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your heart is too strong, anyway

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Wanda realizes the moment she puts Zeke's essay down that she has no way to contact Ms. Green. Before today she hadn't spoken to her for eight or nine months, whenever the start of the year teacher-parent conferences were. It twists her gut, her sister would have- she can’t think like that. She’ll pick Zeke up on Friday, it’s a longer wait than she’d like, but she’s got no other time and she can’t rely on Leon for stuff like this.

So when Ms. Green comes by on Wednesday, Wanda ushers her in before the door's fully open, apologizes for the mess while putting a kettle on.

“Zeke's out with his friends, but he should be back for dinner. Tell me more about the internships if you can wait?”

“I can do that,” she says, sitting at the table. “Mr. Cruz, Papa F, he has political internships that would be best for Zeke's resume. Those ones are all unpaid, but having the mayor or a past mayoral candidate is how he'd get into the ivies.”

“Green or black?” Wanda asks, and Ms. Green blinks up at her. “For tea,” she adds, a surprised smile hitting the teacher's lips.

“Either is good,” she says, and Wanda goes for the green, needs something calming. Her heart's been beating a little too quick, her palms slippery with sweat- she blames the heat and Zeke's future in equal measures.

She sets two mugs down, places the sugar bowl between them and sits. “We can’t afford no ivy,” Wanda says, a self-deprecating smile as she gestures around the tight apartment.

“There are scholarships,” the teacher says, opening her bag and frowning. “I thought I…”

“For the whole thing? Books and a room and food?” Wanda asks.

She nods, pushing up her glasses. “Not many, but Zeke, he can get one.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Wanda says. “Thank you Ms. Green.”

“It’s Alice,” she says, finishing her tea quick. “I can come back Friday?”

And Wanda agrees before she remembers that Friday she can go to the school, excuses it almost instantly because Zeke will be more comfortable at home. (It doesn’t quite ring true, and she isn’t going to think about it.)

.

Talking to Zeke goes about as well as she expects, full of half-finished sentences and her sister’s eyes, those damn dreamer eyes, always distracting her. They’re in every pause, why now, and she doesn’t ever answer- can’t tell him she thought it near impossible. (She looked at the prices of nearby colleges once, twice, asked Leon to give him a job.)

.

Alice comes back, and the power goes out.

There’s a dozen or so mixed candles, and Wanda lights them all, insisting she stay. For safety, she says, doesn’t think about how glad she is Leon’s not here.

Alice asks about him then, seems to have that mind-reading trick all her own school teachers did. “You have a man right? Zeke’s written about him, think he’d be any help in convincing him?”

There’s a bitter laugh tugging at her lips, and Wanda keeps them closed, shakes her head. “Nah, he’s… what’d Ezekiel write?”

Alice closes her eyes, candlelight playing across her face, and Wanda swallows, looks away. “Monsters that ain’t monsters, trade in dreams and realities. You want bread or you want hope, can’t fit both in your head. Settling for safety with that twenty-five cent red, and hey, who doesn’t look good well-fed?”

“Shit,” Wanda mutters, grabbing the nearest bottle- rum. “You want a glass?”

Alice is about to shake her head, looks outside. “Yeah.”

Two glasses and a sip, and in the candlelight she can do this.

“He's a little rough around the edges,” Wanda admits. “Not rough like that,” she hastily adds when she sees her face. “But he’s reliable, keeps a roof over our heads.”

“Is that enough?” Alice asks, reaches for her hand across the table.

She takes a longer drink, doesn’t move her hand. “For Zeke, it has to be. Until he’s grown.”

Her thumb is moving in small circles over her hand, and their shadows look more intimate, exaggerated. She can’t remember the last time she was touched like this, needs to hold onto this moment tight.

“Take the night off,” Alice says. “The city’s out. Tell me of the dreams you traded.”

Wanda’s breath catches, eyes wide, heartbeat thudding loud as Alice adds, “Show me.”

And Wanda does, leaning across the table to kiss her.