One year, seven months, three weeks, eight days, seven hours A.M.
“Excuse me?” A deep voice breaks into my reverie. Braving a light smile, I lift my chin from
my palm to find myself staring into light green eyes that seem almost translucent. I’d never seen
eyes with eyes such distinctiveness. I lose myself in their beauty for a moment before he speaks
again. “Did you drop this?” I glance toward his outstretched hand and see a familiar, worn folded
paper in his hand.
I straighten and accept the paper from him. “Oh. Yes. Where did you find it?”
“It was just under your desk. It looks well-used, so I thought it might be important.”
Carrying around one of the most prized things I’ve ever possessed is asking for trouble, but I
need it today. “It is. Thank you so much for noticing.”
“No problem, Lorraina.” I’m startled when he says my name. How does he know my name?
He gives a slight grin and raises his brows at me. “You don’t know my name, do you? We’ve
only been in a couple of classes together over the last year,” he says on a laugh, causing little
lines to form like he does this often.
I flush with embarrassment. “I’m sorry…”
“Brett,” he finishes for me.
“I’m sorry, Brett. I don’t really have an excuse other than I try to stay focused.”
“You seem scarily focused on something today. I don’t think it’s our impending class
I look around the classroom and see it almost filled. I hadn’t even heard anyone else enter. I
let out a sigh. “Oh, yeah. It’s a…special day.”
He flips his hand toward the desk next to me and raises his brow again. I nod my head,
giving a tight smile. “Really? Good special or bad special?” He asks as he lowers himself into the
I roll my lips in for a moment before pushing them out again and answering truthfully.
“Um…both actually. Good because someone beautiful was born today, and bad because his
beauty is no longer with us.” Usually when I talk about a sad memory to someone I barely know,
they immediately change the subject or offer up their odd condolences. For a while I stopped
mentioning him and my memories we shared when I met new people. I was trying to make
friends not run them off.
So he surprises me when he says. “So you’re torn. Do you celebrate the good and revel in
that, or do you succumb to the pain of loss? The first makes you seem callous. The latter makes
you seem ungrateful.”
Suddenly distrustful, I narrow my eyes at him. He’s quite insightful and this makes me more
nervous than if he were to change the subject or attempt an awkwardly sympathetically response.
“Something like that. It was nice talking to you—”
“Brett,” he reminds me.
“I was about to say Brett,” I bristle. “It was nice talking to you, Brett. Thank you for
returning my note.”
Seemingly undisturbed by my brush-off, he says, “Again, you’re welcome, Lorraina. I hope
we can talk again.”
I try to focus on the professor as he unpacks and jokes with the groupies surrounding his
desk. He does a quick introduction for himself and the class. He calls us each by name and asks
us to mention what draws us to poetry and what puts us off it. When he calls my name, my
answer is rushed and succinct as I kind of hate talking about poetry. It’s not a huge class, and I
would imagine that most everyone knows one another. I know several people—except for Brett,
When the professor calls for Ashley Michele I’m startled to hear Brett call out, “I prefer
Brett, Professor McLemore.” Then Brett discusses his love of poetry with ease, which rattles me a
little. I can’t help but stare at him as he speaks. When he talks about what he hates about poetry,
his head turns toward mine and his eyes are assessing as he explains that what he hates about
poetry also what he loves about it. He has a love/hate relationship with poetry because its
directness and the challenges it offers to his perspective and this, he says, resonates in his core.
Simply said but that’s what is genius about it. I’m taken aback again at his insightfulness and his
willingness to discuss it without qualm. His confidence and inner peace are inspiring
As the professor begins class, my mind keeps drifting back to the little note I hold so tightly.
I can’t believe I’d dropped it. I think again how I’d scanned all his letters and drawings and
poetry onto my computer and had several copies printed out. But they’re just not the same, and
today I needed what was left of his physical presence with me. A facsimile couldn’t offer me that
level of presence.
Surreptitiously, I open the note and my eyes immediately cloud over with unshed tears.
If you’re reading this, we’re not together right now. This breaks my heart more than any
other shitty thing that’s ever happened in my life. Out of everything, everyone—I’ve loved you
best. From the first moment I heard your name, you became my siren’s call, luring me to you with
every utterance, every glance, every action. I can’t tell you how many songs and poems I’ve
written about you, your voice, your presence, your lack of presence. Even when we’re together, I
miss you if I don’t have your full attention. How needy is that? I wish I could be bothered to care
how that must seem, but that’s just the way it’s always been.
Our first night together when you told me I was yours, I’d never felt so full, so whole. I
couldn’t even wrap my brain around that little fact because it was beyond comprehension, but I
felt my soul latch onto it like a lifeline. It was like coming home. I’d loved you my whole life, but
one-sided love sucks! You’d told me you loved me before— you’d shown me, and you’d made me
feel it. It wasn’t until that moment, though, when you kissed your name etched over my heart and
whispered, “Mine. You’re all mine,” that I finally felt possessed. Possessed by you, by your love,
by our promise. You own me, babe. My flesh, my heart, my soul—it’s all yours.
So why aren’t we together? It can’t be anything I’ve said or haven’t said or done or didn’t
do. Since we’ve finally become a couple, my plan is to be perfect for you in every way possible. I
know that’s highly unlikely, though. I might be an optimist, but I’m a realistic one. I’ll be the first
to admit that I can be a real shit sometimes. I guess my point is, even if I’ve screwed up somehow,
I’m trusting you to see your way through that because you know I have your best interests at
heart. I always have. Even when I didn’t know how to handle it, I at least knew what not to do.
What that means is that you’ve got something twisted in that pretty little head of yours.
Something that is keeping us from being together and that is killing me. Now that I’ve had you,
there’s no going back for me. Never gonna let you go, babe. I did that once and it almost killed
me. I was headed down a blazing path of sure destruction without you and you know that. Now,
am I saying I will die without you? No, a physical death would be easy. But what makes me who I
am—is you. My demons are hungry and untamable when you’re not my possibility, my future.
Am I saying all this to make you feel guilty that you aren’t with me? Yes. Yes, I am. Which
is why I gave this to you at this moment. I gave this to you to remind you that you love me. Flaws
and all. You love me because I am you and you are me. We are each other’s home. We waste
away without one another. Just know that without you I’m a withering husk, blowing around in
the wind until you scoop me up and help me fill the hollowness again.
