Amber’s Secret

Rating K+, language and suggestive behavior

Based on the Ellowyne canon

Prologue

Ellowyne was running late to meet her friends at Déjà Brew, their favorite coffee shop. “Hey, squad! Sorry but I went to a new thrift store and I lost track of the time,” she said when she got to the circular booth where Prudence, Lizette, and Rufus were waiting. She sat next to Rufus, who was in the middle of the booth, and put her hot chocolate on the table and her shopping bags on the floor. “I got the most amazing deals. Designer jeans for $10 a pair! Leather purses for $5! They even had an awesome selection of guys’ clothes.” She paused for a minute. “So Penn’s not here?”

Lizette answered, “No, we thought he might be with you!”

Prudence nudged Lizette with her elbow and pointed at Rufus, who had looked hopeful when Ellowyne sat next to him but was downcast when she mentioned Penn. She muttered, “Not in front of him!”

Ellowyne was oblivious to Rufus’ mood and Lizette and Pru’s whispered conversation. She said, “I just got a text from Penn. He should be here within five minutes.” With that, she got up to order a grande chai tea, Penn’s favorite. She searched the pastry case for Penn’s favorite treat, a blueberry scone. As she put these at the empty spot next to her at the table, she spotted a familiar—and unwelcome—face. She turned her head, hoping she would not be seen but it was too late.

Amber slunk over to the big, semi-circle booth where they all sat. She was wearing a dress so tight that it resembled the casing of an overcooked sausage. “Hey, bitches! Why didn’t you invite me to your little tête-à-tête??”

They tried to ignore her. Ellowyne skimmed some of the whipped cream on her drink. Pru took a bite of her chocolate chip cookie. Lizette looked at her latte to see if the barista spelled her name right. Rufus tried to avert his eyes when Amber leaned across the table at him, her breasts threatening to pop out of her slinky spandex outfit. He blushed and slunk down in his seat.

“Aren’t we just WILDE today?” Amber said, her voice dripping with venom and a touch of saccharine. “Maybe I should stick around. But sorry, I must head home to get ready for a fabulous dinner with my parents at their country club. But before I leave, here’s something special for you, Rutter!” Much to Rufus’ embarrassment, Amber turned around and jiggled her hips and backside.

His cheeks turned several shades of red and he whispered to Prudence, “Is she twerking?”

Amber spun around to confront Rufus. “You don’t know what twerking is? Seriously? Haven’t you ever seen Miley Cyrus or Nicki Minaj on YouTube?”

“Unlike you, Amber, I have better things to do,” Rufus answered coldly.

Amber was flustered by Rufus’ chilly response. She backed away and was silent for what seemed to be an hour. Finally she threw up her hands and said, “Whatever. I’m not going to waste any more of my time with you heffers. Bye-bye!”

Under her breath, Ellowyne whispered, “Bye, Felicia”, which made Pru and Lizette giggle. Amber glared at them, flipped her hair, and sauntered away. Everyone at the booth sighed with relief. But then they heard a shriek near the coffeehouse door. Oh no! It was Penn.

He stormed over to the booth where his friends were waiting. He was wide-eyed, his face was reddened, and the veins in his neck stuck out. He barely acknowledged anyone at the table and failed to notice the goodies Ellowyne got for him. He shouted, “SHE GOOSED ME! Amber just GOOSED me! Who does that?” He sat down next to Ellowyne and finally took a sip of the chai tea she bought for him. “What is wrong with that girl?”

Lizette shrugged and said, “We don’t know. All we know is that Amber acts so…so…so…”

“Outrageously?” Ellowyne asked.

“Atrociously?” Prudence queried.

“Inappropriately?” Rufus quipped.

“Yeah, like goosing guys she hardly knows.” Penn turned to Rufus, “This whole kiss and slap thing—has she always done that?”

Rufus rubbed his cheek. “Yeah, she’s been doing that ever since I met her.” He sighed. “Sad to say that I got my first kiss from Amber. And then she smacked me upside the head.” He looked at Ellowyne, shrugged, and took a deep breath. “I always thought my first kiss would be enjoyable.”

“Is she still hitting on you—and hitting you?” Penn asked.

“Not so much lately. I mean, she just thrust her cleavage and shook her butt at me. But now that you’re hanging out with us, dude, I think she’s turning her attention toward you.”

