It’s almost Valentine’s Day! To mark the day, after the cut is the premiere of a new Monkey Queen short story, “That’s Amore!” Be warned: There are spoilers, especially for the endings of A Tiding Of Magpies and Redblade.
Scylla had just finished preparing her tea, and was setting the cup and saucer on the table by her favorite chair, when she heard the knocking on the door. “Perfectly timed,” the black-clad faerie murmured as she walked over. She glanced through the peephole, nodded, and opened the door.
“Hey,” Beth McGill said. “Am I early?”
“A bit,” Scylla said, “but I can work with it.” She stepped aside as Beth entered the apartment, closing the door behind her.
Beth paused as she reached for her shoulder bag, staring at the bookshelves that filled every available spot along the walls of Scylla’s living room. “I still can’t get over all those books,” she said as she opened the bag.
“This?” Gregor snorted as he poked his head out of the bag. “She hasn’t even read some of these.” He had been a powerful sorcerer in a previous life but had been reincarnated as a guinea pig, and spent his free time watching reality television and insulting Beth’s roommate, Michiko Koyama, the Monkey Queen.
“Yet.” Scylla smiled slightly as she lifted Gregor from the bag. “Good afternoon, Gregor.” The guinea pig nodded.
“Thanks for taking Gregor on such short notice,” Beth said. “I really appreciate it.”
“It’s no trouble.” Scylla set Gregor on a cushioned ottoman, next to a smartphone. “Is there something I can help you and Michiko with?”
“Ummm…” Beth swallowed. “No, we’re fine. It’s just one of those things that comes up. Unexpected last-minute…hero stuff.”
“Hero stuff.” Scylla nodded. “Well, I hope the…hero stuff goes well.”
“Thanks.” Beth smiled. “I’ll call you when I’m ready to pick Gregor up.” She said quick goodbyes and hurried out of the apartment.
“Well…” Scylla locked the front door and turned to face Gregor. “This is quite the coincidence.”
Gregor glanced up from the smartphone. “Coincidence?” he said.
“Today is Valentine’s Day.” Scylla crossed the room, stopping in front of her chair. “You know it’s a day for humans here to get…romantic.”
The guinea pig snorted. “Those two? Beth and the Monkey Queen? They couldn’t get dates if they tried.”
Scylla sat down and smiled. “I suppose,” she said as she reached for her tea.
* * *
The blush Beth had been trying to hide broke free as she left Scylla’s apartment. Hero stuff, she thought as she pulled her green army jacket tight around her to hold off the winter chill. Could I sound any dumber? Sheesh.
She’d been trying hard to keep her blossoming relationship with Michiko secret. It had nothing to do with worries about being in a same-sex romance, or how people she knew would react if they learned about it. It was because Beth still wasn’t sure that she wanted everything that came with being romantically involved with the Monkey Queen, helping to save the world and all the danger that came with it. Michiko had reluctantly gone along with it, even though Beth know that she wanted to tell everyone she ever met, and a few random strangers as well.
Beth was still looking forward to the evening ahead. It was their first Valentine’s Day as a couple, and Michiko had told her not to come back right away after dropping off Gregor, as she needed time to prepare. I wonder what she’s planning, Beth thought as she headed for the Dew Droppin’ Coffeehouse to kill some time. I can’t wait to see it. She smiled warmly.
* * *
Michiko happily hummed along to “You’re The One” as she hurried to the kitchen. She peeked at the two pots, one with the pasta and one with red sauce with mushrooms, tomatoes and tofu meatballs, as they simmered on the stove, and glanced at the oven to make sure the heart-shaped loaf of French bread was baking up properly. Everything looks yummy! she thought, smiling as she headed back to the living room, wiping her hands on the white apron, covered with little red hearts, that she wore over a yellow blouse and black jeans.
The apartment Michiko and Beth shared wasn’t too big to start with, and between the old couch, the end table that was topped by Gregor’s cage, and the shelves loaded with Beth’s books and DVDs, there wasn’t much room for anything else. But Michiko had managed to squeeze in two folding chairs she had borrowed from her foster mother, Grandmother Fox, and a card table.