So whatever I’ve done, not done, said, not said, forgive me because you know I mean that
with my whole heart. Forgive me and come back to me.
Miraculously, I avoid losing it completely over this letter. Fervently, I wish that I’d had it all
twisted in my head, but this is my heartbreaking reality. It hurt me to know that he had worried
about things like this and had still been so vulnerable where we were concerned. Had a more
beautiful human being ever existed? I think not.
True to his contradictory form, he’d done the strangest, most romantic thing by writing me
letters for almost every occasion. The obvious occasion missing was the one event that actually
did occur. In our youth, most of us are victims to that godforsaken invincibility complex. We’d
planned a lot of things, but we’d never planned on one of us having to live without the other. So
I’d found all these little letters in a little wooden jewelry box with our initials burnt into it when
Michael’s brother Jamie let me look through his belongings a while back. It looked like one of
those ones you’d make in wood shop class. I remember he’d had that class during his first go at
I treasured it along with every word he’d written and hid away in it, and it was everything I
could do not to read them all day, everyday of my life. Happy, sad—it didn’t seem to matter what
my mood was I just needed him and his thoughts and his beauty with me always. More often than
not, I wished for a way to take all his work—his art, his writings—liquefy them, and inject them
into my bloodstream. I was sure that with his beauty pumping through my body, I’d be better
equipped to handle this life.
“We’re going out tonight,” Jerome says as he throws himself across my bed. I chuck some
clothes on top of him because he’s thrown himself on top of the thrift-store donation pile on my
“Well, come on in,” I say dryly. “Make yourself at home.”
He tosses the clothes off, grabs some pillows, and stuffs them under his head as he flips over
to stare at the ceiling. “Don’t mind if I do,” he pauses to look back at me over his shoulder.
“Seriously, we’re going out. And you need to get rid of some of your old Converses while you’re
“I really don’t want to. Not tonight. And worn-out is the best way to wear Converses.
Everyone knows that.”
“Whatever.” He lets a deep breath. “I know what today is, Nay. You need to go out. You
need to get rip-roaring drunk and let me tote you home safe, sound, and mindless.”
I raise my brow at him. “Mindless?”
“Yeah, as in let’s get your mind off Michael.”
“My mind is never ‘off Michael’, so what today is has nothing to do with how he occupies
“Today’s worse than others, though.”
I take a deep breath and turn to look back in my closet. I catch a glimpse of myself in the
mirror hanging on the inside of the door. I look so different from the girl Michael loved. I’d cut
all my hair off into a modified bob, straightened it everyday, and forced short jagged pieces to
stick out here and there, framing my face. My funky friend, Joplin, had even put some even
funkier auburn streaks to low light it. I had taken to wearing make up again full-time because it
made me feel human when I’d felt anything but. Then, it kind of stuck. And, skinny, I was so
skinny. That was a first.
Nowadays, I felt mostly human too. Today doesn’t count, though. Today, I get to feel like
shit, and Jerome gets to accept that.
It’s not that I don’t want to move on. It’s that I can’t. I had actually dated two guys in the
past few months. The first was really sweet until I told him about Michael and my tattoo. He got
pretty weirded out about having to “compete with a dead guy,” so that was that. What an ass! I
was just happy that I found that out sooner rather than later. The other got slightly more serious,
but the first night we kissed goodbye he went to put his hand on my hip and skimmed my
Michael tattoo and I nearly came out of my skin. He’d wanted to take me to the emergency room
because I was hysterical and inconsolable after that. He thought I was having a seizure or
something. I think I took a cab home. I can’t even remember. Needless to say, he didn’t want
anything to do with my freaky self after that. I can’t imagine going through all that again.
It was just that what should be my past still feels so…unfinished. Me finding out about
Michael the way I did and having to cope in silence for months before I finally confided in
anyone was torture and still seemed to haunt me. Not being able to say goodbye seemed to be the
roadblock I was trying to get around. If I’d been able to have that, would I be normal now?
Confiding in first, my mother, then my brother, and ultimately the rest of my world helped
tremendously. Yet somehow, it was still not enough. Eventually, I’d been able to start writing
about it all. Writing was the life preserver that saved me from drowning in my sorrow.
I’d questioned everything for Michael. Then, I’d questioned everything without Michael—
myself, my God, my sanity, my memory. None of it seemed right, fair, or even real most of the
time. Did God really let me fall in love with Michael and then take him away from me? Did that
really happen? Did I really find the love of my life when I was thirteen-years-old only to deny
him for years before finally embracing all that offered just to lose him in a matter of months? I
wouldn’t trade anything in this world, or the next, for the little time I’d had with Michael, but my
God, it hurt.
My physical reminders and my writing were the only things that kept me sane. They proved
that I wasn’t crazy. However, they’d also been the source of an unhealthy fixation. As a matter of
fact months ago, Jerome had hidden all but a couple of pictures and one letter from me. He’d said
he’d done it for my own good, but I’d hated him for it. Like a true addict, I’d destroyed our
apartment looking for my drug of choice when he was gone for work for a few weeks. He didn’t
find it funny that I didn’t bother cleaning a thing up either. His anger was not pretty, but after we
threw our temper tantrums, we both cleaned up and tried to laugh it off. I’d ended up a sobbing
mess on the floor with Jerome rocking me back and forth. That was the breaking point I’d
After I got myself together, he finally relented and gave them back. He never told me where
he’d hidden them. I guess in case he needed to hide them from me again someday. After that, I
was on my best behavior and had my Michael fix in small doses so as not to lose my precious
Snapping out of my reverie, I shove some things back in my closet before turning back to the
room to see Jerome dozed off on my bed. So much for going out.
Switching my light out, I head into the kitchen to try to get some dinner together. I’m
thinking it’s going to be a Ramen Noodle night. I’m just not up for making anything even
something as simple as Hamburger Helper—which is considered a gourmet meal around here.
After I set the water to boil, the phone starts ringing. I know who it is before I even glance
over at it. “Hello?” I ask with a smile on my face.
“Hey, Lorraina, how ya holding up, kiddo?” Jamie asks me.
“Hey, Jamie! I’m doing OK.”
“OK is better than some other things, I suppose,” he says on a laugh.
“Yeah. So how are you? How’s your mom?”
“I’m good. Mom’s good. We just got back from Mike’s grave. I hate going, but she needs it
so that’s what we do. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries…gives me something to look forward
to,” he jokes.