Penn frowned, shook his head, and took an aggressive bite out of his scone. “Awesome.”

“Hey, been there, done that, got the restraining order,” Rufus quipped. “Okay, I’m kidding about the restraining order. But sorry, bro, but it’s your turn now. It’s the price you gotta pay to hang out with these beautiful ladies.” The girls blushed a little and smiled.

“But remember, she’s obnoxious to us, too,” Prudence said. “Even if you weren’t here with us, Amber would be rude and condescending.”

Lizette shook her head. “It’s so hard to go shopping with her. She always picks the most expensive and outrageous clothing. She once paid a thousand dollars for a pair of distressed jeans!”

“And then she dissed us for looking at jeans for less than $100,” Prudence added. “That’s way too expensive for any of us.”

Ellowyne rolled her eyes and sniffed. “I can find those very same designer jeans at the thrift store. And, I can distress or embellish any jeans just the way I like. One time Amber bragged about an outfit that cost her over a thousand dollars. I put together one just like it for well under a hundred. She freaked out when saw me wearing it and freaked out,” Ellowyne said.

“Amber is terrible to shop for shoes with,” Prudence said. She has to try on all of the expensive shoes. She has made salesmen wait on her for up to an hour and she gets mad if they try to wait on anyone else.”

Ellowyne answered, “Remember that time you needed new Birkenstocks? Amber said they were ugly but when she saw that the price was well over $100, she tried on a pair herself.”

“Watching her try to walk in anything but her Louboutins was hilarious! She literally walked like a cow!” Prudence added.

Rufus smirked. “You mean like a REAL heifer?” The five friends chuckled. Penn laughed so hard his chai tea squirted out of his nose.

“You should see her in the perfume and makeup counters,” Lizette said, “She has to try on every perfume and stinks up the whole store. She kind of smells like bug spray.” Everyone laughed and Lizette continued. “And at the makeup counters she acts like she’s so much better than the salespeople working there. Remember the time she was so snarky to one of the makeup artists before he started her makeover? The guy was so pissed off he made her look like a clown!”

Ellowyne said, “Hey, I’ve got a picture of that on my phone!”

When the laughter died down, Penn furrowed his brow and asked, “But why does Amber do these things? Is she just a bitch or is there another reason?”

Rufus smirked. “Maybe she was raised by wolves!”

“Dude, I’m serious. Haven’t any of you wondered why Amber acts this way? Maybe she has a secret, something she’s never told anyone.”

So what is Amber’s secret? Here’s another choose your ending story! Pru, Rufus, Ellowyne, and Lizette all think they know Amber’s secret. Let’s see if they do! And, since this is a choose your own ending story, you get to say which of these stories might be true. Please respond in the comments section and I will share the end of that story. I’ll also share what story I think is true! Read on and enjoy!

Rufus

Rufus squirmed in his seat while his friends speculated about Amber’s secret. He knew what it was but he would never break a confidence, even Amber’s. He thought back to a conversation the two of them had a couple of months ago.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first time he had received her text, he looked at it and deleted it. The next two times, he deleted it without reading it. Finally, his mom asked him to please text his friend Amber, who sent her a Facebook message asking her to get in touch with him. Finally he texted Amber to find out what she wanted.

Amber texted him back immediately and asked him if they could meet at Elevated Grounds, a coffeehouse close to the Stanhope’s elegant home, that no one in Ellowyne’s circle of friends frequented. Reluctantly, he agreed.

He walked into the coffeehouse and immediately realized he could never afford to order even half a scone. When Amber saw him, she waved him over to where she was sitting. She had his favorite latte and two big oatmeal chocolate chip cookies waiting for him.

“Rufus, I am so glad that you came. It’s nice to see you again.”

He glowered at her. “Cut the crap, Amber. What do you want?”

“Well, I do have a favor to ask.”

“I knew it.” He grabbed the cookies and his drink and stood up to leave. “You’re only nice to someone when you want something.”

“No, please. Don’t go.”

Rufus sighed and sat back down. “Fine. So what do you want?”

Amber looked down onto the table. She took in a sharp breath and said, “I need to tell you something first. But I need your strict confidence. You are the only person I’m telling this to.”

He drank some of his coffee. “Go on.”

“Promise you won’t tell?”

Rufus pondered this for a minute or so. If he knew Amber’s secret, he could use it against her. But no, he had too much integrity to betray anyone’s secrets to hurt them. And he could never break anyone’s confidence, not even Amber’s.

