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The End of The World -
A New Year's Short Story -
The day had been hell. They’d had five fussy clients in and out of the office all day and, to top it all off, Harlan St. James, president of the company was out sick so she’d been forced to play apologetic hostess all day.
She was bone-tired and her face hurt from smiling. All she wanted was to go home.
It was still such a strange idea to her.
Her mother had been a professor of evolutionary psychology, who—no matter how hard she tried—just couldn’t quite make tenure. So they’d constantly been moving about from college to college, trying to make her positions stick.
Growing up in temporary, month-to-month apartments—and then finally her own college dorm rooms followed by her own cheap efficiency apartment—Ivy had never really had a real home until she’d moved into Marcus Ramirez’s house.
But it’d felt like home since the first time she stepped foot in it. As if she and the space recognized the other’s soul. It looked like the sitcom houses she’d stared at with such fascinated longing when she was young. It was a tall, if narrow, brown Victorian, sandwiched between identical blue and brick-colored ones. Comfortable. Settled. With steepled towers and patterned clay tiled roofs. It even had a white picket fence encircling it. It was what she’d always dreamed of as a child, every time she’d had to pack and unpack her life into as many cardboard boxes as their small, fuel-efficient car could hold.
It was Marcus’s dream house too, she knew. Having been shuffled around the foster system his whole life, Marcus understood Ivy’s desire—her driving need—for a home. He had it too. He’d once told her that he’d bought this house almost before he’d been able to afford it, often choosing mortgage over food because while he could survive a day—even a week—off just scraps and leftovers, he just couldn’t survive losing this house. His home.
Maybe that was why—that strained, awkward night three months into their relationship—when she’d told him her most guarded, rarely spoken secret as they sat in front of the fireplace in his perfect house, he hadn’t looked at her like she were crazy. Hadn’t looked at her—like so many others had—as if she were damaged.
She remembered that thoughtful look on his face, the quiet strength of him filling the room, right before he’d smiled, sat her on his lap, and agreed to be her Daddy. Her Papi.
Ivy looked out the window of the bus at the passing scenery, seeing that her stop was quickly approaching. She sat up straighter. She needed to get ready.
Reaching up to her bound hair, she deftly unpinned the blond curls, letting the spiraled curls fall to brush her shoulders in springy ringlets. She tucked the pins inside her handbag before taking out her disposable makeup removers.
Carefully, she wiped the oil-soaked pads across her face, wiping away her foundation, powder, and blush. Her stress, her worries, and the toll of years. She could feel herself getting lighter, younger, as the weight of the world was wiped away.
Once clean-faced, she felt freer. Felt a smile creep across her face. Not the coy, reserved, proper one she’d been using all day to placate demanding clients. But the smile of a child. Unburdened by worries of crow’s feet or laugh lines. Not mentally measuring the proportion of lips to teeth to gums, aiming for that winning smile practiced to perfection in mirrors. Hers was a smile that spoke purely of joy.
It was magic, that smile. The way it spread through her, changing the way she held herself. The way she saw herself. The way she felt inside her skin. As an adult, she was always so aware of how others saw her. Was so aware of the fact that people were always watching her, judging her, making sure she toed that exacting line the adult world—the real world—set.
But when she stepped into her other role—her other self—none of that mattered anymore. Scooting back in her seat, Ivy marveled at the fact that her feet didn’t quite reach the bus’s floor. She kicked her legs, letting her heels—which now made her think of times long ago when she used to play dress-up in her mother’s shoes—swing and smack against the bus’s wall. She listened to the hum of the engine, to the weary sounds of the other riders, and tried to get her beating feet to match the world’s rhythm. To lose herself in those sounds.
She turned to press her hands and face against the bus window’s glass and watched the familiar neighborhood whoosh past her. She breathed a heavy puff of air against the air-conditioner-cooled pane, watching with delight as it fogged over the world. She took one finger and traced a big heart, taking exacting strokes to make it perfect. Quickly, before the heart disappeared into the clear nothingness of the glass, she scribbled the initials IF + MR in the heart’s center, sealing it—the wish of it, the promise of it—into the ether forever before pulling the bus’s cord to signal her stop.
