It’s a Wonderful and Wilde Life.

Like so many people, I love watching It’s a Wonderful Life during the Christmas season. The part in which his guardian angel, Clarence, grants his wish to have never been born. George realizes how great an impact he had with his community as well as the world at large. Remember, without George, Harry Bailey would not have lived to save a ship during World War II.

This story in an homage to the original, iconic film that I love so much. When I originally wrote this, I was going through s0me of the greatest stress I’ve ever endured in my life so far. Ellowyne helped to assuage that stress. I wrote late at night and worked to move to a new state during the day. I am still proud of getting my first story done. Now it’s time to share it with Ellowyne’s fans everywhere.

I hope you enjoy it. I’ve had issues with the formatting and hope everything is right at last!

The rating is M; there is material (especially in Part Eight) that may be disturbing to young readers. 

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The Wish Revisited (Part Nine)

Ellowyne stood up, dried her tears, and looked into Midge’s eyes. “I want to live. I made a huge mistake by wishing I had never been born. I love my family and friends—even Amber—and I want to be in their lives. I want things to be just as they were.”

“Ello, you realize that nothing can really be the same again. You know things about the people dearest to you—things that could change their futures—and you must use that knowledge wisely. There are also things that you need to change about yourself. You saw what happened to Lizette. You have to take control of your ennui and quit wallowing in your self-imposed distress.”

“You’re right. I need to take my sessions with Dr. Bantam seriously. Maybe I’m depressed. Or maybe something is wrong with me, like chronic fatigue or—what did you say that Rufus’ mom had, fibro-something?”

“Fibromyalgia. It happens in young people and causes pain and chronic fatigue. I wonder if that’s what’s going on with you.”

“I’ll make an have appointment with a doctor. I need to crawl out of this pit.”

“Good. That’s my girl. Now, I can grant you one more wish. What will it be?”

“I wish to be alive, Midge. I wish to be alive!”

Suddenly, Ellowyne’s eyes opened and she was back on her fainting couch, Sybil snoozing at her feet. It was her room! Her pictures were on the walls! Her clothes and shoes stuffed her closet! She heard no noise downstairs so she quickly texted Prudence. “I’m sorry. Please, everyone, come back!”

Pru answered immediately. “BRB! Getting karaoke system into RR’s Subaru!”

Uncharacteristically energized, Ellowyne flew into her brother’s room. “Ah, Freddy, what are you doing with those matches? You gotta stop this nonsense or you’re going to get in real trouble.” And she swiftly doused the matches with a bottle of iced tea Freddy had nearby.

“Whatdja do that for?” Freddy wailed. “Buzzkill!”

“I love you, too, Freddy. Things are going to be different around here and I’m going to keep a better eye on you.”

Freddy smiled as Ellowyne left his room. Gosh, he thought to himself, I didn’t know she cared.

Ellowyne descended the stairs to a cacophony of sounds. Prudence had started up the karaoke system and Amber and Rufus were arguing.

“Eartha Kitt,” Rufus insisted.

“Madonna,” Amber retorted.

“Oh please. Eartha rules.”

“Duh! The Material Girl was born to sing “Santa Baby.”

Ellowyne looked at them with bemusement. “Are you two fighting—why?”

“Well, yeah,” Rufus answered. “Because this musical connoisseur doesn’t realize that Eartha Kitt’s version of Santa Baby is superior!”

“You two need to join the debate team,” Ellowyne laughed. “I’d pay money to watch you verbally spar with each other.”

Amber and Rufus stared at each other, then started to laugh. Amber spoke first, “Hey, Rufus, I’m sorry about the way I’ve acted toward you. Can we be friends?”

“Well, you have no taste in music,” Rufus teased. Then his face became somber. “I’ve kind of been jerk to you, too. Sorry. Friends.”

Amber turned to Ello. “Ellowyne, I know how much your mother’s pottery meant to you,” she said softly. No one can restore it to the way it was, but maybe this will help.” She handed Ellowyne a photograph of a bowl with what appeared to be gold veining. “It’s called kintsukuroi. Japanese artisans actually repair broken pottery with gold or silver. That way the piece isn’t thrown away and it takes on a whole new meaning. I hope you like it. I told the gentleman who’s doing the work to do it in gold.”

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Ellowyne’s eyes filled with happy tears and she gave Amber a huge hug. “I know things haven’t always been right between us, Amber, but I’d like a fresh start. I want to be your friend.”

“Oh, Ellowyne! Do you mean that? I’d like that, too!”

Ellowyne gave Amber her friendship bracelet and Amber put it on immediately. Rufus, Prudence, and Lizette exchanged glances of sheer astonishment. They knew Amber felt sorry for breaking the pottery and that she was paying for the repairs herself, but to see Amber transform from a frenemy to an authentic, caring friend was almost unbelievable.

Prudence whispered, “And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”

Lizette nudged Pru in the side with her elbow. “Shut up, little Who or you’ll get no roast beast. Or hot cocoa.” The two girls dissolved into giggles. Ellowyne, wondering why they were being so silly, came over and hugged both of them.

“I don’t tell you two often enough how much I value our friendship. I love you both so much,” Ellowyne said as her eyes filled with tears. “You are my best friends.” Then she handed them their friendship bracelets.

“Wow, Ello,” Lizette exclaimed. “These are really pretty. You did a great job!”

