandwiches her in between, her face lost deeply into the groove of Eleanor’s abounding bosom.
“I am so happy you are both here!” She can hardly contain her excitement.
“Mariah, don’t you just adore Luna?” she asks breezily.
A pang of jealousy bolts through Mariah. Clearly, Eleanor and Luna had previously met. Her eyes meet Eleanor’s, who immediately realizes Mariah’s discovery.
“Oh, come on! Stop it Mariah! I bumped into Max and Luna just yesterday at the mall. It’s not like Max chose me over you.” She sticks her tongue out at Mariah.
“What? I didn’t say anything,” Mariah replies, feeling relieved. A couple of women make their way into the group. Mariah searches her memory for any recognition, but nothing registers. The oldest woman hugs Eleanor and wishes her a happy birthday. The other woman looks much too young to be drinking, yet she parades her almost empty beer expertly. Mariah directs the young guest toward the beer bucket and then proceeds into the yard, the soft squeak of the glass sliding door muffled by the voices trapped inside.
Mariah takes a full breath of the crisp, clear night and wraps her scarf around her neck, being careful to allow the cascade of her unraveling curls to rest on her shoulders. The stars are out, imposing their presence, forcing her to look up. A small group gathers around the fire pit. Eleanor had blankets and cushions out for the guests. That’s her friend Eleanor, all details and elegance.
Mariah finds an empty spot on a blanket. She considers getting up and grabbing an extra pillow, but quickly discards the idea as greedy. Her eyes adjust to the darkness, narrowing to inspect the silhouettes around the yard. She registers a sudden sweet earthy scent and is not surprised by the outstretched arm in front of her face. Someone is passing a joint around, but she refuses. The hand ventures over to the man sitting to her right on a beach chair, both legs stretched out resting on not one, but two, large pillows. Mariah notices that he, too, passes on the reefer.
“I haven’t touched one of those in a while,” the man says.
Mariah realizes his comment is for her benefit. She tilts her head and offers an acknowledging “ah.”
“Andrew and I grew up together. I haven’t seen him in ages. I moved to New York City right after college and life just got busy.” He pauses for a moment, reflecting. “It was Andrew who introduced me to the hallucinatory world of pot,” he adds with a chuckle. He pushes the pillows aside and brings his legs closer, knees popped up to the sky.
Mariah listens to this stranger narrate his youthful experimentation.
“Weed and booze, a young man’s best bud,” he says. He seems to delight at the memories of a younger self. The glow of the fire highlights the twinkle in his eyes and the mischievous smile as he recounts some of his experiences under narcotic influences.
“Riding the Jamaican waves high on pot and magic mush- rooms.“ He stops himself, as if he were going to say something more, but thinks better of it.
Mariah nods but can’t relate. She had been a cigarette smoker in college. It had started her junior year in high school as a social activity, but it had escalated quickly into an addiction by her sophomore year in college.
It’s my anxiety medicine, she had called it. Smoking pot was something she chose to avoid out of fear. She knew many kids in college who experimented with recreational drugs, some less harmful like pot, but others as detrimental as heroin or cocaine. Those reckless actions had affected the academic performance of many of her peers.
“It’s hard to picture Andrew being the corrupting type,” Mariah comments, glancing over at Eleanor’s sophisticated and proper husband, his silhouette away from the fire.
“The thing about Andrew,” the stranger says, “well, he was a bright kid. He was also very popular, not that he tried to be. Kids just felt comfortable around him. We all went to him for help with the hard courses like Bio and Chem. He was like a big brother to me.”
He leans back in his chair and gives a small chuckle. “One day we were hanging out at his house and he just rolled up some grass and lit it up. He handed it to me without even looking. He assumed I knew what to do with it.”
“Well, did you?” Mariah asks playfully, fascinated by the story of a younger Andrew.
“I pretended that I did. If he knew my bluff, he didn’t call me on it. Then again, that’s Andrew.” Mariah detects a sense of pride in his smile.
A shower of bright embers crackle, sending shooting sparks into the night. Mariah catches a glimpse of the stranger’s face, unprepared for the electric shock that runs unapologetically down the length of her body at the sight of his sensual lips.
Mariah stares back at the fire. She shifts her weight from the left to the right side of her buttocks to relieve the arousal trapped in her pelvic region.
“I’m Jake, by the way.” The stranger offers a stretched-out hand, and Mariah feels her heart pounding rapidly. She begs her ribcage to remain silent.
“I’m Mariah. Eleanor and I went to college together.”
