ALTER EGO IN A RED TIE by Lotis Cervantes

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Sara and I were dating for almost two years now and everything had been going really well.

Until two days ago…

‘Will you marry me?’

We were celebrating her promotion to manager in the bookstore she’s been working in since we met, and the question came after my nth orgasm (I lost count).

I felt amazing. And then…

‘Will you marry me?’

Suddenly, my mouth went dry and my body felt cold.

The passionate heat escaped my being like a deer running for dear life.

She opened the drawer in the nightstand and took out a small black box but before she could show me what was inside, I untangled myself from her embrace.

I ran to the bathroom where I looked at my pale face in the mirror.

My hazel eyes were green with fear.

‘Are you okay?’ I heard her voice behind the closed door.

‘Yeah,’ I lied.

I was not okay.

Why would she even ask that question?

The very first time we met, we were both in a bar, sitting by ourselves, each of us nursing a broken heart.

My fiancé just broke off our engagement because he realized he wasn’t ready to settle down.

‘I was pressured and it’s not fair to you, Nat,’ he reasoned.

I asked if it was just his excuse because there was someone else.

There was no one, he insisted.

His two sisters vouched for his words.

They said they were sorry for me.

They confirmed that their domineering mother had been pushing him to ask the question. He was the only single person in their family. His mother kept reiterating that it was time he asked to marry me—that it was time he ‘asked for my hand in marriage,’ her exact words—so that he would have someone to take care of him.

Now, when I think of his reason for asking me, I’m glad that we didn’t go through with it.

Why should I have to take care of him, of anyone anyway?

He was a grown-up.

If he was going to marry me, it should be because he loved me and not because he wanted a caregiver.

But before I got to that realization, I drowned myself in countless shots of tequila.

The bar in which I was drowning myself—or at least my sorrows—was unfamiliar. I was avoiding the places I used to go to with my ex.

I didn’t want to cross paths with someone I know and hear another ‘Oh, Nat, we just heard, so sorry.’

I was humiliated enough.

That night, I only wanted to forget my misery.

I was well into my nth shot (I lost count) when a woman with very short hair sat beside me.

My peripheral vision, although slowly turning blurry, was impressed with what I saw.

She was wearing an unbuttoned navy blue suit, cream-coloured shirt, and a red tie.

Bold, I thought to myself.

I drank the tequila I was holding and then had a sudden urge to turn from where I was seated to look around the bar.

I had never seen so many women in one space in my life before.

When I realized where I was, I burst out laughing.

The woman shot me a glance.

I laughed so hard that other people began to look my way.

‘Are you okay?’ I heard the woman ask while I wiped the tears from my eyes.

‘No, I’m not!’ I blurted.

Without meaning to, I began to cry.

‘Oh…kay,’ the woman said to me when I started bawling.

The scene I made attracted attention again. I forced myself into silence, and with tear-soaked eyes, I scanned the room.

Everywhere, happy people. Dancing, kissing. Having fun.

I wanted to run away. Quickly. I stood up and lost my footing before I could make the first step.

The woman in the red tie caught me before I fell and embarrassed myself even more.

But at the time, I didn’t quite appreciate that.

‘Let… go… of… me,’ I slurred.

‘I would like to do that but I won’t,’ she replied. ‘Why don’t I call you a cab?’

She had one arm around me.

With her body so close to mine, I caught a whiff of her perfume.

She smelled like… linens.

Soft, clean, I-want-to-stay-in-bed-with-you-longer linen.

Even in my alcohol-addled mind, I knew there was no way I would get in bed with this gorgeous woman.

Or so I thought.

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I woke up the next day in an unfamiliar room wearing nothing but my underwear.

Oh shit!

I got up and tried to remember what I happened the previous night.

The woman!

What the hell did I do? I would later learn that I threw up on my clothes, my shoes and everywhere else.

I moved so fast that the room started spinning.

I held on to the bedpost to steady myself.

Oh Nat! I thought to myself.

Alcohol was never your friend.

When are you going to learn?

I sat on the bed and thought of what to do when I heard a gentle knock on the door.