“She’s right,” Pru added. “I think you’ve got some hidden talent there!”

Ellowyne made a mental note to herself to visit the bead shop close to Dr. Bantam’s office after her next appointment. That could be a fun hobby, she thought, not too strenuous, and it might quell some of the ennui.

Then Ellowyne looked at Rufus. He was standing in the corner where the mistletoe had been hung, looking out into space as if he were deep into his thoughts. Ellowyne remembered the black leather bracelet she’d made for him but decided she could give it to him later. She needed to do something else first. She saw that the mistletoe had been removed due to the fiasco earlier that evening. We don’t need that stuff, she thought, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and gazed into his eyes. For a brief moment, Rufus was too stunned to realize what was happening. And then a male voice whispered in his ear, “Man, don’t be a dork! Kiss her!”

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Midge, who could no longer be seen by Ellowyne, was watching from across the room. She looked up, startled, and asked, “Allan?”

“Who else do you think would be Rufus’ guardian angel?” Allan grinned. “The kid deserves a break! Now, come on! We have to go back so you can be officially presented with your wings!”

As the two angels disappeared, Ellowyne and Rufus kissed. It was no ordinary kiss. It was a head spinning, heart pounding, knee weakening, toe tingling kiss—and both of them felt it and were rendered speechless.

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 Pru flashed Lizette a grin and murmured, “Another Christmas miracle!”

Amber shrugged her shoulders. “Ah, maybe he’s got some cute buddies. Three of them—one for each of us!”

As Ringo Starr belted out The Little Drummer Boy in the background, a bell on the Christmas tree rang. Lizette exclaimed, “Hey, my aunt back in New Orleans used to say that whenever a bell rings, an angel gets her wings!”

Hand in hand, Ellowyne and Rufus walked over to the bell. Ellowyne spied a small package she hadn’t previously noticed. Inside was a friendship bracelet and a note:

“Remember, Ellowyne, you do make a difference. Thanks for the wings! Love, Midge.”

“Who’s Midge?” the bewildered but deliriously happy Rufus asked.

“A very dear friend, someone who changed my life. Way to go, Midge! And thank you!

Rufus (Part Eight)

Ellowyne found herself and Midge back in Grandmother’s house, sitting on a dusty, plastic-covered couch in what used to be her room. Midge handed Ellowyne a laptop and a stack of magazines.

“Seriously, Midge? Magazines?”

“You cannot expect an old school angel like me to always rely on flight and technology. Here—read this. I have the page bookmarked.”

Ellowyne opened a copy of Entertainment Weekly dated September 16, 2017. Midge had dog-eared an article about the new television shows for the fall and circled a picture and a paragraph. Midge didn’t need to bring attention to the picture, however, for Ellowyne immediately recognized the face.

“What’s Rufus doing in Entertainment Weekly?” she asked.

“Read the paragraph, Ellowyne. It’s all right there, “Midge replied.

“’A sure bet for CBS on Mondays this fall is the highly-anticipated spin-off of The Big Bang Theory. The Wolowitzes follows the madcap adventures of Howard, Bernadette, their three children, and Howard’s cousin David Wolowitz, a student at Cal Tech and the children’s babysitter. Newcomer Rufus Rutter, portrays the nerdy and naïve David. Based on the episodes that were made available for our critics to screen, we place our money on Rutter to become the breakout star of this new sitcom.’ Wait a minute—Rufus is an actor?”

“Indeed he is. He joined the drama club his freshman year at Briermier Academy as a way to get over his shyness. He discovered several talents he didn’t know he had—-acting, singing, dancing—and he broke out of his shell. His first role was that of Harvey Johnson, a hapless teenager who unsuccessfully called for dates during the telephone hour scene in Bye Bye Birdie.” Midge began to sing, more than slightly off-key. “’Hello, Mr. Henkel, this is Harvey Johnson, can I speak to Penelope Ann?’ We really were like that back in the day, Ellowyne! If only we’d had cell phones! They would have made life so simple! Sorry. I got off-track. Anyway, Rufus won major parts in every play put on in high school, and he was cast as Marcellus Washburn in The Music Man his first year at UCLA. Remember, that was the guy who sang Shipoopi. Don’t worry—I won’t sing it. The casting was unusual because upperclassmen tended to get the most important roles but Rufus brought freshness and energy to the role. He performed in everything from dramas to musical comedies, but he left school before his senior year when he got his big break. That came when several cast members of The Big Bang Theory saw his outstanding performance as Seymour Krelborn in Little Shop of Horrors. Would you like to see a clip from the play that night?”

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 Ellowyne nodded and Midge, who had become much more computer literate since knowing Ello, quickly pulled up the scene in which the leads sing Suddenly, Seymour, a love song. Rufus, looking every bit the quintessential nerd, was on stage with a young woman who played Audrey—who looked and dressed suspiciously like Amber—well, at least the way Amber did with Ellowyne in her life. Rufus began to sing: 

            Lift up your head, wash off your mascara

            Here, take my Kleenex, wipe that lipstick away

            Show me your face clean as the morning

            I know things were bad but now they’re okay.

 

            Suddenly, Seymour is standing beside you

            You don’t need no make-up, don’t have to pretend

            Suddenly, Seymour is here to provide you

            Sweet understanding, Seymour’s your friend

Ellowyne’s mind wandered while the female lead sang. She never knew that Rufus was the least bit interested in acting and she had never heard him sing. He was really good! Ello crawled out of the crevice of her thoughts in time to hear Rufus, his co-star, and the chorus finish the number.

