picture by Vashti Harrison
@chaneajoyyy and @shaekingitup quarantine writing challenge!
TRIGGER WARNINGS AND THEMES- guarded heart, Avengers
:Infinity War spoilers, Avengers:Endgame spoilers , mentions of death, emotional, fihgting, years fo denial, anger, strong emotional content, regret.
The coffee maker slowly lets the last drop of dark, bitter coffee fall into your pristine, green cup before you shut off the coffee maker in the student center lounge.
It’s well after midnight, and ideally , you should have been back in your bed and fast asleep in your bed by now.
Yet, here you are, straining your eyes under fluorescent light to study for your final the next day. The only fuel that you’ve ingested since at least 9:30 in the evening has been one energy bar, and countless cups of coffee as you fight your battle against your worst enemy in your college days- Final. Exams.
The jet black words on the off-white page seem to be mocking you, laughing at your attempts to remember which formulas to use for what, your pencil lead and erase slowly whittling away as you write, erase, write again.
‘’Okay,’’ you speak more to yourself than the empty commons area, ‘’Let’s see if you got this one correct.’’
A glance into the answers at the back of the book let you know that… no. You did not get this correct. You miss, miscalculate, misunderstood. Something.
‘’I’m going to be here all night,’’ you groan, placing your head in your hands, somehow willing yourself to keep studying when you want to give up.
‘’Um… if you are going to be here all night, I hope you don’t mind some company.’’
You look up from the distress-inducing objects that are your math book and notes to see a young man standing there, laptop and books tucked neatly under his arms.
He’s someone that you recognize from your Monday and Wednesday, nine a.m. lessons. He’s standing before you dressed in a plain t-shirt, green plaid pajama pants, and… are those bunny slippers.
‘’Ignore the slippers. They were the cheapest things at the campus store,’’ he speaks by way of explanation, ‘’Um, anyway. Do you mind if I join you?’’
‘’Um… no. No, not at all,’’ you motion to the seat across from you, watching as he pulls the red, plastic chair across the floor to sit down, ‘’At least now, someone is here to wake me up if I fall asleep.’’
‘’Not if I fall asleep first,’’ he smirks, a crooked grin illuminated by the lights of the enar empty student center, ‘’I know that we have met in class. Well, we have seen each other in class. But we have not met before. I am T’Challa.’’
T’Challa- his name is as beautiful, simple yet complex. He speaks with a confidence that could only be birthed from within, not willing to reconstruct it in order to make it make sense to those who don’t care to attempt the three-syllable moniker.
‘’T’Challa,’’ you speak, his name somehow leaving a sweet taste on your tongue as you say it, ‘’It is nice to meet you, T’Challa.’’
‘’It is nice to meet you, too. I would like to stop calling you, ‘That girl that knows all the answers’. May I have a name?’’
Much like you, T’Challa lets your name roll on his tongue as he speaks it, enjoying the way it falls out of his mouth, ‘’How beautiful. Well, we have our final exam in just a few hours. I suggest we study.’’
So the two of you sit there, pouring over your notes and discussing the formulas and how best to remember them.
‘’I think that I am going to make a cup of coffee, ‘’T’Challa stands, stretching golden brown arms up to the sky as he stands, the plastic chair yet again scraping against the cold tile floors, ‘’Would you like a cup?’’
You look to where you’ve somehow finished your entire cup of coffee in the last forty-five minutes, nodding as you do.
T’Challa obliges by taking your coffee cup, rinsing it in the sink before turning the black coffee maker back on.
You watch him as he works, keeping an eye on what he does. He pours the cream, scoops the sugar in, and turns off the coffee maker within a matter of five minutes.
‘’If anyone questions why the coffee maker is broken,’’ he begins, gliding back over to you with his coffee and yours in his hands, a small grin tugging at the corner of his lips, ‘’I’ll say it had to do with you.’’
‘’You’d throw me under the bus,’’ you raise an eyebrow taking the cup from him and thanking him, ‘’Nice.’’
