Fiction Friday: Happily Ever After

This is another Woman’s World reject. I think my stories are just too different for them. I can’t do formula.

Happily Ever After

“Ouch!” I exclaimed, and tossed the novel aside.

“What?” My roommate, Maggie, looked up from the papers she was grading.

“That’s so sweet, my teeth hurt.” I grimaced and made a yum-yum noise for emphasis. “Falling in love never happens like that.”

“Are you sure about that, Miss Love-is-logic-not-feelings?” Maggie insisted on believing in the fairy tale. Love at first sight, a cute first-meeting story to tell the grandkids, the whole package.

“Laugh if you want, but love is based on common interests, compatible personalities, and a commitment.”

“Don’t you ever want the moonlight and chocolate? The prince on a white horse to bring you roses?” Recently engaged, Maggie was determined to help me find love as well. The trouble was, Maggie had never gotten engaged to the wrong guy. I knew the fairy tale was a fantasy that didn’t happen in real life.

I shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think the heart-thumping, butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of love exists.”

“Like Mrs. Reyes says, sometimes there is a happily ever after.” Maggie and I both loved our upstairs neighbor who was due to be discharged from the hospital any time. She’d collided with the catcher on the softball team as they both scrambled for a pop fly at Sunday afternoon’s game.

“Mrs. Reyes got the last Prince Charming,” I said. Reyes is Spanish for king and we often called her Queen of the Cypress Hill Sluggers.

Maggie stood and shook her head. “I feel sorry for the guy who’s going to fall for you someday.”

A clip-clop kind of sound floated through the open window. We looked at each other.

“That sounded like a horse.” Maggie cocked her head and listened.

“What would a horse be doing in the middle of the complex?” Our ground floor apartment looked out on the center courtyard.

We both moved to the window and immediately jumped back and spoke at the same time.

“It is a horse!” I said.

“He’s gorgeous!” Maggie’s eyes widened.

“He is, isn’t he? I’ve always loved palominos.”

“I’m talking about the rider.”

I hadn’t noticed the man in the saddle until then. Long-legged and lean, wearing dusty jeans, cowboy boots and a stained baseball cap, he held a bouquet of flowers along with the reins. He stared at the apartment above ours.

Maggie opened the door and leaned out. “Can we help you?”

He tipped his cap. “I’m looking for Lorraine Reyes in apartment 205.”

“She’s in the hospital.” I spoke up. “But she’s supposed to be coming home soon.”

“She was discharged this afternoon,” the cowboy said. “She’s my grandmother and I brought Calypso here to see her.”

“He’s a beauty.” Maggie glanced at me. “Amy was just saying she loves palominos.”

“He’s friendly.” The rider invited me with a nod. Before I could tell my feet to be still, they took me out the door. The horse turned toward me and I rubbed his velvety muzzle.

“I’ll tell Mrs. Reyes she has company.” Maggie hurried up the stairs, her flip-flops tap-tapping her heels as she ran.

“I’m Hank.” The man leaned down and I took his outstretched hand.

“Amy.” I jumped at the spark when our fingers touched.

“Hmmm. Static electricity,” he said.

“I guess so.”

“Hank, what are you doing here on a horse?” Mrs. Reyes’ voice came from above us. She stood at the top of the stairs, Maggie beside her. The white cast on her arm shone in the sun. I shaded my eyes against the glare.

“Came to see you.” Hank swung out of the saddle and led Calypso to the bottom of the staircase. “And I brought flowers.”

“Well, now you’ve seen me.” She turned and walked away. “Give them to Amy,” she said over her shoulder.

“Now, Gram, don’t be like that,” he called to her.

She turned around. “Don’t think you can come here with some flowers and candy and sweet talk me.”

He pulled a heart-shaped box out of his saddlebag and held it out to her. “Please, don’t be mad.”

“You embarrassed me.” Mrs. Reyes looked every inch a queen, standing at the balcony, looking down on us.

“I’m sorry about that.” Standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding candy and flowers, he looked contrite.

“I forgive you.” She dipped her head in acknowledgement of his apology. “But I’m not ready to accept your gifts.” She and Maggie exchanged a glance. I was too far away to read their expressions, but a shiver ran up my spine. “Give them to Amy.” Her voice floated down to us as she turned and walked away. Her door slam echoed around the courtyard. Surely Maggie hadn’t told Mrs. Reyes to say that. My roommate wouldn’t do that to me. Would she?

Hank took off his cap and slapped it against his thigh. A cloud of dust rose and tickled my nose. I sneezed in the awkward silence.

“Bless you.” Maggie made her way down the stairs.

“Here.” Hank offered me the bouquet and candy and I took them without thinking.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I disobeyed a royal command.” He shook his head. “I thought since I was a grown-up …” His voice trailed off.

“You silly man,” I said, with a chuckle. “We all know better than to disobey Mrs. Reyes. What did you do?”

His rueful grin was sweet. I ran my tongue around my teeth. No aches or cavities. “Never mind, it’s none of my business,” I said.

He shrugged. “She wanted me to ask out one of her nurses. The gal was nice, but I didn’t feel-” A flush spread up his neck and across his cheeks.

“Didn’t feel what?” Maggie asked. But I listened for the answer.

“Didn’t feel that spark.” He looked at me. “You know.”

“Oh, yes.” Maggie nodded. “Well, at least I know. Amy thinks sparks are static electricity. And she doesn’t believe in happily ever after.”

“Hey, I’m right here,” I protested.

“We did have a spark, didn’t we?” he said. “When we touched.” His gaze drew me closer.

I forced myself to look away. “Like she said, static.”

“Maybe.” He held his hat over his heart.

“Or maybe,” I said, not believing I could think such a thing, much less say it out loud. “Maybe the start of a story we can tell our grandkids.”

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