With sweet understanding

            Seymour’s your man

At the end of the song, Rufus passionately kissed his pretty co-star and Ellowyne’s heart sank.

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“No more videos for a little while, okay, Midge?”

Midge noticed the distressed look on Ellowyne’s face and decided it might not be a good idea to show her the tabloid with a cover picture of Rufus canoodling with actress Abigail Breslin, whom he met when she guest starred on The Wolowitzes. “Let’s look at this magazine instead,” she suggested.

The next magazine on the stack, People, was dated August 2018, and the cover story focused on the Primetime Emmys. Ellowyne flipped to the page Midge pointed out and saw a photograph of Rufus in a tuxedo, looking somewhat distracted.

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 “Oh, he was nervous in that picture,” Midge confided. “It was his first Emmy awards ceremony and he was still a little stunned to be nominated as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He shouldn’t have been surprised. He won that year and every subsequent year that The Wolowitzes were on the air. Let’s see—he got a couple of Golden Globes, Critics Choice awards—oh and he got slimed four times on Nickelodeon, once as a host and three times when he received the Kids’ Choice Award.

 “After the show ended, Rufus went on to do movies. He played Egon Spengler, Jr., in Ghostbusters 4, and Benjamin Braddock in a remake of The Graduate. Then he went back to television to star in his own sitcom.”

Ellowyne leafed through some of the tabloids stacked in the pile. “It certainly looks like he had his share of social success, too,” she muttered rather bitterly. Here he is at the Grammys with his date, Taylor Swift. Hmmmmm. I didn’t know she was a cougar!” Ellowyne saw dozens of pictures of Rufus out with some of the hottest young stars of the day. The paparazzi snapped him feasting on sushi in Tokyo with Bella Thorne, lobster in Kennebunkport with Chloe Moretz, fudge in Mackinac Island with Hailee Steinfeld, and water ice in New Jersey with Amandla Stenberg. “Well. He always appreciated—um—good food.” Then she picked up another magazine “Whoa! Rufus is People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’?”

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 Midge took the magazine out of Ellowyne’s hands. “It appears so. Yes, November 2024, soon after The Graduate finished filming and Rufus’ new sitcom, Love Stinks, premiered.” Midge skimmed the article. “Hmmmmm. ‘Sweet Is the New Sexy! Rutter has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Known as kind and considerate to co-workers and fans, he treats the set caterers with the same courtesy as the head of the studio.’ Oh, this is cool. ‘We all know that smart is sexy. Rutter is a member of Mensa with a genius-level IQ of 148. But the six-pack abs add to his appeal, too!”

 “Gosh, I knew he was smart—he wanted to be an engineer when we were in high school together. He used to help us all with our calculus homework. But I had no idea he was such a brainiac. I guess there was a lot I didn’t know about him.”

“Here’s something else—-Rufus was involved with a number of charities including an environmental concern and a group that fought childhood hunger, but his main passion was a group that raised awareness of chronic fatigue syndrome, PTSD, and fibromyalgia. That’s interesting, don’t you think?”

Ellowyne puzzled over Midge’s comment. She knew Rufus cared about the environment and everyone cared about starving children—but why would he be interested in chronic fatigue, PTSD, and fibro-whatever?

Midge continued. “His mother had fibromyalgia and his aunt was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. His cousin who went to Iraq and Afghanistan developed PTSD and chronic pain when she returned home. Rufus saw what his family members went through with these conditions and he spent time with researchers to learn how they’re connected. As a result, he made it his priority to raise awareness and money to find successful treatments and possible cures. I also wonder if his relatives’ health issues made him so compassionate and patient.”

Ellowyne’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Rufus had always listened to her, especially when she was troubled. Obviously, he had problems, too. When had she ever listened to him?

Midge quickly changed the subject. “Oh, look at this. ‘His quirky good looks humanize this too-good-to-be-true man and make him approachable. During the fourth season of The Wolowitzes, a tabloid reported that Rutter had secretly scheduled a rhinoplasty and chin reduction with a world-famous plastic surgeon and fan mail flooded into CBS demanding that he not dare have plastic surgery.’”

“He always used to laugh about the way he looked,” Ellowyne said morosely. “I thought he was just being funny but maybe he felt self-conscious and insecure.” Ellowyne frowned. “I messed up, didn’t I, Midge? Here was this great guy right in front of me and I was too focused on myself to notice.”

Ellowyne’s eyes filled with tears and she stared down at the floor. Midge finished perusing the magazine, then picked up the last one remaining from the stack. “Oh. My!” Midge gasped and tried to hide the magazine from Ello.

“Let me see it, Midge. What is it? Rufus’ wedding to a gorgeous actress or something?”

Midge reluctantly handed the magazine to Ellowyne. Ello’s face paled and she gasped when she looked at it. On the cover was a photo of Rufus, surrounded by a black border, and a headline: “Remembering Rufus Rutter, 1996-2025.”

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Ellowyne began to shake and, as loudly as she could, she screamed, “No, no, no, NO! Rufus DIES?”