‘’This is my first cup of coffee. From the discarded pods, I’d say that this is at least your third.’’
‘’Observant, aren’t we,’’ you chuckle a bit, blowing into your coffee to cool it a bit, ‘’Alright. Let’s get back to this.’’
The two of you spend the rest of the night studying. You take practice tests, review the formulas, go back and forth until you’re on your fifth cup of coffee. until you look up to see that the clock reads 3 in the morning.
‘’I’d better get back to my dorm and hope that this caffeine wears off enough for me to sleep,’’ you take your glasses off, rubbing at your tired, red eyes before replacing them to get a clear look at T’Challa.
‘’I agree,’’ he speaks, picking up his third cup of coffee, ‘’As I continue to drink my coffee.’’
You laugh despite yourself, the sound filling the room, ‘’I guess we’ll just go back to our dorms and lay down. I’ll see you in class, T’Challa.’’
‘’I will see you then, ‘’T’Challa agrees, standing again, ‘’Perhaps… perhaps tomorrow, after three, you would like to join me for a cup of coffee.’’
You hesitate at this. You have one final at nine in the morning, another at 12, and one more at 6. You really should use that time to study. It’s the end of your freshman year, and you’re hoping that you won’t have to take any of these classes over the summer. You should stay focused, and leave the coffee date for another day, or decide against it all together…
‘’It is alright if you do not want to join me,’’ T’Challa quickly amends, rubbing the back of his neck, looking away, ‘’I know how stressful freshman year can be for people. It is fine. You probably are seeing someone any way.’’
‘’No, no. I’m single. It’s just that…’’
You came to college with the goal of focusing on the endline- the endgame. Graduation. You, being number five of your grandmother’s six grandchildren, and the first to graduate from college. It has been drilled into your head for years- books now, boys later.
You should say no. It is the practical thing, afterall. He’s a sophomore, you’re a freshman. You are still trying to figure things out, taking extra classes over the summer to hopefully graduate a year early and go into the job force as soon as you can.
It’d be pointless to focus on him… because he has the power to side track you, as you’ve seen in your roommates.
For all of these reasons and more, your answer to his proposal
Knowing all of this… you still find yourself meeting this charming, handsome, upperclassman. Over coffee.
‘’So, you’re a freshman,’’ T’Challa begins the next day, sitting across from you, ‘’What are you studying?’’
‘’I’m a Business major,’’ you reveal, ‘’What about you?’’
‘’I am a Communications major,’’ T’Challa informs you as he opens up a packet of sugar, letting the small granules of snow white sugar fall into his coffee before stirring them in, ‘’Where are you from?’
‘’Originally, Atlanta, Georgia. My family moved here when I was ten. Where are you from,’’ you question, stirring your cream into your own beverage, nothing the way the coffee and the cream mix together to make your drink sweet.
‘’Wakanda,’’ T’Challa declares, ‘’Born and raised until I came here for university.’’
‘’Wakanda… wow. I can’t imagine being that far from my parents. I could go home if I wanted- they’re only two hours away. Even that feels like years at times. What made you decide to come here for school?’’
‘’A multitude of factors,’’ T’Challa leans back in his chair a bit, ‘’I Have a cousin that grew up in Compton, and I have spent some time here before. He got into NYU the year before I did, so I do have someone here. I also just… let;s just say that my family is very well known in Wakanda. I could not make a single move without anyone bringing up my family and their accomplishments. Here, I can just be… T’Challa. Not ‘ T’Challa Udaku, son of T’Chaka and Ramonda’.’’
You can sense something leaving him when he speaks these words- whether it’s because he is revealing something that he has never told anyone before, or because he regrets doing do, or because he regrets holding it in that long.
‘’What made you decide to go for Business,’’ T’Challa questions as you replace the lid on your coffee cup, taking a sip and savoring the taste as you do.
‘’I want to own my own business. I want to empower young girls, but especially younBlack girls,’’ you give away, running a hand over your cropped hair, ‘’I want them to have the confidence that I did not seem to have growing up.’’