I laugh a little. “I’m kinda glad I don’t have to make that decision, ya know? To visit the
grave or not to visit the grave? It’s depressing enough as it is.”
“That it is,” he mumbles distractedly. “So you’re hanging in there, huh?”
“Yep, I’m making my world-renowned dinner of Ramen Noodles for two and planning on a
night in, just hanging out.” I hear Jerome clear his throat behind me. “Or not. Jerome wants us to
“You should. Mike would want you to celebrate his life. That’s who he was.”
I glance over my shoulder and smile at Jerome, nodding my head. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“Good deal. All right, I’m gonna hop off here and give my new short story a read.”
“You got it?” I can’t help the enthusiasm in my voice. I love hearing his feedback on my
“Yep, got it yesterday but was beat last night.”
“Great! Thanks for calling, Jamie.” He’d become like a big brother to me. I treasure our
relationship so much. Any kind of contact with any part of Michael was balm for my aching soul.
And Jamie was a great person too.
“You bet. Go have fun, Lorraina.”
“Will do. Night, Jamie.”
I spin around and drop the receiver on the base, catching Jerome’s knowing look as I do.
“Jamie told you to go out, didn’t he?”
Narrowing my eyes at him, I leave the room dramatically to get ready.
“Don’t worry I’ll dump the water out and turn off the burner,” he says on a laugh.
Gasping aloud and tearing up, I say with awe, “I can’t believe you brought me here! It’s so
beautiful, and you’re so…thoughtful.” Jerome had brought me to Central Park. We’d visited
Strawberry Fields, rode the carousel, ate a bunch of vendor food that we probably shouldn’t have.
It was fun, but the night takes a turn as we come upon a clearing and see a sea of lighted lanterns.
It is that beautiful, that breathtaking.
“Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to look like a giant wuss.”
Reaching over, I brush his shaggy brown hair from his forehead. “You can be gruff and
inappropriate, but you’ve got such a gentle heart. That does not make for a wuss.” Leaning in, I
give him a huge one-armed side hug. He pulls me all the way around and rests his chin on my
head for a minute.
“All right, so all these people are here for the cause of the week. I can’t remember what it
was, but I heard about it on the radio. I figured you could release a lantern for Michael and I’ll
cover the one for the cause, whatever that may be. Whatcha think?”
After one more tight squeeze, I pull back. “I think that’s a lovely idea. Thank you for
thinking of it.”
We head down to the donation table and join the others to light our Chinese lanterns. There
must be hundreds floating off into the sky. After lighting mine, I say happy birthday to Michael
before I release it. It’s strange but as I watch the light float away into the heavens I feel lighter.
Like I’d set a little fire to some of my despair and freed it to dissolve somewhere else in this
universe. I keep my eyes on my lantern until I can’t discern it anymore, offering up a little prayer
before it disappears completely. As I feel tears start to cloud my vision again, Jerome doesn’t give
me a chance to get overwhelmed. “Let’s go get shitfaced,” he deadpans.
Giggles overtake me for a moment before I can agree. Wiping tears from eyes, I say, “OK.
Let’s go you sensitive brut.”
I giggle again. “Yeah, it sure is.”
“Hey, I’m learning. And you say I don’t listen.”
“You are indeed. Thank you. I love you.” I lean in and kiss him on his scruffy cheek. He
pretty much always kept a three-day growth.
“Love you too, Nay Nay.”
All the elements Jerome had infused into tonight were just the right concoction to get me
through—a little brooding, a little tenderness, a little laughter. Now, I’ll go watch Jerome get
buzzed and hit on girls. It’ll be the perfect thing to keep me preoccupied.
When my head finally hits the pillow, I’m so exhausted from Jerome’s head-clearing efforts
I barely have the energy to offer up my thanks for having such an amazing brother and confidant.
I do manage to ask for the one thing that I know God can and will give me, but in his own time.
Still, it didn’t hurt to ask.
“I can’t believe you’re dragging me to this crap again,” Jerome says half-jokingly about my
forcing him to attend yet another poetry reading.
“Whatever, you love to come see all the hot girls. You don’t fool me. I saw you checking out
my friend from my film class big time, and guess what?” He just quirks his thick brow at me
without guessing, spoil sport. “Joplin’s in my poetry workshop, and I have it on good authority
that she’ll be here.”
“I still think that’s a weird name. Is she dating anyone?”
“I don’t think so, and I’d come up with a new pick-up line other than ‘Hey, I think your
name’s weird, but you’re hot. Wanna hook up?’” I can’t help but get excited because Jerome
hasn’t shown any real interest in anyone in the almost two years we’d been here. He’s had several
casual “dates”. Poor girls. I’d been tasked with seeing them on their way on more than one
unhappy occasion. “Anyway, she dated this one guy from our program for a while. He graduated
before us, though, and just kind of moved on. I felt bad for her because she isn’t the casual
relationship type, so I know she was hurt.” My subtle way of asking him not to show interest in
her unless he really meant it. I hope he picks up on it. Oh, he picks it up all right.
“Don’t worry, Nay. I won’t screw your friend…over.” He lets out a rush of air as I elbow
him in the gut.
“Lorraina?” Still laughing, I spin upon hearing that familiar voice because it belongs to the
one who’s been trying for weeks to get me to open up to him. We had talked more but only about
school stuff. I enjoyed listening to his insights, and he was a great partner in class.
“Brett. Hi!” My voice sounds overly enthusiastic because I’m not quite sure how to act. He’s
been chiseling away at my resolve, but it was still pretty strong. Part of me wants to walk right
out of here and pronto, but the other wants to stay and make friends. That part of me feels
Brett clears his throat a little before introducing himself to my brother. I was crappy at this
kind of thing. “Brett Michele,” he says on a handshake.
“Jerome Dabney,” my brother answers as he squeezes Brett’s hand.
“You’re related?” He asks. I see him visibly relax upon getting that information. Interesting.
“Yes, I’m her big brother.” Jerome’s overly large dark brown eyes dance with mirth.
I elbow him again and laugh nervously. “No, you’re not. Why do you keep telling everyone
“Number one, it’s funny watching you get mad. Number two, I’m taller than you and bigger
than you; hence, I’m your ‘big brother’. Get used to it.” With an evil little grin, he reaches over
and tweaks my nose, knowing that I hate that.
