The Devil Wears Black - L.J. Shen



October 10, 1998

Dear Maddie,

You are currently five, and very fond of the color yellow. In fact, yesterday you asked me if you could marry it. I hope you still wear it all the time.

(I also hope you found someone a bit more suitable for marriage.)

Fun fact of the day: When the Spanish explorers reached the Americas, they thought sunflowers were made of gold.

The human brain is so imaginative!

Stay creative, always.


Mom. x

It was official. I was having a stroke.

All evidence pointed in that direction, and at this point I felt confident I’d watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to self-diagnose:

Confusion? Check.

General numbness? Check.

Sudden headache? Trouble seeing? Difficulty walking? Check, check, check.

The good news was I was seeing a doctor. Literally. I was walking back to my apartment with one when the symptoms occurred. At least I had the luxury of immediate medical attention if I needed it.

I shoved my fists into my yellow sequined jacket with the purple dots (a personal favorite), squared my shoulders, and squinted at the large figure sitting atop the stairway of my brownstone rental, willing it to disappear from my vision.

He stayed put, the bluish glow of his phone illuminating the planes of his face. Midsummer air danced around him, crackling like fireworks. Every whiskey-colored light on the street caught his profile, like he was standing onstage, demanding everyone’s attention. White-hot panic washed over me. I only knew one person who made the universe dance around him like aloha girls.

Reluctantly, I ruled out having a stroke.

No. He wouldn’t dream of showing up here. Not after how I left things.

“. . . So my little patient leans down to me and says, ‘Can I tell you a secret?’ and I’m like, ‘Uh-huh,’ thinking he is going to spill the beans about his parents getting a divorce. But he just says, ‘I finally figured out my mom’s job.’ I ask him what it is, and he says—wait for it, Maddie.” Ethan, my date, held a hand up, crouching with his other hand resting on his knee, clearly overestimating the comic potential of his story. “‘She slipped a new iPad under my pillow the day I lost my first tooth. My mommy is the tooth fairy. I’m the luckiest boy alive!’”

Ethan threw his head back and laughed, oblivious to my internal meltdown. He was handsome, with his hair, eyes, and loafers almost the exact same shade of walnut brown, his lean runner’s body, and his Scooby-Doo tie. True, he wasn’t Dr. McDreamy. More like Dr. McReality. And yes, he had shared twelve stories about his young patients over the course of the Ethiopian meal we’d enjoyed, nearly toppling over each time he’d recited their whiplash-smart observations. But Ethan Goodman was exactly the kind of guy I needed in my life.

The man on my stairway was the very person who’d taught me this painful lesson.

“From the mouths of babes.” I played with my dangling sunflower earring. “I miss my innocence. If I could keep one thing from my childhood, that’d be it.”

The figure on my stairway stood up, turning in our direction. His eyes slid up from his phone, catching mine effortlessly. My heart deflated like a balloon, soaring in erratic circles before dropping into a heap of saggy rubber in the pit of my stomach.

It was him, all right.

All six-two chiseled angles and ruthless sex appeal of him. Wrapped in a crisp black dress shirt rolled to the elbows, exposing forearms as thick as my thighs, corded with veins and muscles. Layla, my childhood friend turned next-door neighbor, called him a real-life Gaston. “Easy on the eyes but begging to get thrown from a roof.”

He was frowning as if he himself couldn’t figure out what he was doing here.

With the tousled black hair.

Slanted blue-gray eyes of a manga character.

With that Greek-god bone structure that made you consider committing war crimes for a chance at running your teeth across his jaw like an animal.

But I knew he wasn’t Mr. McDreamy or Mr. McReality.

Chase Black was the devil. My personal devil. Always clad in black, a cruel comment ready on the tip of his tongue, his intentions as tainted as his smirk. And me? I’d been dubbed Martyr Maddie for a reason. I couldn’t be mean if my life depended on it. Which, luckily, it did not.

“Really? If I could keep one thing from my childhood, it’d be my first baby tooth that fell out. My dog swallowed it. Oh well,” Ethan peeped enthusiastically. My head snapped back to my date. “Of course,