Midge hugged Ellowyne in an effort to comfort her. Once Ellowyne seemed a little calmer, Midge began to read. “’Rufus’ agent found his body in his Hollywood Hills home when he failed to report to the set of Love Stinks. The cause of death is undetermined pending an autopsy. The coroner suspects an accidental or intentional overdose, most likely a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.’ Ellowyne, I am so sorry. I honestly did not know this until I read it myself.”

“But,” Ellowyne sobbed. “Rufus was successful! He was a star! He was rich and talented and was loved by millions of fans! He wasn’t even thirty yet! Why would he do this? I mean, even if it was an accident, he was smart enough to not drink and take sleeping pills!”

“Ello, you need to read this. Maybe it will give you an answer.” Midge pointed to a sidebar entitled Rufus Rutter’s Final Interview, conducted only a few days before he died. When Ellowyne read it, she could hear Rufus’ words in his voice. The interviewer had asked him about love.

“Love? You’ve got to be kidding. Look, I usually play nice guys who are hopelessly in love with women who never notice them—like Jake in Love Stinks. He’s a middle school science teacher, a decent guy who will do anything for the woman he loves. Did you see the pilot? Jake gets up at 5 on a Sunday morning to come to the rescue of a pretty colleague whose bike broke down. He brought her coffee, fixed her bike, and took her back to her apartment. When he suggested that they get together later for brunch, she tells him she’s already got plans with the guy she’s dating! And she didn’t call him to help her because she didn’t want to wake him so early! But of course she appreciates Jake’s friendship. Hilarious. I mean, the dude gets his heart stepped on and he’s humiliated in pretty much every episode. Yet he always comes back for more. Everyone says, ‘Oh Rufus. You play these guys so convincingly. You must the world’s expert on unrequited love!’

“Truth be told, I’ve never been in love. Sure I’ve dated a lot of women—not quite as many as the tabloids would have you believe but— no offense intended to any of them—I’ve never found someone with whom I could truly fall in love. Hollywood doesn’t promote authenticity in relationships; we’re all play acting or using each other to further our careers. No one is genuine out here. I’m not, the women I’ve been with are not. But I’ve played this game before. You know, when I was in high school I was the drama club geek and, no girl was ever interested in me until we were performing our latest play. Girls would ignore me but the week of the premiere, suddenly I’d be a ‘great catch’. Same thing happened at UCLA. Yeah, I dated some of those girls—I wasn’t an idiot—but I never fell in love—unrequited or otherwise. Then again, I never met the right girl. I know, that sounds conceited and clichéd but the right girl only existed in my daydreams. When I was in seventh grade I concocted this ideal girl in my head. She was kind, gracious, intelligent, pretty, and just a little sad. I don’t know why she was sad. Maybe I wanted to be her white knight. Maybe I thought I could fix her. For years I looked for my ideal girl but never found her. I guess she never existed.

“So I dedicated myself to my craft. I’m 29 years old and I make $2 million per episode of my show plus the insane salaries I’ve made on my movies, and I have more awards than I can count on my fireplace mantle. I thought I was happy but now I wonder. Awards don’t laugh at your jokes. Money doesn’t keep you warm at night and all the acclaim in the world is of little comfort when you’re feeling down. Sometimes, quite often lately, I think I’d give it all up for the chance to be bonkers about someone. To be foolishly, insanely, deliriously in love. I guess, deep down, I envy the lovesick characters I play, guys like Jake. I’d give anything to be an ordinary, obscure guy with someone to love. And, hopefully, she would love me, too.”

Ellowyne choked down her tears long enough to ask Midge one last question. “Was I Rufus’ dream girl? Was he in love with me?”

Midge looked deeply into Ello’s reddened eyes. “I don’t think you need to ask.”

Ellowyne wept salty tears that stung her cheeks and came from her very soul. She let out a high-pitched wail and pounded the couch with her fists. She finally got it.

 

Lizette (Part Seven)

“Okay, Midge,” Ellowyne sighed. “So far we’ve seen Freddy become a criminal, Prudence become a jerk, and Amber become the next Mother Teresa. Does anyone have, uh, a less eventful life?”

Midge thought for a moment and then whisked Ellowyne back in time to Lizette’s first day at Briermier Academy. Lizette walked nervously through the door of the school. Having to move from a place she loved was awful but having to move in high school was just the worst. She tried valiantly to greet everyone she saw. First, Lizette said hello to a girl with purple streaks in her hair; the girl, who was Prudence, looked rather sour but Lizette thought her leopard-print tights were cute and she wanted to compliment her. Pru grumbled, “Thanks” and stormed off.

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In the school cafeteria, Lizette saw a pretty girl with short hair who was sitting by herself. “Hi, I’m Lizette,” she began. “May I join you?”

Amber looked up from her textbook. “Sure. But I might not be the best company. I’m trying to cram for this advanced placement biochemistry class and I need to keep studying.”

Lizette looked confused. “But that class just started, right?”

“Yes, but I don’t want to get behind,” Amber explained. “I’m trying to get into college for nursing, which is so competitive. I can’t afford to be lazy in this class!”

Lizette sat in silence with Amber, lazily skimming her textbooks, for the rest of the lunch period.

In the afternoon, Lizette went to her AP English class. She was mildly excited because the class would be studying Shakespeare works. A tall boy who sat in front of her seemed knowledgeable and enthusiastic about plays. As class ended, he turned to her and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Rufus. You’re new here, right?”