I shake my head and roll my eyes at him. “Whatever.” I turn my attention back to Brett.
“Don’t worry. He’s always this annoying. So what brings you here tonight? I can’t believe you
waited until the last night to get your homework done.” He was more anal than I was about
deadlines. My excuse was I’d had two study groups and a job to work around.
“I didn’t wait till the last night. I’ve been here every night this week.” The look he gives me
surprises me. He’s looked at me with compassion, interest, humor, and all sorts of other emotions.
Now, he was looking at me with blind heat. I know that look when I get it. I was no stranger to it;
it just didn’t usually do anything for me.
Jerome clears his throat and offers to go get drinks while I try not to stare blatantly at Mr.
Complicated. Yes, that’s what I’d dubbed him. Over the past few weeks, it’s become quite
obvious that he wants to explore something with me. Again, this isn’t new territory for me; but it
is the first time that I haven’t felt apprehensive about my feelings toward someone. And that lack
of fear actually scares me. Not that I am afraid of losing someone again or letting someone in.
No, I am afraid of losing Michael. I feel strongly that I would never let that happen, but that is the
fear that plagues me. It’s confusing as hell.
While the emcee makes introductions to the first performer, I muse over how interesting
looking Mr. Complicated is. He’s not what one would call traditionally good looking, but his
personality and intelligence make him good looking. And, of course, he isn’t Michael beautiful;
but I think he’s pretty beautiful in his own unique way. Those translucent green eyes, though,
they remind me of the palest of green sea glass. When you find sea glass, you treasure it. Seeing
Brett look at me the way he does, I treasure it. I do love the way his sandy-blonde hair curls
around the base of his neck, and around his ears. It makes my fingers itch to wrap the little curls
around my pinkies.
When the emcee breaks for the poet, Brett leans in on his folded arms and says, “I’m really
happy that’s your brother over there. For a moment, I thought I had competition.”
I jolt a little as I feel like he just threw down the gauntlet. I laugh again nervously. To others
it may seem like a flirtatious laugh, but I hope it didn’t seem that way to him because it was pure
nerves—no coyness here. “No, there’s no competition. I don’t…date.”
“Don’t as in will not? Or don’t as in are not?”
“Don’t as in can not,” I murmur.
He leans back for a minute, folds his arms over his chest, and assesses me. “Is this because
of the person you lost?” I nod my head. “You were close?” I nod again. “How close?”
“He was my best friend and my…fiancé.” He surprises me by reaching out and covering my
hand with his, giving it a quick but firm squeeze. My eyes widen and meet his again, and I delight
in the small smile that they give me.
“Here we go. Beers for us and A Sloe Slippery Fu—”
“Jerome!” I yelp.
“For the lady,” he finishes as he wiggles his brows at me.
“That is not what you ordered me.” My gaze darts to the frothy orange drink and back to his.
He’s saved from answering as the poet finally gets up the nerve to take the stage. Taking
notes and analyzing the poems, and poets, distracts me for a while.
When they break between poets, I stand up to stretch and gather my things. “Well, I have all
I need. We should get going.”
“No, we should have another drink,” Jerome says as he grabs our empties and heads back up
to the bar.
“OK. I guess we’re having another a drink. Forgive him, he’s just become legal. I hope you
don’t mind,” I say to Brett.
“Well, I do have a hot date with some laundry, but I think I can be persuaded,” he jokes.
“Would you like to stay for another drink?” I ask as I sit back down.
“I thought you’d never ask, Lorraina.” I blush down to my roots. I love the way he says my
name. I’m so used to a southern accent wrapping around my name that’s unique to hear the way
he says it.
“Where are you from anyway? I love your accent,” Oh my! That sounds like a cheesy pickup
line. My roots are on fire now.
“Oh no, not Boston!” I laugh. “I’m from Mississippi.”
“What? What’s wrong with Boston?”
“Die-hard Yankees fan.”
“Oh, of course, you are. Are you a bandwagon fan?”
I gasp. “No! I’ve been a fan since I was ten-years-old. Thank you very much!”
“You think we can work through that difference of allegiance, Yankees girl?”
“Hmm…maybe. So what you brought you to the city then?”
“My dad is actually from here, and my mom is from Virginia. They divorced a few years
back, and my mom moved back to Virginia, making this kind of neutral territory if you know
what I mean.” His eyes focus on his spinning bottle cap for a second. It still bothers him. “And
NYU’s the best.”
“This is true. What do you want to do when you graduate?”
He ducks his head a little and glances side to side. “You can’t laugh.”
“I won’t laugh,” I promise.
“I want to be a writer for Saturday Night Live.”
My mouth drops. “Are you serious? That’s awesome! But you’ve heard how brutal it is,
“Yep, which is why most people laugh when I tell them. They’re either laughing like that
poor bastard he’ll never get in or that poor bastard he’ll get in and get his ass handed to him.”
Now I laugh.
“I think it’s a tremendous dream that you can turn into your reality if you set your mind to
“Thanks. What about you?”
“I want to get published. Novels.” I lean back and release a sigh. “We both have our work
cut out for us, don’t we?”
“I think so, but I’d say you have a head start. You’re our most prolific and published
student.” He didn’t even know the half of it. My most popular work—my poetry and Michael’s
poetry—was published anonymously.
I glance over my shoulder and see Jerome chatting up a just arrived Joplin. I give her a
wave. She rolls her eyes and nods toward Jerome. I give her the ‘I’m sorry he’s a loose cannon
look!’ and turn back to Brett. “OK,” I whisper conspiratorially. “I’ve been dying to know. Why’d
your parents name you Ashley?”
He throws his head back in laughter. “Oh boy. So my mom is a huge Gone with the Wind
“I knew it!” I exclaim. “That’s awesome.” I can’t help but clap my hands a little. “It’s my
favorite all-time book. Coming from me, that’s a big deal because I can rarely name favorites.
That book has it all, though. So why not Rhett? That’s the usual choice for fans.”
“Well, you noticed my middle name is Brett, right?” I nod my head. “My mom wanted
Ashley Rhett, but my dad fought her on it. Thought it was ridiculous to have two fictional names.
I wished he’d fought her on the ridiculousness of the name Ashley, though, and held out for
Rhett. Ashley—I mean do you know any guys named Ashley? So Brett rhymes with Rhett and
that’s what I got. And I was little growing up. Braces. Glasses. Not to mention the fact that I had
this odd southern/New York/Boston accent I’m sportin’. My childhood was a thing of cautionary
I’m nearly doubled-over by the time he wraps up his name history. “Aww…Were you
“Relentlessly,” he draws out.