Marcus heard his Ivy come in the door, heard her call out to him.
“I’m in the kitchen,” he called back, continuing to stir the stew simmering on the stove. As a freelance PI, Marcus had a relatively flexible schedule. Which was perfect for their arrangement; he liked to be here when his little Ivy came home.
He smiled as she bounded in, all smiles and excitement as she smelled one of her favorite meals. He could just imagine the appreciative look on her round, cherubic face as she took her seat on one of the tall stools at the small kitchen island.
“Are you still in your nice clothes?” he asked her without turning around, already knowing the answer.
There was a pause. He imagined her nibbling on her full, pouty lips as she let her pretty, bouncy, blond curls fall around her sweetheart face. “Uh-huh,” she murmured softly.
“Then you should change into your house clothes, shouldn’t you?” he asked, using the gentle but firm tone he reserved just for her. “And hurry up, please; dinner will be ready in ten.”
“Yes, Papi,” she dutifully said as he heard her stool slide back so she could jump off.
That was his girl.
He turned the stovetop on low as he turned around to watch her walk away, her heels still clicking on the kitchen tile, making her long legs look absolutely lickable, even covered in those professional pantyhose. With the scent of slow-cooking meat wafting around him, Marcus felt his stomach rumble and his mouth water as he watched the slow swish and sway of her hips as she sulked out of the room. Though he hadn’t been when he’d begun cooking dinner, he was suddenly ravenous.
But that was always the way with his little Mija. From the day he’d met her, she’d made him hungry for everything.
Even things he’d never thought he would be.
The whole Papi/Mija thing had been her idea. It’d been her fantasy. Her desire. And he’d never thought he would have liked it—never would have even thought of trying it; hell, even the Spanish was a little weird for him—but, if it was what she wanted, he would do it for her. He’d have done anything for her.
Ivy was everything he’d ever wanted in a woman. She was beautiful. Soft. Sweet. When he’d first seen her at a New Year’s Eve party a mutual friend had thrown two—no, almost three—years ago, all he could think when he’d seen her was how good she would feel in his arms. She’d been dressed in a pretty, baby blue cocktail dress, something shiny and sleek, and he remembered thinking she looked like a princess, like a walking watercolor from out of a fairytale picture book. She’d been laughing at some joke and the tinkling sound had sounded—felt—like magic.
She’d been so beautiful. Like a fairy. Or an angel. This perfect, mythical creature too good for the world the rest of them walked.
It had felt like love at first sight.
“Okay,” she announced, coming back into the kitchen, her bare feet smacking on the tile, “I’m ready.”
Every time he looked at her, even three years later, it still felt like love at first sight. His breath caught as he watched her prance proudly back to him, dressed in a comfy, worn-in Lucky Charms T-shirt and matching sleep shorts, her blond curls tied back into bouncy pigtails. Her pale legs were bared, naked now. His eyes travelled their long length, loving the lines of her thighs, the bend of her knees, the curve of her calves. He loved the exact fit of those limbs wrapped around his waist or shoulders.
“Should I set the table, Papi?” she asked with wide-eyed helpfulness, already headed to the cabinets.
“Thank you,” he said as he set the stew pot on the island they used as a table. He watched her set their table, carefully placing the setting, bending her supple frame over the smooth, slightly nicked wood. As he sat down across from her on his own stool, he said, “I have a surprise for you tonight.”
He smiled as her head popped up happily as he spooned some food into both their bowls. “Surprise?”
He chuckled as she blinked her long lashes at him eagerly, loving her enthusiasm. “Yes,” he told her, “I’ve laid something special for you on the bed.”
With eyes wide with excitement, his Ivy stood up from the table, ready to rush to the room they both shared upstairs.
“After dinner,” he scolded as he motioned for her to finish her dinner.
She sat back down with a pout. But, by the time she picked up her spoon to dig into the dinner in front of her, her smile was back. “Whatever you say, Papi.”
Even after three years, hearing her say that...it did strange things to him.
Marcus had never thought of being anyone’s father; he’d never had one of his own. He never figured himself the kind of man who would know what to do with a child—it wasn’t as if he’d had anyone to teach him.