‘’I sense that there is a story here,’’ T’Challa guesses, finally picking up his coffee and taking a sip, ‘’I would like to hear it, i you would care to share it.’’
It’s complex in its simoletey, his response. Just like his invitation to meet him here today, T’Challa’s proposal has a light layer of something else covering it like a opaque film- you can sort of see what it is, but not easily.
‘’And why is that?’’
‘’I have been watching you,’’ he speaks confidently, ‘’In class. You are quiet, but you are confident. You do not need to shout to be heard. I would love to get to know you better. If you are open to that, of course. No pressure.’’
There it is again- his effortlessness. He’s so sure of what he wants that he can ask without hesitation. It’s a smoothness, a suaveness that you think he must have been both born with ad had bred into him.
‘’What made you notice me,’’ you ask, cupping your cup with both hands, ‘’There are over a hundred people in that lecture hall.’’
‘’I know,’’ he begins, staring at the faux-wood countertop of the table that you are settled in, ‘’Like I said before… you are secure, yet you do not feel the need to boast about it. It is something that I like about you. I do apologize if I am coming off strong.’’
Onyx black eyes stare into yours, something hidden beneath them that you can’t quite determine. There’s honesty mixed with a secret, vulnerability mixed with a strongness that you have not seen in anyone else.
‘’And you just zeroed in on me,’’ you run a finger along the edge of your coffee cup’s top, observing the man in front of you.
You’re pretty good at reading people. You can tell what they are doing, thinking, and if they can be trusted. T’Challa is like a book- he can be read, but you can only go so far before you have to stop, unable to unlock the next chapter until he is ready.
There is something there though… a story, much like your own. One that you want to read.
Which is how you find yourself accepting another coffee date with T’Challa the next week, the Thursday before you’re set to go back to your respective homes.
This is a strange predicament, because you find that you enjoy his company. And, without the threat of a final exam lingering over your head, you see how the clock spins, one hour merging into another, then another, then another.
Pretty soon, you’ve been talking for four hours, about everything and some things and nothing all at once.
‘’So what made you want to cut your hair, ‘’ T’Challa questions after you alert him that the decision had been made, almost on a whim, yet somehow with much consideration, nearly two months ago.
‘’I have always wanted to go back to my natural hair,’’ you run a hand over your cropped curls, ‘’In a way, it felt like a new beginning. Starting over. Connecting with my roots.’’
‘’How so,’’ T’Challa leans back again, sipping his coffee as the sunlight enters through the window, illuminating his features and bathing him in its warmth.
‘’I just… It was nice. For once,I was not worried about what people thought about my hair, what they thought it should look like. It was invigorating, I guess you would say, to do my thing and have it be done. I have spent so many years just doing what is expected of me, so it was nice to do something for myself.’’
T’Challa is looking out of the window now, a familiar look of knowingness mixed with an odd sort of desperation etched into his features, ‘’Believe me, I know how that is. I… My family expects a lot of me. It is my duty to carry on our duty to Wakanda. Somehow, though, I wonder if I had the choice, would I choose something else.’’
‘’And what would that be,’’ you question, breaking off a bit of your croissant to eat it.
T’Challa seems to realize what he’s said, almost as if the worlds startled him by making themselves known, outloud, public for someone else to hear.
‘’I think that, that is a conversation for later,’’ T’Challa murmurs, looking to his watch, ‘’We should be getting back to the dorms.’’
As mucha s you would like to press the subject a bit further, you decide against it. You fear that if you try to turn this page to read deeper into his story, the book will snap shut, and someone will get hurt. So you keep your mouth shut about his story, instead agreeing with him, taking your treat and coffees and riding the shuttle bus with him back to the dorms.
‘’I know that I will be going back home for the summer, as will you, However, I do want to keep in touch with you.’’
‘’You do,’’ you genuinely question, ‘’How come?’’
‘’I love your blindness, ‘’ he chuckles, handing you a slip of paper, ‘’Let me just say, we both have a story. I am interested in getting to know yours, and you seem to be interested in getting to know mine. So why not keep in touch over the summer?’’
