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Happily Ever Never
Author: Carrie Ann Ryan

 


One Thousand and One Dark Nights


Once upon a time, in the future…

 

I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.

I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and

the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast

library at my father’s home and collected thousands

of volumes of fantastic tales.

 

I learned all about ancient races and bygone

times. About myths and legends and dreams of all

people through the millennium. And the more I read

the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered

that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually

become part of them.

 

I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher

and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I

would not be telling you this tale now.

But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off

with bravery.

 

One afternoon, curious about the myth of the

Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to

see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar

(Persian: شهريار, “king”) married a new virgin, and then

sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written

and I had read that by the time he met Scheherazade,

the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand

women.

 

Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived

in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged

places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had

never occurred before and that still to this day, I

cannot explain.

 

Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have

taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can

protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to

protect herself and stay alive.

 

Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.

And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a

point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.

And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that

he might hear the rest of my dark tale.

 

As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new

one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before

you now.

 

 

Chapter 1


May

 

 

“I’m looking for forever. I want that moment. It’s just so hard in this day and age when you can’t figure it out. Or maybe it’s always been that way. Maybe you expect to find someone, and yet you feel you’re going to end up with nobody, and in the end, it surprises you.”

I looked up at Josh, the kind man in front of me, who happened to be my date for the evening and smiled softly. He seemed earnest enough about wanting this to work out. And while part of me had heard this refrain before from my dates, I let myself believe him. At least, for now.

“It would be nice to have things work out for once.”

I winced as the words left my mouth, knowing they were a little too vague and far too desperate. For all I knew, I had just given Josh an invitation to grab my butt on the way out of the restaurant. Or lead him down the long road of him thinking that I was in this for the long haul, even though I didn’t remember his last name. Or maybe he would think I was too clingy and run away before the desserts were served.

I’d only had one person leave me on a date before. He’d climbed out the window in the bathroom as if it were too much for him.

As if I were too much for him.

I ignored those memories, telling myself that they didn’t matter. They shouldn’t matter. It wasn’t like it was my fault that every single date I went on ended up horrible, awkward, or just not right.

I was looking for that spark. That one moment where everything made sense, and I could see him as my forever.

I just wasn’t quite sure I was good enough at dating to find it.

“I’m so glad we’re on the same page, Maybelline.”

I held back a wince, hoping it didn’t show on my face. “My name is actually May. M. A. Y.” I smiled softly as I corrected him. I didn’t want to make him feel bad, but my mother had named me May after my late aunt, the woman who had saved my late father’s life when they were children. She’d died in a flash flood at only fourteen years old but had rescued my then ten-year-old father in the process. The legacy that came with my family meant that our promises to each other and how we cared for one another was paramount. When my father was dying later on in life, he’d asked me to make him a promise: follow my heart and be open. To try to find my forever, even if I wasn’t sure I wanted one. So, I would marry for love…but first, I had to try.

I cherished the name I shared with the woman I had never met, whose courage allowed me to exist.

Josh blinked. “I’m sorry. I thought it was a nickname. I like Maybelline.”

Well, that wasn’t awkward at all—another strike in the NO column. But if I kept making NO columns, I would never find that happily ever after. Once again, it would be a happily ever never.

Trying to find common ground, I scrambled. “I used to use their makeup. I think I still have a face wash from them.”

He frowned, looking oddly perplexed.

“You know, the company? ‘Maybe it’s Maybelline’?”

“But I thought you said your name was May. Are you messing with me? I’m not stupid, you know. I don’t like it when people make me feel stupid.”

His cheeks flushed, and I held back a wince.

“Sorry, I think I’m just confusing myself.”

“Oh,” he said, his face clearing immediately. He reached out and patted my hand patronizingly. “Don’t you worry, Maybelline. I’ll make sure nobody ever does that to you. It doesn’t matter if you sometimes confuse yourself. I will never do that.”

I pulled my hand back, knowing this date was a disaster. There wouldn’t be enough YESs in the pro column for me to get through this.

“May. My name is May.”

“Why are you getting angry? Here, do you want me to order dessert? I’m going to order us dessert. Although maybe we should share.” His gaze moved pointedly to my chest and then slid down the curves he could see across the table.

And that was another no.

“It was lovely meeting you. I’ll be sure to tell my aunt how tonight went.” I put money next to my empty plates and pushed back from the table.

“Where are you going, Maybelline? I don’t know why you’re acting like this. I thought women wanted us to be honest. And you could use some honesty in your life. Especially in that tight skirt that barely covers your…assets. I have some ideas on how to help you in the future with that so you don’t plump up when you get old. Well…older.”

I barely resisted the urge to empty my water glass on him, mainly because it was only a few ice cubes at this point.

“Honesty is wonderful. Being cruel and talking about someone’s weight isn’t. Especially because my weight has nothing to do with you. My curves have nothing to do with you. And now I’m going to make sure that my aunt knows her accountant’s coworker is an idiot.”

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