Lizette sighed with relief. Finally, someone nice who noticed her existence! “Hi! I’m Lizette. I just moved here from New Orleans.”

“Oh, wow. What brought you up here?” Rufus asked kindly. However, before Lizette could answer, some of Rufus’ friends from the drama club crowded around him.

“Hey, dude! I hear we’re putting on Harvey this fall,” a boy shouted. “Is it true that they’re just gonna give you the Jimmy Stewart part and you don’t even have to audition?”

“It’s Elwood P. Dowd and nah, I have to audition like everybody else,” Rufus insisted. Then he grinned. “But I can give you my autograph now if you’d like.”

His friends howled with laughter. Someone retorted, “Yeah, I’ll go sell it on eBay for big bucks.” Everyone chortled.

Just as Rufus started to leave with his friends, he turned to Lizette. “ I’m sorry. I gotta go. Drama Club is my thing and I don’t have a lot of free time. Maybe we can talk again after class later this week.”

Lizette shrugged. Popular people don’t need new friends, she sighed glumly to herself.

Ellowyne and Midge watched as Lizette trudged home from school and into the house.

“Hi, sweetheart,” called out Lizette’s mother, Sasha. “How was school?”

Lizette made a face, and then slunk into the kitchen for a snack. “Blech,” she grumbled as she stuffed a couple of Oreos into her mouth. “It was terrible. The classes are boring. I only met a couple of kids. One was freaking out over AP biochem and the other was a popular boy too busy to make new friends.”

“Popular people are popular for a reason.”

Lizette shook her head. Parents and their platitudes! “But I’m not comfortable trying to break into a whole new crowd. Besides, he’s into the drama club and those guys usually aren’t interested in girls.”

“Lizette! You know you shouldn’t stereotype! Look, honey, this is just the first day of school. You’ll make friends here just like you did in New Orleans.”

Lizette rolled her eyes. “You don’t get it. This isn’t New Orleans. People are different here. I hate San Francisco!” Lizette ran to her room to talk to her pet birds.

Sasha sighed. She wasn’t terribly fond of San Francisco, either. Her political career had tanked. Her political career had tanked. She hated missing Mardi Gras and watching the tourists at the French Quarter. And there were so many earthquakes in San Francisco! And yes, sourdough bread was delicious and she and Julian, Lizette’s father, certainly enjoyed California wine. But San Francisco didn’t feel like home. Maybe it never would. And Lizette was so unhappy.

Ellowyne turned to Midge. “I know Lizette hated San Francisco at first but one day, soon after she moved, we took her to Madam Tussands. Oh, that was fun! We all pretended to be wax figures when we got done with the museum. Rufus was Steve Jobs, Pru was Janis Joplin, I was Kate Winslet, and Lizette was Serena Williams. We all pretended we’d met at a big party and tried to stay in character—while we ate dinner at a Chinatown restaurant. Lizette kept pretending to play tennis during dinner. People looked at us like we were crazy but it was awesome!

“And another time all of us girls went to Ghirardelli Square during the Chocolate Festival. None of us had ever seen so much chocolate in our lives. Even Amber was impressed! And Lizette won the ice cream eating contest! On the way home, we all got kinda queasy in the cable car but once we were back to my house, we all felt good enough to scarf the chocolate we’d brought back for Rufus. Lizette told us later how much fun she had and that she’d been so homesick for New Orleans but changed her mind after that day. San Francisco was her home! But she didn’t want to eat ice cream for months!”

Ellowyne stopped giggling about her memories of the first days of her friendship with Lizette. Somberly, she asked, “So what happened to Lizette? I know Pru was kind of antisocial but did Lizette make friends with either Amber or Rufus?”

“Sadly, no. She wrote off both of them and she didn’t pursue a friendship with either one. She gave up trying to meet new people in her school and spent all of her time alone, wallowing in her misery. She didn’t have fun like she did with you and your other friends and she never learned to love San Francisco. Would you like to see how Lizette is now?”

Ellowyne nodded and in a blink she and Midge were in the French Quarter. Lizette and her mother were headed back to their apartment after an unusually quiet Christmastime evening spent with old friends. Ellowyne noticed that they both looked sad, and she asked Midge, “What happened? Why are they back in New Orleans?”

“Lizette was so miserable in San Francisco that she begged her parents to let her return to New Orleans. Originally, she had intended to move in with friends of the family while she finished high school but Sasha told Julian that she, too, was unhappy. Since he liked San Francisco, the two decided to get a legal separation and Sasha moved back to New Orleans with Lizette. Let’s visit Lizette four years later.”

Ellowyne and Midge found themselves in a tiny, dingy apartment near the campus of Tulane. Sasha was yelling at Lizette. “How can you live like this?” she screamed as Lizette’s forty caged birds chirped and squawked.

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Lizette crept into the room. Ellowyne was shocked at her appearance. Lively Lizette had become disheveled; she wore no makeup and was dressed in an oversized, stained man’s sweatshirt and ill-fitting jeans. Worse, the spark was gone from her eyes. Lizette looked as if she simply did not care about anything or anyone, least of all herself. “Hey, Sasha. You know the birds are the only things that make my life worth living.”

“But Lizette—there are so many of them! And don’t you care about your schoolwork? About your future?”