“You’re not eating,” Ivy pointed out, her spoon in her fist and a frown curving her mouth. “Is everything all right?”
He looked at her. His Mija.
A part of him—the part that grew up in more foster homes than he wanted to remember, about as far from his heritage or anything resembling family as possible—cringed at the names. Papi. Mija. They spoke to a level of intimacy and connection that he’d never really felt qualified for. Like they were aping at something he didn’t really—and would never really—understand.
“Papi?” she asked, tugging at her pigtails worriedly.
He shook his head and pushed back from the table, pushing those thoughts from his head in favor of easier, happier ones. “I’m just too excited to eat,” he said. “I think you’re going to really like your surprise.” Taking her now empty bowl, he shooed her from the table. “Why don’t you head on up and see what I’ve laid out for you?”
And the smile she gave him—the one that pulled at the corners of her lips, that lit up her eyes, that made him feel like the center of her world—made his chest swell. That one look from her could make him feel like the most powerful man in the world.
He was just beginning to do the dishes when he heard her squeal. He imagined her opening the boxes he arranged to arrive today. With the package all prettily wrapped in sky blue paper, he knew that Ivy would recognize the outfit he’d ordered online from Bits ‘n’ Pieces.
The last time they’d visited the high-end boutique, Ivy hadn’t been able to pass the dress without touching it. She’d gazed at it with such open longing. But the dress had been specially ordered by another client and wasn’t for sale. He’d so hated to leave the shop without it, the disappointed waver in her pouting lips feeling like a personal failing. So he’d gone home that night and specially ordered one for her.
To arrive today.
“Papi!” She came running down the stairs, her feet a happy patter in the pretty patent leather shoes he’d laid out too. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love it!”
She rushed in and spun around in the kitchen archway, preening as the dress’s full skirt flared around her. It was blue, of course—the color he always imagined her in, her color. The material was soft but sturdy, cut in simple lines but adorned with such delicate embellishments. With ruffles and bows and buttons, it was too beautiful for everyday wear. It was a dress for only the most special of occasions. It seemed perfect for his Mija. A sewn embodiment of how he saw her.
“It’s for the party tonight,” he told her. Donovan’s held a special play party every three months just for couples and people like them. Littles. Daddies. Mommies. Babies. Boys and girls.
“Play Date?” she asked, anticipation making her blue eyes beam.
“Uh-huh,” he said, getting caught up in her infectious joy, as she clapped her hands. “I put your toy bag near the door,” he told her. “Why don’t you go take a look before we go to make sure everything’s in there.”
He watched her skip off, genuine glee in every bounding step. She would enjoy tonight.
His Mija struggled with her desires sometimes. Was always sure—for good reason—that people would look down at her for them, like so many had before. That they wouldn’t understand this need, this desire, and would see it as something it wasn’t. Would see him as a pedophile or her as emotionally stunted. When, in truth, what they were was in love. Just two people trying to make it work.
He got up and walked to the door, hanging back a bit to just watch her sift through the toys—stuffed animals and dolls and floaties—he’d packed for her. He marveled at the delight and care she took with each beloved toy, each holding a memory or a moment in their relationship. The teddy bear he’d won and given to her at that beachside carnival on their third date. The golden-haired doll he’d bought her the morning after she’d hesitantly confessed the whole of her, the hidden parts he could never have guessed at. The fairy figurine he’d bought her the day he’d told her he loved her.
He watched her gently repack the bag, putting each toy in just so, in its own perfect, precise place. He could practically feel her excitement filling the room, fueling his own. He loved to see her happy. Would willingly do whatever he had to to see her so.
So he would take her to Donovan’s Play Date Party, would do and be things he never thought he would. Because she needed this. And he needed to give this to her because she loved it and he loved her. So tonight they would go to a place where they could be with people who understood. Who wouldn’t look at them like they were odd because they were just like them. It was a place they could go to belong.
“Are you ready, Mija?” he asked, laying a gentle hand on her crown, smoothing back her downy hair as she looked up at him with such adoration.
Read Part Two Here