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I Have the Odd Habit of...

By Emma Woodhead

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I have the odd habit of falling in love with men whose hearts that are too big and too good for me. I don’t consider myself a kind person by nature. I often have to work to gain a title like that. I think it has something to due with me reading the Prince too young, and now, through the lens of Machiavelli, I look at the world in a tinted light.

I quickly learned that for the future I wanted, the role of my partner could be filled with no one other than a traditional man, and I gave up any other dating expeditions to follow the path I have chosen for myself: rather than the one society or my previous ambitions had wanted me

The first year of college is what I would describe as an out-of-body experience. I moved through the motions and played the part I was supposed to get people to like me. I learned that at a college full of narcissistic victims and social justice warriors who look at the world so negatively, being the dumb blonde was the trope that got people to accept my presence more than any of the other façades I had created in the past. Darius was the only one who seemed to see through my acting skills and condemned them, but he told me that my acting was top-notch, and if I wasn’t so focused on writing, I could probably make it as an actor.

When others spoke about zodiac signs, he asked me what my Myer-Briggs was. I played dumb, telling him I had never taken the test before, and when he placed his laptop in my lap, I was forced to take the test. He watched me select my choices, and when he felt I was lying, he would close the laptop- reminding me that frauds would end up in the eighth ring of hell, according to Dante, and then make me start over. When I had gotten my results, he seemed more than satisfied to see that I was awarded the prestigious title of INTJ.

“Only INTJ’s are smart enough to play dumb around people,” he said to me, and the secret stayed with us.

While our friends smoked weed and watched the trees dance during acid trips and shroom sessions on Friday nights, Darius would invite me to the library, where we debated on whether or not Anna Karenina’s suicide was justified. He showed more sympathy for her than I did. But that was because of my bais for Vronsky, and anyone who caused him any pain in that book was seen as an enemy.

He studied culinary arts, and when he caught onto my phases of starvation and excessive workout between classes and practice- he would invite me over for dinner. He knew that grades meant everything for me, and he would tell me he had to perfect the recipes for his class, and I would eat the food I was given. He was a wonderful cook and refused to take any of the praise I tried to grant him, he was a humble person at heart, and nowadays, that is a rare trait to come across in people.

While others paid only attention to me when the room was empty, I was the one who gained Darius’ attention when the room was filled. And maybe that was why I had given him the nickname Mr. Darcy which he wore as a badge of honor, and to repay him for his kindness, I named the only forgiving character in my novel after him because, at college, he was one of the few people I genuinely cared about and asked for nothing in return.

Then colleges were shut down because of the pandemic, and Darius returned to France to finish his studies. And after his graduation, he got a job in Paris as a chef. He tells me that he has a table waiting for me there. I never wanted to go to France before I met him, but now it is on the top of my travel list.

Michael was a true southern gentleman, and when I had met him at a church group when visiting my grandparents down south, the first words he had spoken to me was the show his shock that he had met a New Yorker who was Pro-Life and from there we became friends. He was stationed at the military base in the next town over and on Sundays, which were his days off; he often spent the day with me being we knew our time was limited.

He never told me what he did in the military, and it wasn’t until he and his friends took me to play laser tag did I realize all of them were trained snipers, and they took the competition as if it was truly life or death. Those kids we competed against did know what hit them.

I found it hard to believe that his hands had taken the life of another before because he was so gentle with the people he came in contact with. He helped the church elders find seats before mass, and when it was his turn to lead the children’s mass, the kids adored him. I loved watching him with them, and he became the first man I could see myself raising a family with. I knew when his back was against the wall- he would still protect the people around him.

When I was alone with Michael, I learned that he was a nerd like me and when he was asked anything about Harry Potter, and he could give you the entire history of it. He told me he was a Slytherin and was happy that I was a Ravenclaw because he had never met a Slytherin girl who wasn’t intolerable. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that for every two times I got Ravenclaw, I would be assigned to Slytherin once. But I learned that I could easily persuade him to see Slytherin girls be on par with Ravenclaw ones. We often found ourselves talking about how we would take over the world and how we would run the world if we were able to accomplish our goals.