“Me too. Look how awesome you are now, though.” Did I just say that aloud?
“I think you’re pretty awesome too, Lorraina.” Yep, I sure did. How embarrassing. I
suuuuuuuck at playing it cool.
“Thanks,” I murmur.
“OK,” he says as he slaps his thighs. “I’m just gonna put it out there.” I feel my fear crawl its
way up my throat. His look has changed from friendly to heated again. “I want you to go out on a
date. With me,” he clarifies.
I look down at my hands for a minute. “I’m not saying no, Brett. But I’m going to say not
now. I think it would be better if we got to know each other first as friends.” I chance a look at
him. “Would that be OK?”
“I think so, yes. I need to know, though, are you interested in dating me at all? Or is this
your way of letting me down gently.”
Wanting to say yes but not quite ready to, I say, “I could be interested in dating you.”
“So you want slow and steady then.” I nod again. “I can do slow and steady.” My reply is a
bright smile. So far, so good.
Jerome finally makes it back over with Joplin and our drinks. “Look who I found,” he
I give Joplin a grin. I’ve never seen two people so mismatched. Jerome is insanely tall and
broad whereas Joplin looks like a Boho-chic Tinker Bell standing next to him. She’s tiny and her
hair is styled exactly like a pixie’s. Today, her light brown hair is shaded with blue and purple
highlights. Her dainty hoop in her lip shines brightly. She has on some funky rainbow-infused
outfit covered with a jean jacket. Her hot pink Chucks look like Jackson Pollock got a hold of
them. If I dressed like that I would look like a clown, but she makes it work. I adore her, and
she’s one of the truest souls I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. “Hey Joplin. What’s up?” I ask,
rounding the table to squeeze her.
“Oh the usual. My parents popped in unannounced and took me to dinner before heading out
to colony for the week. Like I would die without seeing them for a few days.” She says on an eye
roll. She and her hippie parents were extremely close and I knew that she secretly loved how they
doted on her, even if it was a little stifling. She shrugs it off and smiles at Brett. “Brett, how are
you?” I watch in fascination as she and Brett make small talk for a minute. Jerome is actually
grinding his jaw and shooting Brett a death glare. I get his attention and furrow my brow. He
takes a sip of his drink and does that awful annoying habit he has of sucking air through his teeth
before shrugging at me.
The rest of the evening goes off without a hitch. I keep watching Jerome talk up Joplin, but
she looks as if she’s humoring him a bit and not really interested. I’ll have to get the scoop on that
The company’s great but I’m exhausted and have to work in the morning. Of course, they
give me crap about being a party pooper. Because of the little shift in our relationship, I’m
nervous about how to say goodbye to Brett. Joplin and Jerome walk out ahead of us so that when
Brett tugs on my hand and spins me around we’re somewhat alone. He releases my hand right
“Lorraina, I had a really good time hanging out with you.”
“Me too,” I admit. “It was good getting to know you a bit more.”
He reaches out for my hand again and gives a little squeeze. My eyes fall to his hand, and I
feel him move in a bit closer. “Goodnight, Lorraina,” he whispers and places a kiss on my
forehead. That was so sweet. I’m a sucker for the forehead kiss.
“Night, Brett.” Looking back up, I can feel my eyes shimmering.
“Your eyes are the most interesting shade of green,” he says and looks a little taken aback
like he didn’t plan on saying that.
“That’s funny because I was thinking the same thing about yours earlier. They remind me of
sea glass,” I confess without over thinking it.
“Shades of green,” he murmurs.
He doesn’t respond just pulls me by the hand to follow him outside.
“Did you have fun?” Jerome asks me as we make our way back to our apartment.
“I did.” I launch into telling him about my conversation with Brett.
“You like him.”
It takes me a second to answer because it feels like once I do there’s not going back. “I think
I do,” I admit.
“I think it’s fate.”
I stop walking and remove my arm from his. “You said you didn’t believe in, and I quote,
‘shit like that’ just the other day,” I say with astonishment.
“Well, signs, fate, whatever the hell you wanna call it. I just know there’s something or
someone at work here.” He throws his arms up in the air and uses his fingers to tick off his proof.
“Let’s look at the facts here. He’s into all that touchy feely crap like you are.” I interrupt him with
my laughter. He waits patiently for me to calm down. When he gives me that look, I throw my
hand over my mouth. My eyes water with tears of laughter.
I remove my hand from my mouth after a second. “I’m sorry that was funny, though.
“His name is Ashley Brett but was supposed to be Ashley Rhett. You eat everything Scarlett
O’Hara up like your favorite ice cream. By the way, you still owe me a pint since you stole
mine.” He ticks off on another finger. “His name is Brett Michele.”
I wait for him to explain that one, but he just stares at me. “Yeah, so?”
“Are you serious?” He asks, shaking his head at me. “And you’re supposed to be the smart
one,” he mutters. “Bret Michaels is responsible for your and Michael’s song, and Michele is
derived from Michael.”
I shiver a little and cross my arms over my chest. “Oh…I didn’t think about that.”
“Wow,” he says sarcastically. “And his initials are Michael’s transposed.”
“Oh my God,” I whisper, staring off into space and pondering all this.
“Yeah,” he states smugly, “signs, I tell ya. Signs. It’s been almost two years, Lorraina.
Michael would want you to meet someone and be happy. I’m not saying move on. I hate it when
people say that. You don’t move on. You just…let it all become a part of who you are now and
move forward with it. You don’t try to leave it behind cuz that would mean leaving a part of
yourself behind. All of that makes you who are you now.”
Slowly, we resume walking as I process all he’s said. These are things I’ve been thinking
about for a while now, but they were jagged little thoughts that I could never seem to bring
together. I kept snagging myself on them, and I would focus on the bleeding rather than the
healing. Hearing Jerome say all this solidifies everything in my mind somehow. “You’re better at
this touchy feely crap than you know, Jerome. Love you, little brother,” I say as I grin up at him.
“I love you, but wipe that stupid grin off your face. Now, all that with the name is that irony
“Coincidence,” I murmur distractedly, “because you’re not expecting it. It just coincides
with a lot of things. Irony is when you’re expecting one thing but another happens.”
