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Connie Bretes

Hi Zara, I’m not able to attach Word Documents to my messages in the forum, so I have to copy and paste in a post. I’ve put things in parenthesis and crossed out.


Love in the Time of Covid

The Proposal

Part 3 in Tanya and Solo’s Love Story by Zara West



Almost perfect. Solo readjusted the white-painted, wrought-iron chair for the thousandth time and then stood back. Got it. This was the exact spot on the roof he’d been searching for. From here, Tanya would have a complete view of the Williamsburg Bridge with the sunset reflecting on the East River.

It was the view he had every evening from his bedroom window, but they weren’t ready for that. First, he had to ask her something. He wiped the surface of the tiny matching table. Everything was arranged. The wine, the chocolates, and the ring.

He patted his pocket. Still there. He didn’t know how he would present it to her. Go with your heart, Mic had advised. So that was what he would do. And if he couldn’t find the words, he could always ask her to turn around. The huge vibrantly colored graffiti heart shaped-design he’d painted on the wall of the opposing building said it all.

Solo headed down off the roof, closing the hatchway behind him. She’d be arriving soon, and he wanted to be there waiting at the door when she arrived.

Since the city had opened up again, Big Bad Brooklyn Street Art Tours was back  operation, and while they weren’t fully back in swing, he didn’t want Tanya to be thought (of as?) a tourist. The two new guides were young and prone to being over enthusiastic when potential customers entered the shop.

Just as he reached the second-floor landing, his cell dinged. He pulled it out of his pocket. His heart beat ratchetted up. It was Tanya. He hoped nothing had come up at work to put a damper on his plans.

“Hi sweetheart. Running late?”

“I have to cancel. My mother called and needs to see me.”

“Your mother? Doesn’t she live in Boston?”

“Yeah. I’m going up there for the weekend.”

“Is she okay?”

“I’m sure she’s fine. You know how mothers are”

“Yep.” Actually, he didn’t, he grown up on the street. But he’d not shared his rotten childhood story with Tanya yet. He wanted her to love the man he was now. Not the pitiable ragamuffin he’d once been.

“I’ll be back Sunday night.”

The ring box weighed heavy in his pocket. “Do you want to come over when you get back?”

“I’ll probably be worn out, and I have an early shift Monday morning.”

“So how about we reschedule our date for next Friday?”

“Sounds perfect. Bye.”


Tanya threw the phone on her bed. The last thing she wanted to be do was drive up to Boston. The weather was misty-miserable with snow in the forecast, and she’d been looking forward to the surprise Solo had promised her. Probably a piece of graffiti art. She glanced at her duffle. Or maybe, a new location for them to create a masterpiece together. She was getting better at spray painting—and kissing.

She turned back to her suitcase. Who would have thought that she’d become an avid graffiti artist? She refolded her silk blouse. Certainly not her mother. She added in her cosmetic bag and her fancy heels. How was she going to tell her snobbish mother she was in love with a graffiti artist and not a highly-educated physician?

She slammed the suitcase closed and zipped it up. Why had she led her mother to believe she was dating a doctor from the hospital? Her mom expected her to be arriving with him this evening. Well, doctors had emergencies, right? She slung her purse over her shoulder and hefted the suitcase. But soon she’d have to tell her the truth. She and Solo were in love. They had a future together. Her mother was just going to accept her choice.


Two hours later, Tanya sat in her car at the side of the road and watched the snow piling up on her windshield. She hadn’t made it past the Connecticut border. The storm had arrived earlier than predicted. Already the roads were slick with ice and with visibility near zero, she time (It’s) to turn around and go back.

She wished she could call her mom and let her know about the change in plans, but her phone was missing. She rummaged in her purse one more time. Definitely, not there. Tanya sucked in a breath and started up the car. She had miles to go.


Solo checked his phone. Why hadn’t Tanya responded to his text message? He glanced out the window. Sleet and snow pelted down. A film of shimmering ice covered the street below. Worse, the news said Boston would be hit harder than the Big Apple.

He hoped Tanya arrived at her mother’s house before the roads got bad. But why wasn’t she texting him back?