‘Are you awake?’ The deep and raspy voice was familiar.

‘Y… yes,’ I answered.

‘Can I come in?’

‘No!’ I yelled.

‘Why not?’ she countered.

‘You know why,’ I replied.

‘Oh yeah. Why don’t you just grab some clothes from the closet? I think we’re about the same size.’

Yeah, right. I thought.

I might have been plastered last night but I could tell that she was taller.

She was wearing flats and she still towered over my five foot six frame.

‘Are you cool with that?’ she spoke again.

‘It’s cool,’ I replied.

‘If you don’t come out in five minutes, I’m coming in,’ she warned.

I stood up and walked to the closet.

There were suits of different colours and fabrics. And a lot of red ties.

I found a pair of blue sweatpants and a gray cotton shirt.

I was right about the height difference—I had to fold up the hem of her pants more than two inches.

But I was dressed and out of the bedroom within my five minute deadline.

The woman was sitting in the dining table, reading a newspaper.

My peripheral vision wasn’t lying.

She was gorgeous as hell.

Tall, tan, young, lovely.

Tall and tan, young and lovely.

Tall and tan and young and lovely.

The words played in my mind on a loop, like a sweet, uninvited refrain.

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That first unusual meeting led to coffee, then to one dinner and then another and another, until I realized that I was falling in love with Sara.

It was surreal. Not because she was also a woman. But because she got me. She got me so completely.

I admired her quiet strength.

She was the antithesis to my unquenchable fire.

Early on, she told me that the reason she was on the bar was because she was mourning  her heartache.

It had been a year since her ex left her for a man.

‘I wasn’t surprised. She told me she was bi,’ Sara explained. ‘But when your heart is set on spending your life with only one person only to find out that she doesn’t ultimately share that goal, it kinda sucks, you know.’

I told her about my ex and his reason why he proposed to me.

‘It does suck!’ I agreed.

My initial reaction to my evolving feelings for Sara was fear.

I knew who she is but did I know who I was?

Undeniably, since we met, I moved from heartbreak to happiness.

I was still moving on—it was a long process—but having Sara by my side made it easier.

When I cried from the pain of my failed engagement, she was there with a box of Kleenex in hand.

When I was terrified that I would never find someone to love me, she calmed my fear by telling me what was beautiful and good about me.

‘It’s his loss that he changed his mind,’ Sara told me one time.

‘Yes, it is, because I’m a very good cook!’

We laughed at the inside joke.

There was something uncomplicated between us.

It was beautiful. And I loved it.

So when I discovered that I want more than just friendship from her, I panicked.

I was concerned with losing everything good with us.

My terror-stricken heart decided to do what I thought was best.

I left.

Not just her.

The country.

My trip to Thailand was hot and disconcerting.

I left Canada but carried heavy emotional baggage.

Sara must be furious that I left, I thought, on the way to the plane, on the plane, on the hot Thai tarmac, everywhere I stepped.

I didn’t tell her where I was going.

I didn’t tell her I was leaving.

During my visits to Thailand’s Buddhist temples, I begged the gods for guidance.

Did they give it? On the third day, I knew.

I was in love.

What else did I need to know or to feel?

I spent the remaining days of my two-week vacation in peace.

The blues of the ocean were more vibrant.

The sand beneath my feet was warm and comforting.

The trek to the mountains was less daunting.

My heart was joyful and couldn’t wait to get back.

I looked forward to seeing Sara.

I held on to this thought till my plane touched down in Canada.

Being missing in action, however, had consequence.

Sara wasn’t pleased to see me.

‘You don’t just disappear and assume that when you come back, you’ll be welcomed with open arms,’ she said to me when I came over to her apartment.

‘I know that and I’m sorry,’ I said.

She was sitting on the couch across from me, cold and distant.

What could I say? Only one thing.

‘I’m in love with you,’ I said.

The creases in her forehead deepened and her eyes studied me for a long time.

‘What did you say?’ Her tone wasn’t angry.

‘Do I really need to repeat it?’

‘I wanted to make sure I heard you right,’ she replied.