Again, you’re a bit taken aback by the calmness to his approach, how he knows who he is, and is willing to put himself on the line to you, someone who is secure in who they are yet is afraid of who others portray themselves to be.
Because there is no guarantee that the pretty and fascinating cover matches the words on the pages inside.
Still, you take his number, something deep inside of you beginning to be sparked at this moment.
‘’Sure, T’Challa. We will keep in touch.’’
And keep in touch you do.
It is strange, you feel, getting to know someone else’s story while allowing your own self to bread so deeply, so completely, so intimately.
The summer births new notions- T'Challa is sweet, he is smart, he is kind. He mentions volunteer work as though it is his responsibility and not from the kindest of his heart. He offers to come see you when he gets back to New York in August. He shares stories of his younger sister, Shuri, who is his sunshine, his mother Ramonda, who is his comforter, his baba T’Chaka, who is his inspiration.
You reveal more of yourself, too, slowly allowing T’Challa to take a look in between the lines, to come face to face with who you really are underneath pretty words and flowery images.
A summer turns into the fall, and your story now has T’Challa written into it, his name so conveniently fitting on some pages of your life story.
His hand fits in yours just the same way as you stroll around campus, taking in the changing leaves and the cold chill of the air, cups of coffee in our hands.
When winter fades into spring, he reveals the truth that he is a prince and that he must go back to Wakanda at the end of the next school year, and he’d understand if you did not want this with him, because it is a lot, even for him.
His face in your hands, a kiss reassured him that, yes, you’re ready to see where this goes. Because you’re seeing how this story unfolds, and he’s a part of it now- him, his quiet confidence, and cups of coffee.
A year later,a s he graduates, you meet his family, a milestone added as he begins to bring up marriage over a cup of coffee the next day as you catch breakfast before his flight back to Wakanda.
A cup of coffee serves as his welcoming gift to you the very next year when you step off of that plane and into his arms, ready to begin your life as queen-in-training.
Coffee motivates you for the next five years, the intense sweetness luring you out of bed and into daily lessons, work, and training to prepare you for the role that you will take as soon as King T’Chaka steps down, and T’Challa steps into the throne.
Coffee, as blacka s the light and as dark as T’Challa’s mood lately, serves as the first conversation starter after the untimely death of King T’Chaka. T’Challa, who has called himself off as of late, smiles a bit, shoulders relaxing a bit as he places the document that he’s been looking at to the side.
‘’Thank you, my love,’’ he whispers, taking a sip for the first time since he officially became the king and the Black Panther, ‘’I am tired.’’
‘’You need to rest, T’Challa,’’ you take his face in your hands, looking into his eyes, ‘’You can not go on this way.’’
‘’There is so much to do, entle. Meetings and festivals, surveillance duties… The job of a king is never easy.’’
‘’That may be, but you’ll run yourself ragged. Then, you won’t be any good for Wakanda because you’ll be too tired. Please, T’Challa. Drink your coffee, take your break. We can’t worry about the things that we can’t chance… we’ll let our story be written, and we’ll smile again.’’
Those very words are what stick inside T’Challa’s head six months later. He watches as you peer into the bottom of your coffee mug before looking up at him, mouth agape as you read the question written in the bottom of said cup, ‘’Will you marry me?’’
Your kiss, your yes, tastes both of coffee beans and happiness, salty with the tears that fall from your eyes as you scream yes.
Your wedding day is no different from any other day that you have spent with T’Challa- you’re watching the day, the beginning of a new chapter, unfold before your very eyes, coffee nestled safely in your hands as your stylist does your hair for your big day.
‘See you at the altar,’’ T’Challa had written in that delightfully handwriting that delightfully spidery handwriting that you’ve come to associate with your soon to be husband.
Coffee, it seems, shows up in every area of your life with T'Challa. In each new story, it makes its appearance. In each chapter, its presence is made known by its significance to a situation. It’s interwoven through your everyday lives, as well as in your special events.