He peered out the window again. They’d met on a snow-filled night like this—he with his broken leg, her with her arm-load of groceries. It was hard to believe a year had passed since then—a year with the virus still hanging over them, but made bearable with the vaccines.

This year he’d been able to help her deliver the food and gifts to her neighbors. This year they’d been able to go to a restaurant and to a Broadway show. This year, he would be able to take her to Bella and Vernon’s Christmas Eve party—as his fiancée, if all went as planned.

Almost all his graffiti family would be there. His twin Neto was back from France without his girlfriend. Mic and Lena were visiting from Mexico. Only Ari and Mel would be missing. Who could blame them for wanting to stay in Greece instead of coming during (a New York winter? A winter in New York?)

If Tanya wanted to, they could spend their honeymoon on Ari’s island of Eudokia. He watched the snowflakes falling down. A sun-warmed sand beach on the Mediterranean shared with the woman he loved sounded wonderful at this moment.

He checked his cell again. Nothing. He wished he had asked for her mother’s phone number and address. The way he was feeling he should just jump on a train and go up there to be with her. Propose to her there.

Wait. He knew where he could get that information—from Tanya’s next-door neighbor. The old woman collected Tanya’s mail and had a key to her place.

An hour later he was leaving Penn Station and on his way to Boston. He’d found her mom’s phone number among the bits of paper on Tanya’s messy desk, and when he’d called Boston, her mother had been just as worried as he was. She hadn’t heard from her daughter either.

The poor woman sounded like she desperately needed someone to be with her, and when Tanya did arrive—for surely, she would—it would be a fun surprise for her to find him waiting.

By the time he reached Boston, found a taxi, and arrived at Tanya’s mother’s brick rowhouse, Solo was near crazy with worry. Still no answers to his calls and texts. Still her mom had heard nothing.

When no one answered the bell, he knocked hard on the door. The elderly woman who peered out the windowpane looked terrified. Not that he blamed her. He was big, wild-haired, and masked.

Everyone said he had a winning smile. He hoped it worked on this woman. He dropped his mask and turned his lips up. Using his loudest voice, he yelled through the glass. “Hi Mrs. Taylor. I’m Solo Zapata, your daughter’s boyfriend. We spoke on the phone. Did Tanya arrive yet?”

The woman fumbled with the latch. “No. I’ve heard nothing. You vaccinated?””

“Sure am.”

“So am I. Have to be careful at my age.” She opened the door. “Thank you for coming. It’s not like my daughter not to stay in touch. I do hope she hasn’t been an accident. But you come in. We can worry together.”

Solo kicked off his snow-covered sneakers in the vestibule and then followed Tanya’s mom into a small, but tastefully decorated living room.

“Take a seat. You look like you need some warming up. Coffee?”

“Sure. Anything you have will be fine, Mrs. Taylor.”

Pictures of Tanya as a young girl and teenager sat atop an end table. If he wasn’t so worried, he would enjoy studying each one. Instead, he pulled out his phone and sent another text. Please let nothing have happened to her.

A phone rang somewhere in the house. A few minutes later, Tanya’s mother set a mug of steaming coffee in front of him. “That was Tanya. She turned back. Said the roads were too bad. Left her phone at home. That’s why she didn’t call.”

He gripped the hot mug in his hands. “So, she’s safe. I wish she had taken the train. And saved us all the worry.”

Mrs. Taylor waved a hand. “My Tanya has always been the independent sort. Likes having her car to do errands for me and go see her school friends when she is here.”

“She said you called and needed her? We had plans.”

“Some financial papers that came, and…well…I am not as sharp as I used to be. I feel better if she looks them over before I sign them. She wants me to get all kinds of computers and stuff so we can email and things. But I like it this way.” She gave him a wink. “When I need her for something like this, she must come back home, and I get to see her a bit extra.”

“You must be lonely with her being down in New York.”

“I get by. I was working as a visiting nurse until the pandemic hit. Tanya made me give it up because of my age and risk. But I stay in touch by phone with my former clients—friends really.”

Solo set down his coffee. He could see where Tanya got her deep-set need to care for others. It was one of the things he loved most about her. If he were sick, the Taylor women were the ones he wanted to nurse him. “Tanya gave her all during the worst of it. Helped all her elderly neighbors get food and necessities. She has a beautiful heart.”