“This is why Ravenclaws and Slytherins are the superior houses,” he once told me, and I agreed with him.

When I told him I had to go back to New York, he gave me a Slytherin ring he had found, and the small snake with green jeweled eyes sit perfectly onto my pink finger where it rested. He told me it was real, and I think he genuinely believed it, so I didn’t have the heart to tell him I knew it was fake because my skin would turn green after only ten minutes of the metal resting on it. I got a letter a few weeks later that he was in the Middle East, and we continue to write to one another, bringing back the old practice of handwritten words and decorated envelopes to share our thoughts and ideas and at the end of all his letters he always asks for me to send him more socks and I did every time.

Emerson was the one I felt the most passionate about, and maybe that was the circumstances surrounding our relationship, or perhaps it was because he was the right person at the wrong time.

The riots started only a few days after our first date, and most of his time was spent on the riot line while I was trapped in the suburbs, unable to venture into the city to stand by his side. One night, when I was home alone, I had told him I was coming to stand with him after I learned he was at the hospital to take a concussion test the night before when he was hit. He threatened to have me arrested if I stepped foot in the city during those riots and that he would hold me in jail for the seventy-two hours he had before releasing me to my parents, who were scheduled to return at the end of the weekend.

His mother and his father’s parents liked me, but the rest of his family, as judge, jury, and executioner, showed their distaste for me at first glance and didn’t give me a chance before casting their stones at me. One day when I was alone with him, I told him that I wanted to learn Creole. He told me he would never teach me a single word of that language because he didn’t want me or our kids to know what his family said about me in their native tongue. His mother agreed with him, she hated her siblings and parents just as much as Emerson did, and their family showed no respect for them. I didn’t know why they still spent time with them. I respected his decision, and that night I returned the Creole dictionary and workbooks I had bought.

We were in Tennesee when I knew things had gotten serious between us. His grandparents had invited us to visit, and while he steered the boat through the passages of the river, he told me that he was saving for a ring and that once he got promoted to be a detective, he would buy one. He wanted to be commissioner one day and protect the city he loved. His father had the same goal but met a fateful end before he could do that. Both of them were in the child protection unit, and I knew every day when Emerson put his badge on, he would make sure those kids were safe, even at the cost of his own life.

It was hard to love someone so willing to lay down his life for others. It was hard because I knew I would never do that. I was selfish, unlike the man I had fallen in love with. And we fought because of that.

He explained to me what would happen if the unthinkable occurred, and I told him I would never forgive him if he died on patrol. He assured me it wouldn’t happen, but his father had made the same promise but failed to keep it. He told me it was part of the job to accept the dangers, and I told him if anyone posed a threat, he should unload his chamber into them until they were coughing up blood and lead and their bodies were unrecognizable. He was taken aback by my venomous words.

“That’s easier said than done,” he said to me.

“I don’t want to raise our kids with a folded flag like your mother did.”

His desires to protect his city were cut short when he was laid off due to the budget being slash, and he assured me that everything would be fine as he headed off to Texas to get a job down there.

“Maybe I’ll be a deputy in one of those small towns,” he laughed as I helped him pack his car. “No one shoots the deputy. Only the Sheriff.”

He kissed me on my forehead and told me that the break was only until I finished college. He didn’t want me to be tied down for my last two years, even though I assured him I didn’t feel that way. The last thing he told me was that he would be waiting for me in Texas if I wanted to join him when I graduated- but not a moment sooner. He wanted me to follow my dreams too.

We still talk often, and hearing his voice still makes my heart skip a beat as it did the first time he spoke to me during my ride along with him. I know he fears that I would move on, but I know that is impossible. He is all I can think of many times, and for someone who is far from being a hopeless romantic, I write endless amounts of stories about him and keep them close to my chest. I’ve always loved Texas, and now there was one more reason to adore the state.

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