“I promise. Go on, Amber.”

Amber sipped her green tea, then bit her lip. “I like Ellowyne. I mean, I really, REALLY like her.”

“Everyone likes Ellowyne. Nothing so secret about that.”

“I feel the same way about Ellowyne as you do.”

Rufus furrowed his brows. “Sorry. I don’t follow.”

“Look. It’s totally obvious that you’re totally in love with Ellowyne. When she enters a room, your eyes light up. You’re always doing nice things for her like bringing her flowers and extra large cans of whipped cream. We all know it, well, except for Ellowyne, who can be so oblivious.”

Rufus blushed, then gathered his thoughts. “You just said that you know I’m in love with Ellowyne. What does she have to do with this?”

Tears welled up in Amber’s eyes and she nodded her head. “I haven’t told this to anyone. My friends—especially Ellowyne—would freak out.”

He was a bit surprised when Amber referred to Ellowyne as a friend rather than a frenemy, but he said nothing.

“I don’t want to be this way. I’ve have tried so hard to be—what—what I’m not. The clothes, the makeup, the flirting…”

“Amber. You’ve done way more than flirting. You’ve kissed me when I didn’t want it. And then you’ve slapped me. Your behavior has made me uncomfortable and confused. I could post my own ‘me, too’ story.”

“I am so sorry. I didn’t think about your feelings. I only did it because I was trying so hard to convince myself that I wasn’t, I wasn’t—Rufus, you have two mothers. Don’t you get what I’m trying to tell you?”

With that, Amber started to weep. In all the years he had known her, Rufus never once saw her cry. He stood up, moved closer to Amber and took her in his arms. She sobbed onto his shoulder. “I don’t want to be gay, Rufus. I really don’t.”

“What can I do to help you? I can introduce you to my moms and they can help you get comfortable with yourself and tell your parents, and get information on PFLAG.”

Amber tore away from Rufus’ comforting embrace. “Oh, no! I can’t do that. I can’t tell my parents. They’d be devastated.” She sat down and wiped away her tears. But that’s why I need a favor.”

He eyed her suspiciously and cocked an eyebrow. He had never seen Amber so vulnerable and sad. But what did she really need from him?

“I can’t tell my parents. Not now. They’ve been wondering why I haven’t brought home any boyfriends. Would you…”

Rufus shook his head. “Oh hell no. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to be your beard.”

“Please! Just for a little while until I can get up the courage to tell my parents.” She paused. “I’ll help you get Ellowyne away from Penn.”

Every cell in Rufus’ body screamed “RUN!” but his heart told him to stay. “How can you help me win Ellowyne’s love?” he asked. “Especially when you’re in love with her too?”

Amber said, “I doubt that Ellowyne would ever fall in love with me. But you—at least you have a chance.”

She made sense. And his heart shouted that he should trust her, even when his sweaty palms and churning stomach screamed “NO!” He took a bite of his second cookie and asked her to continue.

“Yes, I want to pretend that you’re my boyfriend, just for my parents. They’ll back off when they see me with you.”

Rufus cocked an eyebrow. “Wait a minute. This isn’t a game, is it? I don’t flatter myself unjustly but is this some kind of ruse to get me to spend time with you?”

She looked down at her tea and her lower lip trembled. “I don’t blame you for not trusting me. I’ve done some terrible things to you. But please, please trust me on this. Besides, I’ve confided my secret to you. I trust you. Can you trust me?”

Rufus paused as he collected his thoughts. “Well, you do have more to lose than I at this point. But if I do this, how will you help me compete against Penn for Ellowyne’s affection? Ellowyne gushes every time she sees him and she hardly notices me.”

“Well, let’s take a look at Penn. What does he have that you don’t?”

Rufus scratched his chin. “Money, good looks, great job, social skills.”

Amber smiled for the first time in their conversation. “I can take care of all of that. Just trust me.”

There was that word again. Trust. Again. “I don’t know. What are you going to do for me that will impress Ellowyne? And what will I need to do if I agree to do this?”

“You will be expected to accompany me to upscale events like dinners and parties and dances at the country club. That’s going to teach you some social skills.”