Instead of saying it, I crossed the space between us and kissed her lips.

She welcomed the move by opening her mouth and deepening the kiss with her tongue.

Before I lost myself in her kiss, I moved away.

‘I think you heard what I said,’ I teased.

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The beginning of a new love is always wonderful and filled with possibilities.

Sara and I loved each other. Were committed to each other.

But.

‘I don’t want to get married,’ I told her.

‘Why not?’ Her face didn’t show any signs of disappointment, just curiosity. ‘Is it because of what happened to you before?’

‘I want to marry for the right reasons,’ I answered.

‘Am I not the right reason?’ she countered.

‘It’s not that, Sara.’

‘So what is it then?’

I didn’t answer.

I couldn’t tell her the truth.

I couldn’t bear to admit the humiliation I felt when my engagement was cancelled.

Going through that rejection was a blow to my ego and my identity as a woman.

I questioned my worth.

I blamed myself.

My self-respect was shattered.

Even though I knew, rationally, it wasn’t my fault, the damage was done.

There was always the nagging fear that it could happen again.

I wanted to protect myself and to do that, I swore off marriage. Or at least, put it off into the very, very distant future.

‘Can we at least revisit it when the time comes?’ Sara’s smile melted my heart.

‘Okay,’ I answered.

So now. She did.

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I leaned on the door and listened for sounds from the bedroom.

Sara must have fallen asleep.

I turned the tap on and washed my face.

Sara.

Sara was always a step ahead of me.

There was an empty space in her closet for my clothes for when I spend the night with her.

There were two toothbrushes in her bathroom sink.

There was a spare key ready for when… if I ever decided to move in with her.

Sara.

There was no doubt that she loved me.

Then why was I so scared to take the next step?

I opened the bathroom door and stepped outside.

The night lamp was on and the bed was empty.

There was a post-it note on top of the headboard with the small black box on top of it.

I felt a punch in my gut as I picked up the yellow paper.

Sara’s handwriting.

‘When you’re ready.’

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When I came back from Thailand and Sara was livid that I left without a word, I understood that she was worried but couldn’t fully empathize with her.

Now that I couldn’t get a hold of her and my calls were going directly to voicemail, I knew how she felt.

Desperate for contact, answers, I went to the bookstore.

‘She’s in California,’ her assistant told me.

‘For how long?’

The girl with the thick rounded glasses eyed me suspiciously.

‘Look, we had a misunderstanding and I’m worried.’

‘She’s flying back tonight, I think.’

‘Do you know what time?’

‘Around 8-ish?’

I hugged her and left.

I’ve never been one for grand gestures.

Even when my ex proposed, he knew not to hire people for a flash mob.

We were having a quiet dinner and the ring wasn’t in the champagne glass or dessert but in the pocket of the coat he was wearing.

Declaring my love for Sara was my boldest act.

Confirming my love… what could I do?

At the airport, I paced the room, nervous.

I checked the flight schedules countless times to make sure that the information I received was legit.

True enough, there was a flight from San Francisco that was arriving at 8:23 p.m.

‘On schedule,’ the display board assured me.

I sat in the waiting lounge opposite the black and white monitor, watching the flow of people coming in.

My palms were sweaty and my heart was racing.

I wasn’t sure of what I’m doing but I knew what I wanted.

What if you’re too late? a voice inside my head whispered.

I pushed the thought aside.

It’s going to be fine, I said to myself.

I checked my watch.

In fifteen minutes, Sara’s plane would be here.

Every second dragged on.

What if she rejected me?

God!

I didn’t know how I would take it. Would I survive?

When it happened the first time, I was devastated but it wasn’t my fault.

Having someone to blame helped.

If Sara refused, I would only have myself to blame.

She was the right reason.

I looked at the monitor again and saw that the plane from San Francisco had arrived.

I stood up and walked in front of the exit door, quivering with fear and anticipation.

The door opened. One by one, the passengers came out and were greeted by their loved-ones.

No Sara.

What if her flight changed?

The doubts fueled my anxiety.

I stood next to a woman who was also watching the door.

A red-haired bearded man came out and she walked to meet him.