“Eh,” Lizette grunted. She was in what should have been her last year at Tulane but she had changed majors four times in four years, flitting from anthropology to psychology to African studies to linguistics. Nothing seemed to hold her interest for very long. Graduate school, something to which Lizette once aspired, was out of the question. “I dunno,” she shrugged. “Maybe I should just quit school and go work in one of the restaurants. Maybe Emeril Lagasse will hire me.”

“On the basis of what?” Sasha shouted. “You’ve never had a job, much less worked in a restaurant! And look at you! You used to be so pretty and now you just don’t care!”

“Why should I bother?” Lizette whined. “Life here stinks. I am so bored and I wish I could get out of here. I’m bored with beignets and morose over Mardi Gras. We have crocodiles and cemeteries and voodoo shops everywhere. Wooo-hooo. And we have ignorant tourists who hear some hack over on the street corner playing clichéd jazz, visit a cathedral, and gorge themselves on hurricanes, pralines, and some warmed over jambalaya and think they’ve seen this town. I seriously want to punch people like that in the face! Really, New Orleans is just the most hackneyed, banal, overdone place on earth!”

“Are you serious? Your father and I divorced because you wanted to come back here! And you hated San Francisco!”

Lizette crawled back into her bedroom and slammed the door. Shaking with frustration, Sasha left the apartment and called her ex-husband. “I know what the therapist said, Julian. Lizette doesn’t quite meet the clinical criteria for depression. Yes, the therapist called it ‘ennui’. It’s chronic boredom. I don’t know how to snap her out of it. Julian, quit yelling at me. This isn’t my fault!”

Midge looked thoughtfully at Ellowyne. “Wow, so Lizette has ennui. What do you think about that?”

Ellowyne considered Midge’s question for a moment. “Hmmmm. I really don’t get it. New Orleans seems like an amazing, vibrant place to live and I can’t imagine anyone developing ennui living there.”

Midge bit her tongue. She had become very fond of Ellowyne during her stint as her guardian angel but sometimes she wondered if Ellowyne’s synapses fired a little too slowly. Ellowyne, you live in San Francisco, truly one of the greatest places on Earth and yet YOU complain of ennui, Midge thought to herself. Do you not get it? Then Midge realized that maybe Ellowyne just wasn’t quite ready to confront her own despair and world-weariness.

But Midge had saved the most dramatic fate of one of Ellowyne’s friends for last. If this didn’t shake her into wanting to live—truly live and work on overcoming her ennui—nothing would.

“Ellowyne, are you ready to find out what happened to Rufus if you don’t exist?”

Reluctantly, Ellowyne nodded.

Amber (Part Six)

“Now, Ellowyne,” Midge started. “Please tell me about your relationship with Amber Stanhope.”

“OMG, Midge. Where do I start? She’s awful. Amber is truly the worst person I have ever known. She’s phony and conceited and causes trouble all the time. Amber is mean and selfish and humiliates me in front of my friends. She thinks I’m lazy and tells me all the time to snap out of my ennui. She once gave me a self-improvement book for Christmas! Her dad is my father’s boss so we have to try to get along, but I don’t like her. Father keeps telling me to try to be nice to her and try to make friends. I try but it’s almost impossible!

“She picks on my friends, too. The first time she met Lizette, she made fun of her vintage hat. But Lizette got even, “Ello laughed. “She was Amber’s lab partner a few days later and put some kind of chemical in their experiment that made Amber’s hands turn purple.

“And once she was picking on Pru about Zumba classes. So Pru invited her to come but didn’t tell her that it was the advanced, Zumba-on-steroids class. Amber showed up in this fussy exercise outfit that looked like it came out of the Eighties and she sweat so badly that she had to throw the thing away. Of course, Amber wasn’t even able to make it through fifteen minutes of the class. That’ll teach her to be mean to Prudence.

“Here’s another story. Did you know that Amber once put the moves on Rufus? It was so weird. We were all in a coffee shop and Amber made some snarky remark about me always being tired. Rufus was going to defend me but before he could, Amber slunk over to him and kissed him right on the lips! He looked like he wanted to die of embarrassment. And then she asked him to go for ice cream and he left with her. What the heck, Rufus? I was so mad at him until he told me how he got even with her. First, he made Amber pay for his ice cream. And then when Amber asked him if he wanted to neck under the wharf, he went along with it! But he put this big plastic spider between his front teeth, so it was dangling out of his mouth, and then leaned over to kiss her. Amber shrieked and ran off. Too funny! I didn’t think she’d try a stunt like that again and then tonight at my Christmas party, she pounced on Rufus like she was a starving lioness and he was a juicy zebra.”

Midge closed her eyes for a second. Yes, Amber sounded like a mean girl, a real pill. But in all fairness, Ellowyne and her friends seemed rather harsh in their retributions. Midge remembered some of the unpleasant kids in her own high school and how Barbie, her best friend, always acted graciously when someone was being unkind. Then Midge remembered how sometimes she felt envious of Barbie and behaved stupidly to hide her insecurities. “Let’s go back to high school, Ellowyne.”

Suddenly Ellowyne and Midge found themselves outside the theater in Briermier Academy in the spring of 2015. A sign had been posted on the door: Play Tryouts Today. Prudence slouched over, read the sign, scowled, and walked away. Lizette then wandered over, yawned, shook her head as she read the sign, and also walked away. And finally Amber came to the door. Wait a minute—-was that really Amber?