“You didn’t need to go all English professor mode on me. One word responses are fine by
me.” My chuckle is distracted as well as I consider all the signs that point to Brett being someone
Michael would approve of and may have even put into my life.
“So what are you going to do about Brett?”
“I told him that we could be friends and go from there.”
“Ah…Aren’t you always telling me that everyone loves a friends-to-lovers storyline?”
I smack his arm and grin at him again. “You have been paying attention. I’m impressed.”
“Whatever,” is his eloquent reply.
When I finally crawl into bed, I pop open my nightstand and grab my goodnight poem. He’d
written it while he was visiting me in Oxford, and it was probably one of the simplest—yet most
beautiful—things I’d ever read. I read through it even though I could easily recite it from
memory. Something about looking at his handwriting and imagining him holding me, and writing
this out for me just infuses me with warmth.
Splendid night, my sweet love.
Saying good night will not suffice.
Night shows me all that you are and all that you mean.
Blonde hair, splayed over me.
An easy smile, fading into a sigh.
Warm breath, tickling my chest.
A soft hand, resting on my heart.
Your complete trust in the Forever of Us.
So I’ll not say good night but splendid night.
For gifting me with all that is you.
As I’m drifting off, I find myself amending my usual prayer with my apologies that it was, in
fact, time for me to move forward; and I thought I’d finally found a nice enough guy to
accompany me on my journey. Even though I’ve made a tenuous peace with this fact, I still feel
tears form and spill over on this thought.
Looking up, I startle at my surroundings. I’m on a beach—our beach. “Lorraina,” I hear the
sweetest voice I’ve ever heard say, “don’t be scared.”
I close my eyes tight and turn ever so slowly, afraid that I will scare him away or that he’s
not really here and I’ll be devastated. Painstakingly slowly, I open my eyes to see the most
incredible vision standing before me. He’s leaning against our oak tree with his arms folded in
front of him. He looks exactly as I remember, with his midnight hair, copper skin, and that sweet,
sweet smile. I inhale a shaky breath and try to think of something, anything to say.
I hear my voice crack as I ask, “Do you know how many times I’ve begged God to let me
dream of you? Any dream of you? I begged so hard. All I’ve ever gotten were nightmares.
Nightmares about you leaving me or worse.”
“Yeah, I know, babe. But I’m here now. This is no nightmare.”
“Finally a good dream,” I whisper.
Unfolding his arms, he asks, “Who says this is a dream?” Then shrugs and stuffs his fists in
the pockets of his jeans. Mmm…I love it when he does that.
He shrugs again. “I’m thinking more along the line of a miracle.”
“Yeah, you and are I pretty well-versed in miracles, wouldn’t you say?” I can only nod my
head. “The way our dads became friends. The way your brother got kicked out of school, and
y’all ended up at my school. The way we found our way back together after all those years of
being apart. Miraculous, yes?”
“Yes, miraculous,” I agree. Now that I have him here, I don’t know what to do or say.
Nothing I can imagine saying seems worthy of this moment, so I just say what’s in my heart. “I
miss you so much, Michael. My heart aches for you every single day.”
“I know, baby. I’m sorry for that too.” Michael removes his hands from his pockets and
holds them out toward me. “Can you come over here, though? I don’t know how much time we
“If I move, you might disappear.”
“I have it on good authority that’s not gonna happen,” he says on a grin.
Quickly so as not to waste another second, I cross the divide to move into arm’s reach.
Moving only my hand, I reach towards his until I feel his warmth. I grasp his hand within mine,
and he pulls me in for a tight hug. He was always the warmest human being I’d ever touched and
that hasn’t changed. I revel in his warmth and the comfort his touch brings me. After a minute I
hear him say, “I love you so much, Lorraina. I’d have given anything to have avoided leaving
you.” He inhales a shaky breath. “But I came to tell you goodbye.” I hear myself whimper as if
from a distance. Isn’t that what I’ve been asking for?
I pull back so that I can stare into those intense brown eyes that are as deep and infinite as an
abyss. I lean in and kiss him lightly, wondering if this will be the moment he’s snapped away
from me. When he isn’t snatched up, I urge his lips open and am almost overcome by the taste
and heat of him. I whimper again as I delight in the sensations I’d missed so very much.
I finally pull back. “I’m so happy you’re here, but I’m scared I’m going to wake up and be
back at square one on the grief paradigm.”
He chuckles at my nerdy joke. After a few seconds, he sobers up. “I’m here to give you
some hard truths, Lorraina, and tell you that it’s time for you to give love another chance. I’m
gonna be pissed as hell if you don’t let yourself be loved again. Do you hear me? You can’t go
through life without it. Do you remember what we were like before?” I feel myself nodding at
every question, every observation. He’s wise and I know it. “We were floundering and that’s no
way to go through this life, babe. Without love, you don’t stand a chance in this world.”
I nod again and take a deep breath before I confess, “It feels like cheating, Michael. I feel
like I’m cheating on you, on our memories, and on our promises. I know I need to move forward
but I’m just stuck. And I’m terrified. Terrified that I’ll replace all my memories of you with new
memories, that there won’t be enough room for you, and that you’ll disappear.” There. That’s all
I’ve been afraid of. It sounds ridiculous, but we can’t help how we feel. Our feelings are that—
wrong or right, ridiculous or justifiable—they’re our feelings.
He grabs my chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilts my head back to stare even
deeper into my eyes. “You’re not going to let that happen and you know that. I know that. You
have to rely on your faith.”
“Michael, I don’t know how to rely on my faith when I feel this fear.” I tell him. Faith
sounds so simple but becomes so complicated when fear comes into play.
“That’s just it. Faith isn’t the absence of fear, Lorraina. It’s trusting despite fear.”
I smile at him. “You still have a way with words and make complicated things seem so very
He sweeps my bangs off my forehead and brushes his knuckles across my cheekbone.
“You’re going to open your heart. You may get hurt. He may not be the one for you, but you’ll
never know until you try. If you do get hurt, you trust that you’ll be OK because you will. I just
know that it’s time.” I startle at this. Does he know about Brett? He smiles, seeming to have read
my thoughts. “I know things. Not all things—I’m not quite omniscient. It’s more a feeling of
having a knowledge, nothing…precise.”
I feel like my heart has just received a crushing blow. If our roles were reversed, I’d tell him
the same thing, but it would wreck me. So I know this has to hurt him, and to know that he hurts,
hurts me. His blessing further proves what a beautiful, loving, and sacrificing soul he truly is.