She had found the table at a thrift store, and had spent ten minutes trying to set it up. She was still concerned about its stability; it seemed to wobble at the slightest touch, and sway whenever anyone came within five feet. It seemed to be holding up, so she had covered it with a red and white checkered tablecloth and was hoping for the best.
Michiko dashed into her bedroom and grabbed some of the things she had bought for Beth for Valentine’s Day, bringing them back to the living room. She set the box of dark chocolate truffles on one side of the card table and the greeting card next to it, trying not to wince as the table swayed very slightly. The twin candleholders were placed on two sides of the table, flanking the bowls that held the Parmesan cheese and the garlic-infused olive oil for dipping the bread.
Should I light the candles now? Michiko thought as she placed them in the holders. Yep! The runny wax will be a nice subtle accent thingy! She hurried to the kitchen, pulled a lighter from a drawer and ran back to the living room. She lit the candles and stepped back. Looks nice! she thought. But there’s something missing…
Michiko grimaced and slapped her forehead. I forgot the flowers! She dashed to her bedroom and picked up a simple glass vase that sat on her desk. It held a simple arrangement centered around two roses, one red, one yellow, their stems twined together. “She Loves You” had come on, and Michiko smiled happily, singing along as she danced out of the bedroom.
Michiko glanced at the vase. Needs a little more water, she thought as she headed for the kitchen. She stopped at the sink and set the vase under the tap. As she turned the water on, she glanced over at the stove and thought, I should turn the burner with the pasta down, and carefully. Those knobs are so loose—
Even with the laptop’s speakers turned up, Michiko’s smartphone was loud enough to be heard as it rang, playing “Daydream Believer”. Oh no! Michiko thought, checking her pockets before remembering that she had left the phone on Gregor’s table. She dashed into the living room, grabbed the phone, and without checking the screen answered, “Hello?”
“Hi, Michiko,” the caller said.
Michiko recognized Abigail Main-Drake’s voice. “Abby! Hiiii!”
“Is this a bad time?”
“Well…” Michiko pouted. “Yeah. I was getting things ready for tonight.”
“Tonight?” Abby asked. “What’s going on tonight…oh, right. Valentine’s. You and Beth and all that. Silly me.”
Abby had met Michiko and Beth when she had come up to Nortonville to tour Cooper College; the three had become friends after a bumpy start, and Abby was one of the few people who knew about Michiko and Beth’s relationship. “What are you doing tonight?” Michiko asked.
“Homework.” Abby sighed. “Maybe I’ll find some romantic anime to watch later. I have to get up early tomorrow anyway.”
“That’s when the stores mark down all their unsold Valentine’s candy. I need to get the dark chocolate before it’s all gone.”
Michiko giggled. “Beth said she does that every year!”
“Smart girl,” Abby said. “Mom had some questions about that mess with Dobrenyi, but they can wait. I’ll call tomorrow. Tell Beth I said ‘hi’.”
“Okay!” Michiko smiled as she and Abby said their goodbyes. So what’s next? she thought. She set her phone down on the end table as she glanced at the kitchen.
She had forgotten that she had left the water running in the sink. The vase was overflowing, and the roses were bobbing up and down, looking like they were about to lose some petals. “Oh, no!” she gasped.
Michiko ran to the sink and shut the tap off. She sighed with relief as she checked the flowers and saw they were fine. She grabbed a paper towel and wiped off the vase. As she did, she glanced at the stove. The burner! she thought. I can’t overcook the pasta—
Michiko’s smartphone rang. Of course, she thought. She quickly turned the dial for the burner with the pasta down to low, not noticing when she bumped the dial next to it. She set the vase down and ran to the living room, picking up her smartphone. “Hello?” she said.
“Good evening, Michiko,” the pleasant voice said.
“Grandmother Fox! Hiiii!” Michiko beamed.
“Is this a good time to talk?”
“Well…” Michiko glanced around the living room.
“Oh!” Grandmother Fox said. “Tonight is Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?”
“And you’re setting up an evening with Beth, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Michiko started to blush. Even though Grandmother Fox knew about her and Beth, she was still a bit shy about discussing how things were going between them with her foster mother.