The two of them kissed.

More and more people came. Then fewer. Fewer. A trickle.

My heart pounded and my hope waned.

The door closed and most of the new arrivals were gone.

My shoulders slumped in dismay.

I watched the door, wishing it would open again.

I wished for Sara to appear in front of me.

She didn’t.

I turned away.

Voices.

Sara?

I turned around just as Sara came out, the flight crew behind her.

My eyes watered, and my breath stopped.

Just like on the day we met, she was wearing an unbuttoned navy blue suit, cream-coloured shirt, and a red tie.

Hands shaking, I raised the poster I brought with me.

‘Nat?’ she looked at my face and then at the neon pink poster.

SARA, YOU ARE

ALL THE RIGHT REASONS.

WILL YOU MARRY ME?

The pilots and flight attendants were looking up as well.

A guy I hired to play the song ‘I’m yours’ was standing beside me with his guitar. I forgot to cue him, but it didn’t matter. He was strumming and singing, but neither of us was paying any attention to him.

‘Is it a yes?’ I asked.

She didn’t say a word.

Instead, she walked to where I was standing and drowned me in her kiss.

Lotis Cervantes was born in the Philippines and adopted by Canada. You can find some of her work on Wattpad at Wattpad.com/user/ LCCervantes.

text © Lotis Cervantes 2017

photography ©  Jennifer Weihmann

used with permission; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

ABOUT THE PROJECT:

SCREW CHOCOLATE: 14 Queer Valentines To Help You Survive February 14 is a collaborative project by YYC Queer Writers. We get together intermittently to… write. Also, laud our lovers. Commiserate about our exes. Read each other what we wrote. Explain what we want to write. Try to justify why we aren’t writing it. Go home and write it. Come back. Share it… repeat.

TABLE OF CONTENTS  VALENTINES

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curated by M. Jane Colette

photography by Jennifer Weihmann

 NOW UP:

Valentine 1: Mountains & Moments by T

Valentine 2: Karma, in Pronouns by Marzena Czarnecka

Valentine 3: The Long Commute by L. Sara Bysterveld

Valentine 4: It Happens Like This by Dana Stan

Valentine 5: Try by M. Jane Colette

Valentine 6: Sunrise by Brooke Nicholas

Valentine 7: Want by T

Valentine 8: Get The Fuck Up & Love by Dallas Barnes

Valentine 9: Elizabeth by Nola Sarina

Valentine 10: Instructions by PW Zelli

Valentine 11: Unmentionables by Alyssa Linn Palmer

Valentine 12: The Shy Girl’s Guide to Sexting by M. Jane Colette

Valentine 13: Delivery by Elisa Kae

Valentine 14: Alter Ego In A Red Tie by Lotis Cervantes

WANT TO LISTEN?

You can listen to several of our sultry Valentines, as read by voice artist Elisa Kae:

Valentine 1 Audio: Mountains & Moments by T

Valentine 5 Audio: Try by M. Jane Colette

Valentine 7 Audio: Want by T

Valentine 12 Audio: The Shy Girl’s Guide to Sexting by M. Jane Colette

Valentine 13 Audio: Delivery by Elisa Kae

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY FROM ALL OF US!

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mjanecolette.com/ScrewChocolate

About mjanecolette

Writer. Reader. Angster. Reformed Bohemian (not). Author of the erotic romance Tell Me, the erotic tragedy (with a happy ending) Consequences (of defensive adultery), and the rom-com (she's versatile) Cherry Pie Cure, as well as the non-fiction collection of essays Rough Draft Confessions: not a guide to writing and selling erotica and romance but full of inside inside anyway. Coming in 2018: Text Me, Cupid, a steamy romance in four episodes. Current WiPs: Queer Christmas in Cowtown, Jewel of the Not-So-Spectacular Boobs, All In the Cards, and Un-Valentine. Yes, working on four projects simultaneously is a spectacularly bad idea.

3 comments

  1. Pingback: SCREW CHOCOLATE | m jane colette

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  3. Pingback: MOUNTAINS & MOMENTS by T | m jane colette

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