“That’s my Tanya.”

He looked up into a pair of dark eyes so like those of the woman he loved. “I must confess. she’s my Tanya too.”

Mrs. Taylor sat up straighter. “Ah. She mentioned she was in a serious relationship. I had invited her to bring you with her. But she said you couldn’t come. Had to work. Mr. Zapata, you must love my daughter very much to leave your job and rush up here.”

“I do love her. And I thought, well, if bad news came, she would want me to be by your side. She tells me all the time how much she loves and misses you. Then again, I thought if she were here, I could surprise her with this.” He dug in his pocket and drew out the jeweler’s box. “I was going to ask her to marry me tonight. Here’s the ring.”

He handed the box across. (to) Tanya’s mother(, she) flipped it open and stared at it a long time. “I’m no jewelry expert, but I know a Tiffany box when I see one. I believe that is a very expensive diamond, young man.”

“I wanted to give her something as sparkly as she is.”

“I think this will do. She snapped it closed and handed it back.  “You must be doing well to afford such a ring. So, what hospital do you work at?”


“Tanya told me you are a surgeon of some sort. She wasn’t very clear.”

Solo peered down at the paint under his nails. Tanya had lied to her mother about him? He kind of understood. A graffiti artist wasn’t someone a mother would want their daughter marrying. But she knew he was more than that. He was successful businessman. He made as much money as any surgeon. Probably more and certainly had more fun doing it.

Still, the fact that the women he wanted to spend the rest of his life with hadn’t loved him enough to be honest with her mother hurt.

He slipped the ring box back in his pocket. (Her and her mother were She and her mother are) registered nurses with college degrees. Tanya dreamed of going back to university and becoming a nurse practitioner. No wonder she had lied about a boyfriend who’d never finished high school no matter how wealthy he was. But he couldn’t continue the lie, not to this mother who genuinely loved her daughter and wanted the best for her. He would have done anything to have a mother like her.

“Umm…I’m not a doctor.”

Mrs. Taylor shook her head. “I see. What do you do?”

“With my twin brother, I run a successful tour business and own some real estate.” He set down the mug. “I am sorry she lied to you.”

Tanya’s mom twisted her hands together. “It’s my fault. My husband left us when Tanya was young. We struggled. That’s why I want my daughter to marry well—to have the security I never had. So, I always pushed for a physician. But surely, she should be proud you are financially secure. I don’t understand why she didn’t tell me the truth.”

He opened and closed his hands. Now for the hard part. “I think it’s because I never graduated from high school. I grew up on the streets. I was…am…a graffiti artist.”

Before she could respond, he was out the door, carrying his sneakers, not knowing where he was going, not feeling the icy snow seeping through his socks. Just not feeling.


Tanya slowed as she passed the windows of Big Bad Art Tours. The man at the desk( of) looked a lot like Solo. But it wasn’t him. It (never was was never) him.

Where had Solo disappeared to? Her mother told some strange story about Solo showing up at the Boston house and then leaving abruptly. She told her to forget him. He wasn’t good enough for her.

Tanya pulled her (cart) around and parked it. But she couldn’t forget him. Solo had made her smile during some of the hardest days of her life. He’d taken care of her in a way no one ever had. Her mother had loved her and supported her, but she’d never understood her free-spirited, fun-loving nature. It was why she was now living in New York City and falling in love with a graffiti artist.

She pushed open the door to the storefront. This time she was going to get answers. She needed Solo in her life. In her arms.

The guy who looked like Solo looked up from his computer and nodded in recognition. “Lady. I told you he’s gone.”

“Nobody is just gone. I want to know why he isn’t answering his phone. Why he is hiding from me?”

“No can do. He doesn’t want to see you again.”

“We had plans.”

He snapped his fingers. “Poof. Plans change.”

She’d never dealt with identical twins before. It was amazing how someone with the same face and same tenor voice could be so different from his twin.

She slapped her hand on the counter. “You know something? You are nothing like him.”

“Good to know. I don’t want to be the dopey-in-love guy he’s become since meeting you.”

“He’s dopey-in-love?”

“Yeah. Thinks he’s not good enough for a smart, educated woman like you.”

