PERSONALLY • by Barbara Mountjoy

Elsa and Alanna met through the personals. Lonely woman seeks same, a soulmate to share nights by the fire, warm cuddles and chocolate desserts. That connection had led to six months of heaven, one of hell.

Now only the personals could save Elsa’s aching heartstrings.

Each Friday morning for a month, she’d hurried to the café down the street, not for bagels or beignets, but to check the city’s Free Press. Leaving her second floor apartment, she locked the door, pausing for a deep breath to gather her strength. This was it. She’d made up her mind this would be the last time.

Elsa walked fast, heart pounding, hands shoved in her pockets to keep her fingers from trembling. Inside the café, she ignored the aromas of fresh-ground coffee beans and pungent chai, and the happy chatter of the patrons. She went straight for the Free Press rack and found it empty. Empty like the echo in her heart.

Shame and regret soaked in as she scrounged through the café desperately seeking a paper. She found an abandoned copy on a dirty table and snatched it. Please, by all things holy. By the power of love. Please.

Nervous fingers sticking on the newsprint, she flipped to 12-B.

***

Holidays are for children. People expected things from adults. Careers. Success. Grandchildren. Thanksgiving had been the worst of all. For the first time, she’d taken someone home to meet her parents, someone she was madly in love with, someone who loved her. Alanna was a warm cinnamon-bun woman, sweet, spicy, a cushion of comfort at each day’s end. They’d lived together four months in a tiny city apartment, with plans to make it forever. Until dinner with Elsa’s family.

Not that they’d said anything cruel to Alanna. More that they hadn’t said… anything. A killing frost had settled over the loving family atmosphere, chilling greedy appetites, freezing faces in that “aren’t-we-liberal?” insincere half-smile. Mother had served turkey with apologies. “I’d have made something vegetarian if I’d known we’d have a lesbian,” she’d said.

“Nice haircut,” her brother Bobby had added, smirking as he heaped potatoes on his plate, next to the Parker House rolls. White food, white bread, white state of mind, colorless, unseasoned, narrow-minded…

Two hours of torment were enough. She and Alanna escaped sans goodbye, bolting when the family gathered around the new big-screen to see a Lions touchdown replay. Brief sentences pierced the hard silence as Alanna drove through the blowing snow on the road back to the city, scattered nonsense, meaningless words. So much to say and nothing said of it. Not till much later, under the thick red batik comforter, between the chocolate-toned linens, each frozen on her side of the bed, that’s when the sound and the fury roared.

Elsa’s heartfelt apology for an insensitive family had been smothered by Alanna’s pain. Alanna had cried, ranted and accused, believing she’d been used as a tool of war or weapon to beat those bigoted parents into forced acceptance. Reawakened acid memories, flashbacks of Alanna’s struggle with her own family’s rejection, poisoned the conversation. Elsa had tried to assuage her anguished feelings, but Alanna, drama-bent and inconsolable, had emptied her drawers, shoved tear-soaked belongings into worn cloth grocery bags, then dragged herself away like a decimated army in icy retreat.

***

She’d truly believed Alanna would call. In a day. Maybe two. But she didn’t. As stubborn as she was theatrical, Alanna didn’t return Elsa’s calls, either. Over the lonely fortnight that followed, a black hole slowly opened in Elsa’s heart, sucking in all that meant life to her, even her pride. Her need for Alanna bled out through her fingers into words she was driven to share. One more try. She put a four-week ad in the personals. A.D., you are my only family, everything in the world to me. Please come home.

Twenty-eight days she had waited. Read. Cried. This was the last.

12-B.

She scanned the column down to the fifth ad.

Honey bear, I miss you so. I’ll be home at noon, with a bouquet of fresh cut lilacs and a chilled bottle of blackberry merlot.

Her hand trembled so that she could hardly read the words a second time. Honey bear, she’d said. Honey bear. Eyes burning, throat choked, she glanced at the clock over the espresso pot. 11:45.

Elsa needed no second invitation to love. She dropped the paper on the table and was gone.


Barbara Mountjoy, a published writer for over 35 years, signed five novel contracts in 2010, including The Elf Queen (2010) and The Elf Child (2011), both from Dragonfly Publishing, and her first romance, Secrets in the Sand, from The Wild Rose Press. The author of 101 Little Instructions for Surviving Your Divorce (Impact Publishers, 1999), she published two stories in Cup of Comfort collections and teaches publicity for small press writers. She blogs on parenting kids with autism, writing and life at http://awalkabout.wordpress.com. Her writing websites are http://clanelvesofthebitterroot.com, for her fantasy series, and http://alanalorens.com, for her romance works.


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