An NPR ‘Three Minute Fiction’ prompt, “a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning” inspired me to write a story…
On the eve of her departure from Nairobi, Maeve sat on the nubby sofa as Theo awkwardly fished in his pocket and pulled out a small box. Her stomach lurched in anticipation of the uncomfortable moment ahead. Was he really about to propose after only six months of what she thought of as a fleeting romance? He was beautiful, and their month-long safari had been a glimpse of an enviable life of adventure and passion, but marriage? No, she wasn’t ready for that. Opening the box, Maeve was relieved to see a pair of lovely, gold-rimmed, opal stud earrings. Theo held tightly to the box, removing one earring and looking her directly in the eye.
“Maeve,” he said longingly, “I love you. I know you feel the need to return to America now, but I want you to come back to me and to your home in Africa. I bought these earrings for you, but you can’t have them yet. For now I am going to keep one, and you take the other. Come back and reunite the pair when you’re ready. I will wait for you.”
With that, Theo kissed her gently and returned the box with the lone earring to his pocket.
At the airport the next morning, Maeve clutched the earring in her fist. The post made a dent in her palm that hurt almost as much as the lump in her throat as she bid farewell to Theo and the life she had built in Kenya. But there were weddings to attend, a job offer in LA and anyway, she was only 22 years old. She couldn’t possibly just live in Africa, could she?
Maeve spent the summer at her family home in Delaware. How strange it was to be back in the same house she grew up in after all she had experienced in war zones in Africa. At the end of the summer, Maeve boarded a plane for Los Angeles with two suitcases. Single, idealistic and slightly pudgy, Maeve found Los Angeles to be harder than she expected and she longed for her adventurous and earnest life in Africa. She almost called Theo.
Then, one evening out with her new friend Tessa at a beachside bar filled with cute guys in backward baseball caps, Maeve met Matt. A world traveler as a child, Matt stood out from the crowd because he knew that Africa wasn’t a country and had even been to Nairobi. Maeve and Matt started dating and eventually married and built a life together. The more years went by, the further Africa slipped from Maeve’s memory.
They were living in Prague when Maeve got the call that her father had died. Maeve quickly gathered the children and returned to her family home in Delaware. Maeve’s stepmother had loved the home she shared with Maeve’s father, but the memories of his illness weighed heavy on her and she decided to sell the house.
Maeve’s room had been kept a shrine to her childhood, so as she sorted and discarded decades of various sundry mementos, Maeve reached in the bowels of her closet and uncovered a damp canvas tote. Shoving her hand to the bottom, her finger was pricked by a pin. She recoiled her hand and dumped the tote. There on the carpet the little opal earring glinted in the sunshine for the first time in 15 years. Maeve picked it up and, turning it over in her palm, she squeezed hard. The pain of the stud in her flesh made her flinch, but not with regret, only gratitude for the love she had felt at the time that had prepared her for the life she now lived. She knew that she had no intention of returning the earring to Theo, but she did wonder if he still held its mate?