Ah. She had suspected his disappearance had something to do with her mother.

“Not good enough?”

“He’s a graffiti artist. A good one. He also ran away from foster care, lived on the streets for years, has a criminal record for vandalizing property, and never graduated from high school.” Solo’s brother pointed at her with both his index fingers. “Still want him?”

Solo said he’d had a rotten childhood. She just hadn’t known how rotten. Anger for what he had suffered as a child turned her gut inside out. She peered across the counter into his twin’s eyes, saw the vulnerability hidden beneath the sarcasm. “He’s also smart and gifted and amazingly resilient. I suspect you are too.”

Solo’s brother’s shoulders twitched slightly. “Name’s Neto, and my little brother is going to hate me for this. Go through that door and into the apartment building. Go up the staircase all the way to the roof. Lift the hatch. Take a gander. He left you a message.” He ran a finger along the edge of the counter. “If you do decide to answer, be kind.”


By the fourth flight up, Tanya forced herself to slow down. It didn’t pay to go crazy. For all she knew, Neto had sent her on a wild chase for his own warped sense of entertainment. That would fit his abrasive personality.

She continued up more slowly. The roof hatch obviously wasn’t used regularly. The railing that led up from the fifth floor to the roof wobbled beneath her hand. She had to whack the hatch door twice before she could get it wedged securely open. When she stepped onto the roof at last, she saw nothing but a blanket of pristine snow, pockmarked in spots by air vents, pipes, and unidentifiable mounds. If Solo had left a message here, it had been before the last snow. Before her aborted trip to Boston.

One of the mounds seemed more familiar in shape than the others. Could that be a chair? Tanya shuffled through the snow, leaving kicked-up footprints behind, until she reached the chair-like lump. A few swipes of her hand proved she was right.

So, the icy mound next to it had to be a table. Could he have left a note on it? Tanya whipped her hand across the top, sending snow flying. A gust of wind blew some of the ice crystals back in her face. She blinked to clear her eyes. Scrubbed her glove across her face to warm her frosted skin.

Okay. No note. No message. No Solo.

She’d had enough. Neto was definitely not like Solo. Neto was mean.

Still, she’d never been on a rooftop before. Tanya gazed out over the roof tops. It was peaceful here. In the distance, a postcard-perfect view of the Williamsburg Bridge glittered in the sun. The sky winter-clear blue. The water reflecting the city’s famous skyline. No wonder the chair faced in that direction. She could imagine Solo coming up here to relax and reflect. She’d never thought about his schooling, but he seemed to have a better appreciation of the world and how to survive in it with kindness and grace than many of the physicians she had worked with, so many of whom had needed a nurse to keep them on schedule and to follow after them to soothe their ruffled patients.

She slowly turned around and went dead-still. Oh. There was a message.

The wall art was unmistakably Solo’s. It was bold, vivid, and shouted in every way possible his love for her. Multi-colored cats of blue, violet, hot pink, and chartreuse galivanted around a huge heart held up by two leaping figures, surely meant to be her and him. Inside the heart, he had written: Love is the gift we give and are given.

Smaller words encircled the heart. Too tiny to see from where she was standing. Tanya took a step forward. Something caught under her foot, and she stumbled, lost her balance, and landed on her bum. And there she stayed, rereading the words she’d been wanting to hear.


Solo poked his head through the roof hatch. Neto hadn’t been lying. Tanya was sitting in the snow staring at his tribute to their love. Did she understand the message? He fingered the ring box in his jacket pocket that he’d never stopped carrying and stepped up behind her. If he stepped by behind her, and she was sitting, did she get up?)

“So, what do you think?”

Tanya twisted her head around. “Solo. You’re here.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him deep and long. “Yes. Yes, I will marry you.”

He kissed her back with every bit of love and hope buried in his soul. He’d thought never to see her again, and he wouldn’t have if Neto hadn’t called and asked him to check out noises coming from the roof.

Slowly, he pulled away. “I thought…”

“That I didn’t love you? Didn’t think you’re the most wonderful person I have ever had in my life?”

“But I can’t be the man your mother wants for you.”

“But you are the man I want. And that is all that matters.”

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