Mariah watches his mouth move as if he were savoring the syllables that make up her name. “What a beautiful name,” he says, his feline eyes scanning her whole.
Mariah offers a silent gratitude to the darkness for hiding the rosy pigment warming her cheeks.
“Well, lady Mariah,” Jake bows in reverent fashion. “I’m going in for another drink. May I bring you back a refill?”
Mariah laughs at the title of LADY. She can’t remember if anyone has called her that before. She surrenders her empty glass, unaware she had taken her last sip, and stares at the tall figure walking away. She looks at the empty beach chair still surrounded by Jake’s mystic aura and considers whether she should place her scarf on it as a way to claim the spot. The way a schoolgirl would save a seat for her crush. Her attention turns to the crackling embers performing in the fire, dancing and waving before rising into the blackness of the night.
Jake makes his way back with two drinks in hand. Mariah’s eyes follow the movement of his steps as he approaches her.
“Are you here with someone?” he asks, handing her the drink.
She lets the question linger as she reaches up to grab the cocktail, noticing it is in a proper margarita glass with a spice rim and all.
“I am not,” she replies, knowing her voice sounds hesitant. “What about brunch in the city tomorrow?” he asks.
Mariah considers his question for a moment. There is a drift of presumption in the way he asked, yet she is willing to play along. She finds Jake’s directness rather intriguing and refreshing. She much prefers this to the annoying requests she often gets from single guys to go out on a date with all the melodrama involved.
“I’m not sure. I think I might have stuff going on,” she replies, hoping for a convincing comeback.
“Come on, it’s just brunch. I’m flying back to New York in the late afternoon,” he pleads, holding her gaze.
“Alright. But I get to pick the place.” She smiles, breathing the seductive air around him.
She stares at him in wonder. What’s behind the charming smile, Jake? She chooses to ignore the small voice flashing a Casanova alert.
WHEN MARIAH ENTERED KINDERGARTEN, she was quickly diagnosed as a selective mute. When her parents picked her up at the end of the day, the
teachers told them Mariah hadn’t spoken a single word. This silence continued for several weeks. It was confounding to the teachers, as well as Mariah’s parents, that she refused to speak while the students were in the classroom. Once the students had left for the day, however, and just grown-ups were in the room, Mariah chatted away nonstop, her voice hoarse from lack of use.
Her parents were called into the school to meet with the special education team, where they were introduced to the world of selective mutism.
“It is a childhood anxiety disorder and will very likely remedy itself with minimum support,” the special education team assured them. The team went on to describe a plan of action involving special education services as well as direct instruction by the classroom teacher.
Mariah’s parents sat there, surrounded by strangers, unsure how to react. Her mother reached for the tissue box to dab away her tears, unable to ask any of the questions rushing through her head. It was her father who took control of the situation, asking the simplest of questions: “How do we help her?”
“She can start meeting twice a week with the behavioral therapist at the school,” one special education teacher offered. “We will increase the sessions to three times a week once the paperwork goes through.”
The special education team also recommended medication to address her anxiety.
“Let’s put the medication on hold,” her father said. “Let’s give therapy a chance first.” In the end, her parents had walked out of the meeting armed with a folder packed with articles and resources to help their daughter overcome the disorder.
The school intervention continued into second grade, where Mariah gradually began to show improvements. By the time she completed third grade, Mariah had blossomed into a confident student. She had mastered her phobia. Her ease around people of all ages began to impact her life outside of the classroom as well. One day, on their walk home, she asked her parents to sign her up for the town youth basketball league. Her parents stared at each other in disbelief. “Who is this kid and what has she done with our daughter?” her mother mouthed with delight.
Mariah had heard kids in her grade talk about their teams at recess. They brought basketball and soccer balls to school and organized their own pickup games. One day she happened to be standing by, watching them play, when a tall boy with bright red hair called out, “We’ll take that kid,” and pointed at her with a swift move of his chin.
She found herself in the midst of a basketball game. She was unaware of any rules and was clumsy at dribbling the ball, but her ability to jump and forcefully grab rebounds earned her a spot on future teams.
THE EXPOSED BRICK interior of the restaurant conjures up the feel of a rustic old cottage in Sicily. Their table offers a clear view of Bostonians and adventurous tourists navigating their way down the always vibrant Salem Street.
Two glasses of half-consumed Bloody Marys grace the now empty plates of tiramisu French toast and frittata.
Mariah breathes in the aromatic kitchen smells as her eyes trace the row of large jars of olives adorning a corner of the bar. She reaches over and grabs the bud vase with the single wildflower and takes a whiff. Her eyes follow the intricate patterns decorating the thin petals, while her ears welcome the cheery thrums of the mandolin and guitar that bounce happily in the background.