“See, this is just one of the millions upon millions of reasons I miss you. You’re so wise and
knowing. Half the time, I just feel lost without you. If I didn’t have your letters and your work,
I…” I can’t even say it aloud. Without them, I’d go insane. I know I would.
Michael fingers my hair for a minute. “I like your hair. It’s different, but it suits you. I have
to be honest, though. I’m not crazy about the red. Next time try chestnut.”
I laugh and run my hands through his hair. “Got it, no red. Your hair never disappoints,” I
say as I feel his silky strands glide through my fingertips. “I miss running my hands through it.” I
let my hands glide down his arms. “I miss running my hands down your arms. You’re so
beautiful.” I lean toward him and take a deep breath, letting his musky, outdoorsy scent saturate
my every pore.
“I love when you call me that. I didn’t at first because I’d never felt beautiful, but I started to
see the way you saw me and I felt it, felt beautiful.”
“I love you…so much, Michael,” I hurry and tell him, afraid our time will, again, end
“Lorraina, you are everything to me. I’ve never loved anyone on this planet the way I love
you. I meant it when I told you always. I’ll always love you.”
Michael moves me into his embrace and I feel him slide down the oak, pulling me down
with him. “I just want to hold you, OK?”
I nod and burrow myself into his front. “You feel so good. Exactly how I remember.”
“You too, baby.”
We talk of everything and nothing and all that lies between, just like we used to when we
were friends and when we’d dated. I tell him of my one regret—wasting time by not being
together for all those years. He laughs and says we would have ended up hating each other if
we’d gotten together sooner. We’d both had so much growing to do and were too immature for a
meaningful relationship. He said everything happened exactly as it was meant to be. I’m not
going to lie—I felt a certain peace settle over me upon hearing this.
He tells me his one regret is not having told the world that we were together and that we
were a couple. “I wished that I had shouted it from the rooftops all the way from Oxford to Biloxi
and back again. Everyone should have been aware of our love for each other even if they didn’t
get it and tried to throw roadblocks in our way.”
It’s my turn to tell him how things happened the way they were supposed to. What if we’d
told, and our short time together had been tainted with old prejudices and closed-mindedness? My
memories with him were perfect just like they were.
I feel myself drifting off but there’s nothing I can do for it. I focus my eyes as best I can on
him and lean in for another kiss. I feel tears stream down my face, but Michael kisses them away.
He pulls back and says, “Be strong. I’ll always be in your heart, but you’ve got to let others in as
well, OK?” I just nod my agreement. “I’ll see you.”
I’m so glad he didn’t say the G word, even though that’s what I had originally wanted, that
my face splits into a smile, and I taste my own tears. “See you,” I whisper, laying my head down
on his chest and reveling in his heat.
When I wake the next morning, I feel full to bursting, and so…warm. I move my head on my
pillow and feel the wetness there. Tears of joy—pure and utter joy. He’d found a way to come
back to me and, again, give me all I needed—peace and his blessing for me to be able to move
forward. Looking over at his picture, I marvel at the awesomeness that is Michael Leon Bang.
Always giving, always there. Never letting anything or anyone stand in his way.
A chance—Michael made it seem so simple. I just have to give love a chance.
This bonus scene, from Michael’s POV, takes place outside of the realm of Every Rose. Hear
his musings as he is waking up hungover, next to (gasp) another woman, and it’s Lorraina’s
Every Rose Bonus Scene
I wake as my head buzzes in time with her alarm clock. I reach over and shut it off. Looking
over at her naked body stretched out beside me, regret instantly floods my hungover brain—much
like the Jim Beam flooded my dumbass system last night—as I recall just how out of hand I’d
gotten. Shit! I’ve gotta stop doing this shit!
As if sensing me waging war on myself, Brandy shifts and runs her nails down my chest,
stopping to tease me a little. I cringe inwardly, yet maintain my outward façade. When her lips
begin to follow her wandering hand, I grab hold of her chin swiftly. Her lust-filled eyes meet
mine. “I gotta get going, babe,” I hesitate. “Thanks for last night. For, uh, getting me out of
“You know it’s no problem, Mike.” She gives me what she thinks is a seductive grin but all I
want to see is a sweet, unassuming one. I drink to get that out of my head. Only problem is that
when I sober up it’s there times a billion. “You’re gonna owe Charlie some money, ya know?”
“Yeah, I know. How bad was it?” I cringe now as I remember trashing Charlie’s jukebox.
That damn thing was playing the one fucking song it shouldn’t have been. If I could’ve found the
actual piece of shit who pressed play, it would’ve gone down a whole different way.
“It was pretty bad. It got stuck on Billy Ray Cyrus.” This causes me to start laughing
uncontrollably when I think of all the pissed off wannabe rock stars and badass bikers in that bar.
I quickly stifle that as my head starts to pound anew.
“Why that song is on a jukebox in a damn biker bar is beyond me. Seems like I did
everybody a favor getting rid of it,” I joke, pushing her away from me gently as I roll out of bed,
slide my jeans on, and move towards her bathroom.
When I emerge, Brandy struts toward me noticeably underdressed. “Sure I can’t convince
you to stick around, Mike?” I grab her hands before she has a chance to touch me again.
“Naw, babe. I gotta get to work and all. Raincheck?”
“Where’ve I heard that before?” She turns her head and pouts. I place a quick kiss on her
cheek, give her a grin, and hit the door.
I pile in the Jeep, root around for some aspirin, down them with a leftover Bud Light, and lay
my head on the steering wheel for a minute. It really pisses me off that I need these physical
releases…booze, partying, fighting, tearing shit up…sex. That part ticks me off the most. If it
were up to my brain and heart, I wouldn’t be with another girl until I could be with Lorraina. And
I will be with Lorraina, I tell myself the for gazillionth time. This has been my mantra since I was
fifteen-years-old. Some may view this as hopeless—the ultimate exercise in futility—wasting
away for her. I know she is going to be mine, though. The alternative is not an option.
She has absolutely no idea, but I’ve been keeping tabs on her, which is really nothing new.
I’ve been waiting and watching from the first time I’d seen that long, curly blonde hair and those
electric green eyes that promised loyalty and fierceness and passion. From what I’ve heard, she is
none of those things now. She is wasting away too. I want to fix that—but how? What reasons
have I given her to put her faith in me?