“I have one suit, and I can’t afford to buy new clothes.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll buy all the new clothes you want. I’ll even get you a tuxedo.” She looked at him and brushed her fingers through his hair. “I’ll call my stylist to give you a new haircut. You’ll look so sharp that Ellowyne will have to notice you instead of Penn.”

Rufus said nothing for a minute or two. “I don’t know, Amber. I’d like to help but I need to think about this. I’ll text you, okay?”

He tossed and turned that night. And the next. And the next. His mind conjured up images of Penn and Ellowyne together laughing, hugging, and kissing. Rufus loved her so much and it pained him to think that Penn had her heart. But if he agreed to be Amber’s beard, he might learn how to be as suave as Penn, since that’s what Ellowyne apparently liked. He might gain self-confidence and get up the courage to finally ask Ellowyne out. And when Amber cried—if she was up to no good, she might have turned their comforting hug into something else. Finally, he texted Amber and made arrangements to meet.

Just like their first meeting of the week, Amber had a latte and a brownie waiting for Rufus. She smiled sweetly when he sat down.

She asked, “Have you made a decision yet?”

“No. I need to know a few things first. Am I expected to engage in any PDAs with you?”

“We’ll need to act a little affectionate around my parents and at social functions. But nothing more than a hug or kiss.”

“Without the slapping. No groping. And no tongues.”

“Got it. Now I might need to do a little of the outrageous stuff when we’re around Ellowyne, Prudence, and Lizette. If we’re too nice to each other someone might think there’s something up.”

“Just no slapping. If you want to slap someone, do it to Penn.”

“Okay, I will save my worst for him.” She offered up her little finger. “Pinky swear?”

Rufus smirked, thinking of how Amber would totally humiliate Penn. “Pinky swear.”

On his way home, Rufus thought about his arrangement with Amber. It looked like a win-win. Her parents would get off her back and he would learn social graces to impress Ellowyne. And now that he knew Amber’s secret, he knew why she acted the way she did. But of course he would never, ever tell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Prudence waved her hand in front of him. “Rufus. Rufus! Earth calling Rufus. Are you in there?”

“Sorry, Pru. My mind was elsewhere.” Indeed it was. Rufus glanced at his Apple watch, a gift from Amber, and rubbed the Diesel jeans she got for him. Of course he’d never break Amber’s confidence. He had too much integrity to tell but also because it was a good deal for him. Surprisingly, he discovered he enjoyed the upscale life. That night he would join Amber and her parents at a country club dinner. He would wear the Italian suit Amber bought for him. Rufus hoped there would be caviar. He loved caviar. And he could get very accustomed to this lifestyle.

 

Ellowyne

Ellowyne trudged through the front door of her grandmother’s elegant home. The day started out with promise and she was thrilled to discover the new thrift shop. She got great bargains on everything from expensive, name-brand jeans to leather purses to a vintage coat made by the famous New York designer, Tyler Wentworth. But the afternoon was a huge disappointment. Penn hardly noticed her and didn’t even thank her for the tea and scone. And then there was Amber. She messed up the entire afternoon. Of course Penn ignored Ellowyne—he was too riled up by Amber’s antics. Ellowyne shook her head, grabbed a can of whipped cream from the refrigerator, and went to her room to wallow in woe.

Ellowyne sprawled her purchases out on the bed. She smiled briefly; the jeans and the coat and the purses were perfect—high quality and inexpensive. Then she sat on the bed, opened her laptop, and squirted some whipped cream in her mouth. She checked Facebook and saw a funny cat video that Lizette shared, a Words with Friends notification from Rufus, and an inspirational meme from Prudence. Ellowyne sighed. Facebook wasn’t elevating her sour mood. There had to be something mindless, vapid, and absurd, perhaps her guilty pleasure—reality shows.

She decided to binge on the most inane show she had ever seen: Toddlers and Tiaras. The adventures of Makenzie, Paisley, Alaska, and Honey Boo-Boo never failed to brighten Ellowyne’s mood. She watched as girls were subjected to spray tans, eyebrow waxes, and fake teeth called flippers. They practiced walking in their kitchens and tumbling in their living rooms, and they stayed as still as statues while their mothers painstakingly altered sparkly glamour dresses that looked far too scratchy to wear.

But then Ellowyne noticed something from an early episode. One of the girls took the stage before the previous contestant, a girl with a vaguely familiar face, had stepped down. She heard the pageant announcer say, “And that was Amber. Let’s hear some applause for Amber!”