Demurely dressed, with short hair and minimal makeup, Amber walked slowly but confidently into the room. On the stage sat the director and Rufus, who had already been cast as the male lead. Rufus looked skeptically at her, then shrugged his shoulders and whispered something to the director.

The director commanded, “I’d like you two to sing a few lines from one of our numbers, Summer Nights, and do a little dialogue. Rufus, you’ve got the part of Danny and you—what was your name again, young lady?”

“Amber Stanhope,” she replied.

“Amber, you’re going to read the part of Sandy. Let’s go, people! Action!”

The audition went smoothly—Amber could act and sing—and the director congratulated her on winning the female lead. She took her script and sat down in the audience intending to watch the rest of the auditions. Instead, she started reading.

During a break, Amber spoke up. “Excuse me,” she interjected. “Why does Sandy start off as a good girl and then end up as, well, a bad girl who wears black, skintight clothing?”

The director rolled his eyes. “That’s how it’s written, Ms. Stanhope. This is Grease, not The Sound of Music.”

Amber protested further. “And it looks like there’s a lot of kissing in this play!”

Rufus gaped at her in disbelief. “You have a problem with that?”

“Yes, I do,” she asserted. “I don’t believe that girls should kiss boys casually. I intend to not kiss any boy until I’m engaged—or maybe even married.”

Rufus shook his head. “What are you, a wannabe nun or something?”

“Oh, that’s rude!” She finally started to resemble the Amber that Ellowyne knew. “I’m sorry. I simply cannot be in this play!” With that, Amber sauntered out of the room.

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 Ellowyne was astonished. “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that Amber dropped out of a play rather than wear slinky clothes and kiss Rufus? What happened to the attention-seeking, boy-crazy Amber?”

“Ellowyne, without you in her life, Amber never felt the need to compete,” Midge answered softly. “Do you know why she always acted out around you and your friends? It was because she envied you and wanted to be like you. She simply didn’t know how to deal with feeling so threatened and that’s why she acted like such a queen bee. But since she didn’t need to show off to you or anyone else, her softer side emerged. Amber became caring and unselfish and thought it was silly to chase boys. Amber put her energies into studying and graduated at the top of the class. She went to college and became a registered nurse—”

“So she could meet and marry a doctor?” Ellowyne interjected cynically.

Midge sighed. “That was my generation, when women had fewer choices than they have today. No, Amber could have been a doctor if she had wanted to. She had another goal in mind. I’ll show you.”

In a millisecond, Midge whisked Ellowyne to a beautiful setting just outside of San Francisco. Amber stood at the gate of this bucolic setting and appeared to be saying goodbye to her tearful parents.

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“We love you, baby girl,” Mrs. Stanhope, sobbed. “And you can change your mind at any time.”

“That’s right, darling,” Mr. Stanhope added. “There’s no shame in trying something and then deciding not to do it.”

“I always hoped you’d marry a nice boy and raise a family, Mrs. Stanhope whispered.” I still can’t believe you’re planning to become a nun.”

“Mother, Father,” Amber said softly. “My mind is made up. After my period of discernment, I’ll do my novitiate. And then I’ll take my vows. Remember how inspired I was in high school by the nuns on the bus? I want to be just like them, only using my education and skills as a nurse to help sick people all over the world.”

Ellowyne shook her head furiously. “No way. No way! I cannot believe that Amber becomes a nun! And a nurse! And a nun?!?”

Midge wrinkled her freckled nose ruefully. “I know it’s hard to imagine, but without being obsessed with competing with you, Amber grows into a very compassionate, altruistic woman. I’m not saying she’d be better off without you, Ellowyne, but maybe you and your friends should have been a little less harsh with her. There is something good in Amber—it’s hidden but it’s there—and you and your friends haven’t had much success changing her behavior by being mean to her. You can’t fight obnoxious people by being obnoxious yourself. You have to be gracious, kind, patient, and forgiving.” Midge then flashed Ellowyne a sly grin. “Besides, being nice keeps your frenemies off balance.”

Prudence and Sybil (Part Five)

The next thing Ellowyne knew, she and Midge were at the Academy back in Ello’s freshman year. The bell rang and the halls filled with teenagers scurrying to their lockers so they could get to the next class on time. “Oh, look! There’s Pru!” Ellowyne exclaimed. Although Midge kept some distance between herself and Prudence, Ellowyne floated through the throng off students to get a closer look.

Midge’s blue eyes widened and she gasped. Ellowyne, who heard Midge, gawked in disbelief. Prudence, who had always been known for her eclectic style, looked even—funkier—than when Ellowyne knew her. Ello and Midge then heard someone shout, “Hey, weirdo!” as Pru was shoved into her locker. Ello was shocked. Several of the teenagers in the hallway made fun of Prudence while others stood by and laughed.

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Ellowyne then spied a familiar face. “There’s Rufus. He’ll stand up for Pru.” But the lanky teenager seemed not to notice the commotion and he continued to hurry to class.

“Ello, they never knew each other. They never met and they never became friends. Rufus had his own crowd while Pru, well, she had nobody”

Ellowyne closed her eyes momentarily and when she opened them, she found herself and Midge hovering above Prudence the day she found a stray cat caught in a fence. Pru freed the scruffy black and grey cat, who hissed and scratched her in return for her assistance.