I sit back and massage my temples and feel my eyes blur as I come to terms with the fact
that all I’ve ever shown her was impulsivity, recklessness, and just plain stupidity. She will be
home in two years and what will I have to offer her? Shit! Today’s her birthday. No fucking
wonder I’d woken more pensive than usual—contemplating life’s fuck-ups and her…my only
love. Lorraina was my center, my gravitational pull to this universe. Always had been.
What the hell?! She’s my world and I’ve been partying my ass off for the last several years,
acting like I had an infinite amount of time. Other than college, I’d completely wasted the last
few years. She was twenty today, making me twenty-two. I’d say I was getting sentimental in my
old age, but I’d always thought too much. It’s a blessing and a curse. Starting my Jeep up, I head
Wasting away—that phrase hits me again and I immediately start a beat in my head and start
crafting some lyrics to tie that all together. I tap a rhythm on my steering wheel as I navigate the
quiet streets, making a snap decision. I laugh at myself. Let’s face it, do I ever make any other
kind of decision?!
Making my way to the tattoo studio, as I always do when I have some kind of revelation in
my life, I know what I have to do. No more women, no more drinking, no more fighting, no more
tearing shit up, no more weed…OK, maybe a little bit of weed. Can’t go cold turkey on
everything all at once. Wouldn’t want to spontaneously combust. So I’m going to increase my
physical activities to have some kind of release and control. Go to school, go to work, stay out of
trouble, keep my ass out of jail. I need to make myself the best I can possibly be and wait for
Lorraina to finish school and move home. I can do all that.
I hop out of my Jeep and make my way into the tattoo parlor, hoping Brody is here.
“Hey, Mike,” Chris greets me. “What’s up, man?”
“Need some ink, man. I’ve got life-altering decisions that need to be commemorated. Brody
Chris snickers at me. “Aw…shit, man. Yeah, he’s in the back. ‘Bout to take off, I think.”
“This won’t take long. It’s simple. Tell Brody, I’ll dedicate a song to him tomorrow night if
he’ll get out here so I can get tatted up,” I joke.
I wait for Brody, sketching out my idea on the pad by the phone. I’ve got the shakes, so my
drawing looks like shit—I’d better let Brody design this one for me. I snort. He’s gonna shit a
brick when I let him do that.
My mood turns sober as I consider the significance of what I’m about to get permanently
etched over my heart even though it has been permanently etched in my heart for years. I close
my eyes as I send Lorraina my birthday wish.
Whatever you’re doing, Lorraina, I wish you all the happiness you can muster out of this
life…It won’t be long, babe, and I’ll be the one contributing to your happiness. We’re not going
to let each other waste away.
In Loving and Precious Memory of
Michael Leon Bang
This book is a tribute to my best friend Michael and his memory. My goal in bringing this
story to life was to, in some aspect, give Michael the opportunity to be resurrected in our
collective memory. Some events were inspired by real events, and, of course, I named my main
character after his inspiration. However, my Michael is a work of fiction and my imagination.
To my soul mate best friend, Bobbie Myers, without your encouragement and enthusiasm,
this wouldn’t have been near as exciting to write. You were with me every joyful and frustrating
step of the way. Your belief in my abilities kept me from succumbing to self-doubt and writer’s
block. And thank you for writing my biography!
To my husband and best friend, Sean, thank you so much for always believing in me. No
matter what crazy ideas I’ve come up with over the years, you’ve always been the first on board
and the most encouraging.
To my sons, Austin and Nolan, you inspire me every day to be my best and do my best.
Nothing in this world has made me prouder than calling myself your mama.
I love ya’ll so much!
Many members of my family inspire me on a daily basis, but none more than my momma,
Marie McAdams. I’m so grateful for your love, support, and respect. I hope I made you proud. I
To my many students over the years who’ve supported me and inspired me, when I think of
you, tears brimming with gratefulness; love; and respect spring to my eyes. I’m so proud to call
myself your teacher, and I’ll always call you my student. A special shout out to BHS Class of
Without you, my readers, my book would just be a thing and not the living, breathing
organism that you make it when you love, connect, remember, and share it.
The ultimate readers are our book bloggers. They make my job fun by bringing authors and
readers together. Thank you so much to the following book blogs and the bloggers who make
them come to life: Book Addict Mumma, Kayla the Bibliophile, The Boyfriend Bookmark,
Reading is My Time Out, Love Between the Sheets, Book Addicts Not-so Anonymous, So Many
Books So Little Time, It Started with a Book Blog, Chris’ Book Blog Emporium, Beauty, Brains,
and Books, Book Nerds Anonymous, Reviews by Tammy and Kim, Kindlehooked, Hooked on
Books, Swept Away by Romance, Three Chicks and Their Books, Book Reader Chronicles, First
Class Books, If These Boobs Could Talk, A Love Affair with Books, Cruising Susan Book
Reviews, Reading Bliss, Who Are You Calling a Book Whore?, My Secret Romance Book
Reviews, The Phantom Photographer, Sofia Loves Books, Peace, Love, and Books, Amber’s
Reading Room, The Blushing Reader, Stories and Swag!, Rate My Romance, Books Unhinged,
My Book Muse, Maria’s Book Blog, Crystal’s Many Reviews, Candy Coated Book Blog, Pretty
in Pink Books and Reviews, The Suburban Eclectic, Reality Bites! Lets Get Lost!, The Book
Blog, Schmexy Girl Book Blog, Kassie’s Book Thoughts, Bookish, Paranormal Book Club,
Scandalous Book Blog, Up All Night Book, Bookish, Book2Book, Tough Critic Book Reviews,
The Book Enthusiast, Smitten’s Book Blog, Kim’s Book Blog, Literati Literature Lovers and The
About the author
For as long as she can remember, Lynetta Halat has lived to read and has written countless stories
and plays since she was a young girl. A teacher by day and an avid reader and closet writer by
night, she has always dreamt of penning books that people could connect with and remember; and
her first novel, Every Rose, is the perfect catalyst to launch her into the world of publishing. Her
love of the English language prompted her to pursue a master’s degree in English from Old
Dominion University in Virginia. A self-proclaimed “Coast Girl,” she lives in Mississippi with
her adorable husband, two amazing sons, and two loveable dogs. She is currently at work on her
Connect with Lynetta
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Goodreads author page