“I’ll keep it short, then,” Grandmother Fox said. “I wanted to ask you about—”
Michiko glanced into the kitchen. Her eyes widened when she saw that she had placed the vase with the flowers on the stove. “I’ll need to call you back,” she said. “My roses are boiling. Bye.” She hung up and set the phone on the card table as she hurried to the kitchen.
She pulled on her oven mitt and picked up the vase. She set it on the counter and glanced at the roses. They’re okay, thank goodness, she thought. She glanced inside the oven, and saw that the bread was still baking. She took a deep breath as she headed back to the living room. Stay calm, she told herself. Relax. It’ll be okay.
Michiko turned on the television and started scrolling through the movies they were offering. She wanted to pick out something romantic to watch with Beth after dinner, and she had seen that the cable company was promoting Shakespeare month. Beth kind of likes Shakespeare! Michiko thought. How about Romeo And Juliet… She slapped her forehead when she remembered how the play ended. Bad idea, she thought. Maybe A Midsummer Night’s Dream instead—
The smartphone rang. Michiko hurried to the card table. “Hello?” she said as she picked it up and answered it without looking.
“Monkey Queen?” the voice on the other end said. “Hello! It’s Lora!”
Michiko tried not to roll her eyes as she heard the mayor of the brownie Emigre community speak. Please don’t be an emergency, she thought. “Hi!” she said politely.
“Am I calling at a bad time?”
“We’re holding a big Valentine’s Day party tonight!” the brownie said. “With a chocolate eating contest! We were hoping you and Beth could attend!”
“You could be the judge! Beth could be one of the contestants!”
Michiko glanced at the card table as it started to wobble. “I’m sorry, Lora, but I’ll need to take a raincheck. Beth and I have…hero stuff to do.”
“That’s okay!” Lora said cheerfully. “How about this weekend? We’re holding a big President’s Day party on Sunday!”
“We’re having a top hat wearing contest! Maybe—”
Michiko glanced at the stove. She saw the smoke and tried not to scream. “Sorry,” she said. “My heart is burning. Heartburn. Gotta go.” She hung up the phone and stuffed it in her back pocket as she ran into the kitchen, brushing the card table as she went.
She grabbed her mitt and flung the oven door open. She saw that the bread was fine, a perfect brown. So where’s the smoke coming from? she thought as she pulled the bread out and set it aside.
She then saw the burner settings. Oh no! The sauce! She lifted the lid off the pot. The sauce was at a fierce boil, and the tofu meatballs were starting to scorch. Michiko bent over the pot to turn off the burner.
As she did, the boiling sauce spurted out of the pot, splattering all over Michiko’s apron and blouse. Oh no! she thought as she dropped the lid back on the pot. My new blouse! And the sauce is ruined! I don’t know if I have time—
There was a creak from the living room. Michiko turned and saw that one side of the card table had started to shift, and one of the candleholders had toppled over. The candle had hit the tablecloth as it fell and set it on fire.
Oh nooooo! Michiko thought as the smoke alarm went off. She grabbed the vase and ran over to the card table, splashing the water on the fire, putting it out. She saw the candle on the floor and dropped to her knees to pick it up, grateful that it hadn’t set the hardwood ablaze.
As she blew out the candle, she heard a snap. She glanced up.
The card table had given way, and everything Michiko had carefully placed on it was sliding off. Michiko grabbed the other candle to keep it from igniting anything, but the olive oil bowl spilled on her apron, and the Parmesan cheese bowl dumped its contents on her head. The roses landed in her lap, and the chocolate and the card bounced off her as they hit the floor.
The smoke alarm was still ringing, drowning out “That’s Amore”, and the apartment smelled like burnt plastic. Michiko sat on the floor in a daze, shaking her head in disbelief. What else can go wrong? she thought.
Michiko’s eyes widened as the door opened. “Hey!” Beth said happily as she stepped inside. “Hope I’m not too early,” she added as she closed the door and took off her sneakers. “The coffeehouse was so crowded—“
She stopped as she saw Michiko. Her girlfriend was sitting on the living room floor, a candle in each hand, roses in her lap, cheese in her hair and covered in olive oil and marinara sauce, as the smoke alarm beeped. “Michiko?” Beth said slowly.
