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by Phebe Jewell

He says he’ll be right back and before I know it he’s up on stage, taking the mic from the emcee. What’s he doing? He’s not a poet. He says my name and suddenly the spotlight is on me. A hard white light and dark shapes beyond. Will you? he asks. My darling, will you marry me? The audience oohs and aahs. Such suckers for a happy ending. He knows I hate crowds, the bar scene, shouting to hear each other over clinking glass, throbbing music. I didn’t want to go out, I asked for a quiet night at home, just the two of us, curled up by the fire. But he insisted, said the spoken word would blow my mind. You’ll love this one poet, grabbing his keys and coat as if that was the last word. And now everyone’s looking at me. Say you will. He craves an audience. A chant grows. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’ll have to say yes. I see a tasteful garden wedding, a honeymoon in Hawaii. Successful businessman, he’ll want me to quit my job and stay at home. Texts and calls all day long. Just checking, he’ll say, to make sure you’re okay. Little comments about my friends, my grammar, my hair. An extra five pounds. Vacations in Amsterdam and Barcelona to make amends. Afternoons untangling every word, every look. Blinking in the light, I mutter no. What? the crowd murmurs around me. No, I say. What? Boos. I’ve gone off script. But no. Not like this, not with you.

Phebe Jewell’s recent work appears in Literary Heist, Blue Lake Review, Maudlin House, Dime Show Review, and Nunum. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest, where she teaches English at Seattle Central College and for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for women in prison.