“If I were to pick my own name it would be Rose, although it would break my mother’s heart if she knew of that secret desire.” The conversation had morphed from the typical icebreakers of the weather and the restaurant’s friendly atmosphere to more personal topics.
“Why the name Rose?”
“I once came upon one of those baby-naming books. I must
have been twelve or thirteen years old. I remember feeling like it somehow described me,” Mariah says, her hands fidgeting a green linen napkin into a disastrous origami shape.
Her eyes survey her gnawed nails and she lowers the napkin to her lap, where she continues the folding game. She thinks about her name, the cause of a family feud, a small square on the fabric of her family identity quilt. Her grandmother, a black southerner who grew up under Jim Crow laws, had felt strongly about the name Maya, a tribute to the poet, but at the time of her birth, the name Mariah prevailed, and even the mention of Maya Angelou would forever bring a sense of discomfort to the adults in her life.
Jake stares at Mariah expectantly. Mariah hadn’t thought about the name Rose and its meaning in a long time, so she had to pause and search her memory. She gives her eyeglasses a gentle lift to readjust them to the bridge of her nose. She only realized she was wearing them this morning on her way to the train to meet him. Mariah had been up early organizing her files for an upcoming settlement meeting on her current civil action case.
I should turn around to put in my contact lenses, Mariah thought, but felt silly at the idea of going to such trouble. Who am I trying to impress? Jake had noticed the frames as soon as she walked into the restaurant. “Nice,” he commented, pointing at his own eyes. She wasn’t sure if she felt relieved or regretful.
“Well, the name is supposed to mean tolerant, methodical, and someone who believes in law and order. People who know me will attest to that.” She is, after all, an attorney for a small law firm charged with constitutional rights cases. “It also means a person whose biggest challenge is uncertainty; trust me, that’s me. Of course, it also means all these other sweet things like generous, sympathetic, and compassionate. Well, those are qualities I aspire to. But honestly, it wasn’t the meaning so much that drew me to the name, as it was its history.”
He sits with his arms on the table, clearly interested in hearing her personal revelations, so she continues.
“Most people are familiar with the rose as the flower of choice to signify love. But its meaning goes beyond love; it also signifies politics, conflict, and war.”
She takes the napkin from her lap and folds it, little layers in different directions, thinking maybe she can make a rose. But she can’t. She places the napkin on the table, softly patting it to stop her fidgeting.
“Roses are one of the oldest specimens of flowers. They go back about forty million years. Then you add the symbolism of the red rose and the white rose in the fighting between York and Lancaster to control England. They called it ...”
“The War of the Roses,” Jake completes her thought.
“That’s right. That last piece sealed the deal for me.”
“So much beauty and controversy wrapped up together,”
Jake says. He pauses a moment, stroking his cocktail glass, then asks: “Are the thorns to symbolize how tough you are? Like, ‘don’t be fooled by my beauty’ kind of thing?”
Mariah laughs. “Maybe there are some of those self- defense presumptions there too. Or maybe the thorns are just a reminder that we are not perfect. Or that there is beauty and pain in the world and they can coexist and that is OK.” She suddenly realizes how much she has talked and shifts the focus away from her. “Anyway, what about you? Is Jake short for Jacob?”
“No, just Jake,” he says, clearly hoping to end his explanation. Mariah sips of her drink and puts the glass down, nudging him along. “And?”
“My mom came from a Jewish family, but they weren’t very observant, so Mom and her siblings didn’t grow up with the Jewish religion or traditions. My mom named me Jake. Perhaps that was the closest she came to acknowledging her Jewish roots. So, yeah, just Jake.”
Mariah senses the discomfort in his voice so she reels in the conversation. “I find it fascinating how people choose names for their kids. And how culture plays a big role for many families. I had a friend in high school named Osmar. His name was generated through a combination of the first syllables of his father’s and his mother’s names, Oscar plus Mariela. It’s a tradition in many Hispanic cultures.”
Mariah eyes Jake curiously. She can easily read the grin on his face, so she knows he’s interested. But there is something distracting about his gaze, like he isn’t completely in the moment with her. Or maybe he’s just trying to get his head around all of this, just as she is.
“Are you in love with someone else?”
Mariah rubs her face, surprised by Jake’s directness.
“Are you always this forward with the ladies?” she asks, aware
of how the deep tone of his voice massages her ear canal.