Michiko jumped to her feet, dropped the candles, and set the roses on Gregor’s table. She ran past Beth and into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She sat on the edge of her futon and covered her face in her hands. I’ve ruined everything, she thought as she started to cry. I ruined Valentine’s Day.
* * *
Beth had opened the window and fanned the smoke away from the alarm. She threw away the burnt tablecloth before she folded up the card table and set it aside. She checked the kitchen; the sauce was overcooked and a total loss, though the pasta could be saved and the bread smelled delicious.
She went back to the living room and saw the card and the box of chocolates on the floor. Oh, Michiko, she thought as she picked them up. What happened?
Beth stared at the card and chocolate as she set them on the end table next to the roses. She’s mad at herself, she thought. She’ll stay in her room all night now. Unless…I can get her out.
She headed into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. Her green army jacket was on her bed. She sat on the bed, pushed her hair back into place, and tugged down her Belle and the Beast t-shirt. She smiled as she took her jacket and pulled out her smartphone.
* * *
Michiko had stopped crying and was staring at the floor. I’m so stupid, she thought as she wiped her eyes. I screwed up everything. All I wanted was to give Beth a great Valentine’s Day, and look what—
She felt her smartphone vibrate in her back pocket. At least it’s not ringing for a change, she thought as she pulled it out and glanced at the screen. A message? she thought as she tapped the screen. From…Beth?
The video started. Michiko’s eyes widened.
“Hey, Michiko.” Beth smiled. “It looks like something went wrong. Well, several somethings.
“I know you well enough by now to know that you’re upset. You’re blaming yourself for the mess. You’re thinking that you ruined Valentine’s Day. But…you haven’t. You’re still here, and that’s all I need to make it a great evening.
“And even if everything went wrong, I’m still amazed and touched by how much effort you were putting into making it special. That is so sweet and awesome of you.” Beth’s voice cracked. “That means so much to me, Michiko. So much.” Michiko found herself smiling.
“So…” Beth paused. “I need to get you out of that bedroom so we can still have dinner and all that. If I’ve timed this right, your bedroom door should be opening—”
Michiko jerked her head up as her bedroom door opened and Beth walked in. “Beth—” Michiko started to say.
“Shhh.” Beth walked over to the futon, took Michiko’s shoulders and lifted her to her feet. Michiko dropped her smartphone on the futon as on the screen, Beth smiled and waved.
Beth pulled Michiko close and held her tight. “It’s okay,” she whispered as Michiko returned her hug.
“Beth…” Michiko said softly.
Beth tilted her head back and smiled warmly. “I know,” she said as she brought her lips close to Michiko’s. They kissed, and Michiko felt her heart racing happily.
Michiko pulled back and smiled, a tear in her eye. “Thank you, Beth,” she said.
Beth smiled again. “We should clean the place up before we go out for dinner.”
“And I need to take a shower and change,” Michiko said.
“You should,” Beth said. “You smell like an Italian restaurant.”
Michiko laughed. “I do!” she said, glancing at Beth’s t-shirt. “And Belle’s got pasta sauce all over her.”
Beth giggled as Michiko looked into her bright blue eyes. She could see the light there, the happiness shining through. She reached for Beth, and they were in each other’s arms again.
They kissed tenderly, over and over. With each kiss, the gloom that Michiko had felt lessened, swept away by the joy that raced through her. She finally pulled away after a last kiss, a long one that left her legs trembling.Michiko stroked Beth’s cheek and smiled sweetly. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Beth,” she managed to say.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Michiko.” Beth smiled warmly, and Michiko felt her heart skip a beat. She took her girlfriend’s hand as they left the bedroom.
Dedicated to those who have loved and lost, to those who have love in their lives, and to lonely lovers everywhere. I hope that you have memories that bring a smile to your face, companionship that brings you joy, or a shining star that brings you hope.
And also dedicated to lovers of adventure, and funlovers everywhere!
If you enjoyed this story, or any of Michiko and Beth’s shorter adventures, head over to Amazon.com to buy their novels! Or search your local Amazon store for “Monkey Queen”!
© 2016 Robert Dahlen. All rights reserved, except for those covered by “fair use” laws where you live.