Ellowyne’s mouth gaped open with surprise. Yes! The little girl looked like Amber. Could it be? It HAD to be Amber. She googled “Amber Stanhope beauty pageant” and discovered a mother lode of videos, photos, and even an old website Amber’s mother created for her. Apparently Amber was quite the star of the child pageant circle, winning crowns in nearly every competition and earning the title of ultimate grand supreme queen on numerous occasions. Ellowyne discovered that many pageant parents resented the Stanhopes because of the lavish dresses, props, and coaches they could afford for her daughter.

She grabbed her phone and texted Prudence, Lizette, and Rufus. “You need to come over right now. You won’t believe what I found out about Amber!” She thought about texting Penn but decided not to do so. Her ego and heart were still a bit bruised by the way he acted that afternoon.

Once her friends arrived, Ellowyne showed them what she had discovered online. They shrieked with laughter at the website and the pictures of Amber standing in a room, surrounded by trophies, ribbons, and crowns. There were pictures of Amber in full glitz pageants, her hair teased into impossibly huge styles, her face laden with heavy makeup, and her skin spray tanned to the point at which she resembled an Oompa Loompa. They saw videos of Amber eating pixy stix, known as “pageant crack,” and drinking a dubious concoction of Mountain Dew and Red Bull, known in the pageant world as go-go juice. Then they found pictures of her in outfits-of-choice, which meant that the girls could dress any way they—or their mothers—wanted. One picture showed Amber, then a little girl of five or six, dressed like Jessica Rabbit, complete with padding to give her curves. Pageant parents were incensed to the point of wanting Amber, her mother, and her father barred from pageants altogether but the directors shrugged off their demands. The Stanhopes disregarded the other parents’ complaints and dressed their daughter in even more controversial ensembles that Amber wore to portray Satine, a character from Moulin Rouge!, Jayne Mansfield, and a Playboy bunny.

“Well, at least Jayne Mansfield had a genius IQ,” Prudence quipped. “I doubt that Amber is!”

They laughed at Pru’s comment and continued to watch Amber’s appearances on Toddlers and Tiaras. They hooted and howled over her antics, from blowing kisses at the judges to wiggling, giggling, and jiggling in her Vegas showgirl costume. Her parents spared no expense; many of Amber’s frilly, froufrou dresses cost thousands of dollars. Once they borrowed a baby giraffe from a zoo to be Amber’s pet-of-choice. Amber’s father even learned to fly and bought a small plane to get to pageants in places like Georgia, Florida, or Mississippi with ease. He went so far as to have it painted pink, Amber’s favorite color, with the words “Amber’s Personal Plane” on both sides. They all laughed until their ribs ached.

Finally, they ran out of snacks and decided to talk about Amber. Rufus, who ruefully looked at the empty bowl of popcorn, was the first to speak. “So our sweet, demure, little Amber is a pageant princess.”

Lizette snickered. “Oh, no! She’s not a princess because it is better to be the queen. She’s a pageant queen. “

Rufus said, “A Mega Ultimate Grand Supreme Queen!”

Prudence giggled and asked, “Does this mean I have to curtsy when I see her? And call her ‘your Majesty’?”

Ellowyne, who earlier joined her friends in ridiculing Amber, wasn’t laughing. She had declared her major in psychology a few days earlier and thought she might have a rationale for Amber’s behavior.

“You know,” she said. I think this explains the way Amber behaves around us. She was brought up wearing tons of makeup and costumes way inappropriate for a little girl.”

Prudence turned her head and nodded at Ellowyne. “So that’s why she wears skanky clothes all the time.”

“And the way she acts toward you and Penn,” Ellowyne said to Rufus. She learned how to flirt with male pageant judges to get them to like her.”

Rufus smirked.  “I hope she sure didn’t kiss and slap any pageant judges.”

“You know, I think she’s in conflict with herself,” Ellowyne said. “Maybe she really doesn’t want to act out with you guys. But she feels she has to in order to gain your attention and approval. And then she slaps you because, deep down, she doesn’t want that kind of attention.”

Rufus sighed. “Well, I can’t speak for Penn, but goosing someone you hardly know is creepy and abusive. And I’ve never wanted Amber to kiss me. Look, if I were the one doing the kissing and hitting stuff—not to mention the goosing and groping—I’d have my ass handed back to me on a plate for ‘inappropriate’ behavior.”