“I don’t meet ladies very often,” he says, unapologetically
Definitely a charmer, Mariah thinks. Yet, there is something
in the way he is looking at her, the intensity of his stare, that makes her feel exposed—or is it wanted? And then there is that feverish chemistry from the night before that still lingers. There is no mistaking the physical attraction. But there also is some- thing else brewing.
She clears her throat, a habit of hers whenever something very personal is about to emerge.
“I was engaged to my best friend. We went to college together. We had an eight-year engagement that ended last year. He is a molecular geneticist who leads a research team at the University of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.” She looks at her glass and swills the last bit of tasty liquid, all that remains of her Bloody Mary.
Before she is aware of it, Mariah shares her life story. She is surprised at how natural it feels to talk with Jake about Rafael. She shares how she had loved and still cares deeply for him. But she values being her own person, pursuing her passions and interests without having to ever justify or explain her choices. It is true that she missed being in a relationship at times, but it is also true that she didn’t regret her choice to be on her own.
“It turns out that long-distance romance was not for me,” Mariah finishes by way of an explanation.
Mariah watches Jake hang on to every word, as if missing the least little piece of information could prevent the earth from spinning. But she is also distracted by his piercing blue eyes, which make her skin sizzle. She isn’t used to this level of physical attraction. She attempts to redirect the conversation with the hope of giving her body time to cool down. A waiter stops by to refill their water glasses, and Mariah welcomes the distraction and quickly recovers.
“Left or right wing in politics?”
“What! I am offended.” Jake raises his bristly eyebrows. “Is this question a test?”
“Well, it could be.” Mariah shoots him a devious smile. She is enjoying Jake’s playfulness.
Beware of long-distance relationships, warns her brain, but her body isn’t listening.
“Are you interested in gauging my political and social ideology, or discovering which political party I tend to vote for?” His grin clearly shows how much he enjoys the taunting.
Mariah tilts her head gently, silently inviting him to continue.
“I believe women have the right to decide for themselves anything pertaining to their own bodies. I believe people should have the freedom to marry the person they love. I believe it is the role of the government to protect civil liberties and human rights. I believe in equal opportunities for all. I believe weapons should only be in the hands of the military. Should I go on about welfare, immigration, and euthanasia?”
Her pleased smile tells him he has, indeed, passed the test.
After a four-hour conversation and a delicious brunch, Mariah stands. She feels a pang of regret sinking in as she stretches out her hand and says, “Well, Just Jake, it’s been really nice to meet you.” Jake springs up in one quick jump, completes the handshake, and adds, “Wait, the day is not over yet.”
As he turns around, he takes in the empty room, devoid of the large crowd of diners that had been there when they first arrived. He looks perplexed when he realizes brunch is over. He doesn’t seem ready to say goodbye to Mariah.
“It’s such a beautiful afternoon,” he says. “What about a walk over to that famous place for some fresh cannolis?”
Mariah’s sweet tooth does a happy cheer at the thought of the delicious treat, then resolves to listen to the continuous warning signals her brain is sending.
“Sorry,” Mariah says. “Look. This has been so very pleasant. I have really enjoyed your company, but you live in New York City and I live in Boston.” She gives him an apologetic look.
Despite the fact the waiter is hovering, hoping to clear the room, Jake takes his chair and turns it around and straddles it. He is so close Mariah can smell his aftershave. Instead of being overpowering, it is a clean, masculine, mate-attracting musky scent that her olfactory receptors find seductive.
Jake peers into her eyes and Mariah realizes how young he seems. Panic strikes her as her brain reprimands her with an accusatory finger: You are at least five years his senior! What are you thinking?
His eyes hold her gaze as if he is trying to decipher her internal conflict. With a sudden move, Jake pushes away from the table.
“Wait here.” He touches both her shoulders and a volt of electricity roots her to the spot.
Jake pulls his phone from a vest pocket and disappears out of the restaurant. Mariah rolls her eyes and smiles. It has been a long time since she has felt like a schoolgirl. Men no longer awaken in her this type of excitement, the sensation that love lurks around the corner, and that before you know it, the chase is over and done with and love has you all wrapped up. It is true she’d found love with Rafael. But it was a love SHE had chased. Being chased by love is a totally new sensation.
Jake makes his way back to the table, a boyish grin on his face.
“What? Did you change your flight to tomorrow?”
“No. I just gave my boss my two-week notice.”
She shoots him a quizzical look.
“Lady Rose, it appears you will not have an excuse to deny me
a second date since I will soon be a resident of the wonderful city of Boston.” A triumphant smile spreads across his face.