Two years after you’re married, coffee is left on the table as the two of you discuss the arrival of the Avengers, and a place for you and Ramonda to go.
‘’I will not leave you,’’ you place a hand on his arm , ‘’Never.’’
‘’Darling,’’ T’Challa sighs, placing a hand over yours, ‘’I am afraid that is the best way. Then, you will be safe.’’
‘’You do not have to do this, T’Challa. Steve and the others can fight somewhere else, can they not?’’
‘’They need our help. And I am going to help them.’’
For everything that he is, T’Challa keeps his promises. He is a man of his word, and he knows who he is. It is the thing that you both simultaneously love and detest about him, because it means that there is no arguing ith him in his situation,
But he compromises- you can stay in the palace, just please, stay there.
‘’You can have a cup of coffee waiting for me,’’ T’Challa presses a kiss to your forehead and then to your lips before leaving his forehead against yours, staring in your eyes, ‘’I will be back before you know it.’’
And you know that he is being optimistic- T’Challa’s eyes shine with hope and he wants it to believe it as much as he wants you to believe it. So he says it with such earnestness that you can not help to do what he says as soon as he leaves you, to fight a battle that someone became both of yours.
So you make the coffee. You make it and you sit at the kitchen table, willing yourself to ignore the way your stomach is twisting, turning, and tossing.
You sit there for a while, and the coffee goes untouched. But T’Challa will be back. He has to be back.
He’s coming back.
A day. Two. Three.
And the coffee goes untouched, left cold, because you can’t quite bring yourself to move it, somehow still believing that T’Challa will come back, will keep his promise, will let your story finish writing itself
It’s sad, funny in a horrific way. Years of building a story were put to an end from one snap, and T’Challa is…
He never came back, he never got that cup of coffee like he said.
And you’re screaming at Steve Rogers, five years later, wbcause how dare he and his band of so-called heroes come your way, telling you they need your help? HOw dare they walk into the life you’ve been trying to build, putting your business degree to use opening a center for those affected by Thano’s snap.
How dare they come and try to interrupt your new story when all they did was burn the other one to crisp, leaving nothing but a simple pile of literal ashes of your love. All that is left are your memories, your wedding ring, the fragments of a cup broken against the wall, that once held coffee that was never drunk five years ago, but now holds years of tears, frustration, anger, hurt, each emotion shining off of each shattered piece, glistening beneath the light of the room.
‘’On behalf of the queen, I will have to ask you to leave,’’ Ayo speaks, standing in front of you.
‘’We understand,’’ the one you recognise as Natasha speaks, pain behind her eyes mirroring your own, ‘’We are so sorry. And we will make this right.’’
You want to scoff, roll your eyes, and ask her how dare she.
But… but there’s something else there. Something you haven’t seen since you last looked at T'Challa’s eyes: hope.
Hope is what made you give T’Challa a chance, what made you accept a coffee date, what led to years of bliss with that man, what led him to fight to keep you and others safe.
It is the same thing that has you walking into the Avengers’ meeting, all eyes on you.
‘’I want to help. I saw something in you that i have not seen in others in a long time: Hope. I’d like to experience that again.’’
They are all sharing looks with each other, and Natahas is the first one that speaks up, ‘’We are going to bi=ring them back. We’re going to get T’Challa back.’’
For the first time in years, you find yourself believing. There’s a hope there. You’re going to get your husband back, the love of your life returning to your life.
‘’You’re not alone. I am here to help,’’ you respond, a small smile forming, ‘’And I am going to help.’’
‘’If you don’t mind my asking,’’ Tony Stark begins, eyes on you, ‘’What changed your mind?’’
‘’Thanos may have written my story. But if he can do that, I can, too. I’m getting T’Challa back. And the others, too.’’
So this is where you find yourself now- suiting up with one of T’Challa’s old suits, ready to defend and avenge him.
‘’What are you going to do when you see him again,’’ Natasha questions, eyes on you as she suits up herself.
‘’I am going to have coffee with the love of my li