“Well, aren’t you a cranky kitty?” Pru sighed. “No wonder someone dumped you. I’m not the happiest person in the world, so maybe we’ll get along just fine. I’ll take you to the vet to make sure you don’t have rabies or something. And I think I’ll name you Sybil. That seems to suit a psycho kitty like you.”

Suddenly, Ellowyne and Midge were back in the musty storage room, but this time they had a laptop computer. Midge seemed to be frustrated. “We didn’t have this kind of technology when I was your age,” she grumbled. “I’m looking for something about cats who eat cheeseburgers and all I can find is gossip about a bunch of people named Kardashian.”

Ellowyne took the computer and quickly found one of the most popular humor sites on the Internet. Together, she and Midge looked through the pictures until Midge finally found the meme she wanted Ello to see. “Does this look like anyone you know?”

Ellowyne’s eyes widened because she recognized Sybil! She read the caption,

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“‘Psycho Kitty is in your Christmas tree and’—-oh my!,” Even more surprising, the creator of the rather vulgar meme was none other than P. Moody!

“And that’s how it all began,” Midge murmured.

In a blink, Ello and Midge were transported to 2017, the height of the Psycho Kitty craze. Every website seemed to have a Psycho Kitty meme. Psycho Kitty appeared on political sites, social media, and YouTube. Her face appeared on Psycho Kitty T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, and refrigerator magnets. Children and adult collectors clamored for Psycho Kitty beanbag toys. Psycho Kitty appeared on talk shows, in cat food commercials, and even her own Christmas special. Midge then drew Ello’s attention to an article posted on a news site. The headline read: “Psycho Kitty’s Psycho Owner Won’t Allow Cat to Appear for Charity”. Puzzled, Ellowyne continued to read the article, which included several accounts of Prudence refusing to allow Sybil to appear at fundraising events for animal shelters. Ellowyne scowled; that doesn’t sound like the Prudence she knew. Why, Pru volunteered at shelters and often tried to convince her friends to adopt just one more cat or dog.

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Ellowyne clicked on a link to a video of Prudence defending her decision not to participate in the animal welfare fundraiser. “Hey, if I do one freebie benefit, pretty soon every shelter in this country will want a piece of Psycho Kitty. Sybil is a star. She doesn’t get out of her cat bed for less than $10,000 a day. Sheesh!”

Ellowyne looked confused. “This isn’t the Pru that I knew.”

“Of course she isn’t. Prudence is completely different without having had you in her life. She was bullied through all of middle school and high school, even into college. She became angry and resentful and eventually dropped out of college. Instead of doing fun things with other people like line dancing or karaoke, she moved into her mother’s basement and spent nearly all her time on the computer. Once she created the Psycho Kitty memes, she found the acceptance she’d always wanted. But then she was wary of people wanting to befriend her, because she feared they were simply after her money or fame. Without you, she became cynical, bitter, and selfish. She became obsessed with making money and never did find any real friends.”

“I can’t believe this,” Ellowyne asserted. “Pru didn’t care about money. She cared about her friends and family and people everywhere—-and animals, too. I simply cannot conceive of Prudence as a nasty, horrible person.”

Midge shrugged. “Would you believe me if I told you that fame and fortune did not change Sybil? She remained cantankerous—nasty and horrible if you prefer—for the rest of her life.”

That was indeed something Ellowyne could easily believe.

Freddy (Part Four)

Ellowyne and Midge floated through the wall into the upstairs hallway. “Oh, this is kind of fun!” Ellowyne exclaimed. Midge remained silent as they entered the bedroom of Ellowyne’s dear grandmother. Instead of the lively, globe-hopping, thrift-shop loving older woman she had always known, Ellowyne saw a grey figure hunched up and sitting in a rocking chair. “Grandmother?”

“Remember, Ello, she can’t hear you,” Midge admonished. “She couldn’t cope after your mother died and your father had his, um, nervous breakdown.”

“Father? Where’s Father?”

“I’m sorry, dear. He was hospitalized soon after your mother died and he is only allowed home on special occasions. He hasn’t been compliant with his new medications so he has to remain in the institution for the holidays.”

Ellowyne looked uneasily around the house. Although Ellowyne hadn’t noticed the condition of the outside, the inside was in a state of disrepair, with cracked ceilings, peeled wallpaper, and drafty windows. Ellowyne reflected on the gorgeous décor, the antiques, and the pristine condition of the house as she remembered it. And then, struck with concern, she asked, “What about Freddy?”

“I can’t let you see him but I can show you where he lives.”

Midge took Ellowyne to a spot not terribly far from her grandmother’s home. It was a magnificent building, not far from the bay. Ellowyne watched as seagulls perched on a sign near the entrance. At first Ellowyne thought the setting was peaceful and beautiful. Then she gasped as she read the sign:

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San Quentin State Penitentiary

“I know you and Freddy weren’t terribly close,” Midge explained. “But without you, he was even more troubled. You see, you and your friends were good role models for him. You all provided him some guidance and helped him stay out of trouble with the law. Without you, his, um, idiosyncrasies got the best of him and he was arrested numerous times for arson. In 2021, Freddy was sentenced to life in prison for a conflagration that, sadly, burned over a thousand acres of woodland, destroyed dozens of homes, and cost three firefighters their lives.”

Ellowyne sobbed quietly. Her brother wasn’t bad, just irresponsible and deeply troubled.

If this is how Freddy, Grandmother, and Father turned out without her, what happened to her friends?