Ellowyne looked into his eyes, which were moist from his blinked back tears. She never realized how sensitive he was.

His eyes downcast, Rufus continued, “I guess I can post my ‘Me, too’ story on Twitter and Facebook.”

Ellowyne put her hand on her lower arm. “I’m sorry. You’ve put up with a lot from Amber, haven’t you?”

“Yeah. Hey, thanks,” he responded, a little surprised—but delighted—at her warm and caring gesture.

The four sat in silence for a few moments, then Rufus spoke up. “Obviously Amber hasn’t been hitting on you girls but you’ve got to admit she’s been nasty to you.”

“Oh, yeah. Like how she has to be better than us,” Lizette said. “She has to have the best clothes, the best hair, the best makeup. It’s like she is competing.”

“She’s competing with all of us,” Ellowyne said in a manner so animated that her friends were taken aback. “She’s treating us like her rivals in the pageant circuit.”

“And she can’t let down her guard and be real, much less anyone’s friend,” Prudence added.

“All of those high-priced clothes,” Lizette said. “She insists on buying the most expensive things because her parents indulged her when she was doing the pageants.”

“Anyway you look at it, Amber is a rich, spoiled brat,” Prudence commented. “Her parents were going to spend lots of money on her, whether or not she was in pageants. But she was and her parents created a monster.”

“I think we know Amber’s secret,” Ellowyne said, her eyes glistening with self-satisfaction. “But now, what do we do with this knowledge?”

“We should be just as obnoxious as she is,” Lizette commented. “We should gather all this stuff we’ve found and confront our Mega Ultimate Supreme Queen about it.”

Prudence sat back and said “I don’t know. Maybe a passive-aggressive approach would be more satisfying.”

“We could just eat pageant crack in front of her or order her some go-go juice if she tries to hang out with us,” Lizette suggested.

Rufus chuckled. “I just want to get right in her face and say, ‘Will you holler for a dollar, Honey Boo-Boo child!”

Ellowyne paused for a moment, then said, “I think we should sit on this for a while. We won’t say or do anything. Maybe knowing Amber’s secret could be advantageous at some time.”

To her friends’ utter astonishment Ellowyne leaned back and smiled.

 

Prudence

Prudence and her friends were caught up in a lively discussion about the possible motives for Amber’s outrageous behavior when she looked at her phone and realized she would be late for work if she didn’t leave immediately. She said goodbye to her friends, grabbed her drink and her mostly uneaten chocolate croissant, and caught the bus right before it left.

It was a quiet evening at the university’s health science library where Prudence worked. Not only was it a break from the cacophony of chatter in the coffee house, it also gave her time to mull over Amber’s outrageous behavior. She chuckled, remembering Rufus’ comment about Amber being raised by wolves. Maybe he was on to something. Maybe her parents were to blame. Maybe they gave into her every whim, thus instilling in her an immense sense of entitlement. But that was no secret; everyone knew how the Stanhopes indulged her. In fact, Amber often bragged about how much money her parents spent on her. Surely, although her parents spoiled her, there had to be some other reason for Amber’s atrocious behavior.

Prudence, who was an empath, knew that Amber was an emotional vampire. Whenever she was around Amber, she felt depleted and drained, and sometimes she had debilitating headaches that could last for more than a day. She made a necklace out of amethyst, labradorite, obsidian, and smoky quartz crystals—all protective stones to counter negative energy—but they didn’t always shield her from Amber’s outrageousness. She did yoga and received Reiki when she was around Amber but again, they just weren’t always effective in deflecting Amber’s negativity. Obviously, Amber was not an everyday drama queen. There had to be another explanation for her behavior.

She looked at the smattering of books that needed to be put back on the shelves. One book caught her eye: Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders Five, a guide to psychiatric diagnoses and treatments.     Perhaps she might find a clue there! She leafed through the thick volume and came across something so mind-boggling that she felt compelled to text her friends and ask them to meet her the next day.

Rufus was the first one at Déjà Brew. “So, Pru, what’s up?” he asked. “I juggled my schedule so I can meet with you. So it better be important.” He laughed. “Seriously, I can’t stay very long because I have to tutor some Statistics 1 students at four.”

“Oh, trust me,” Prudence said. “This is well worth your while.”

Lizette and Ellowyne walked into the coffee house. They ordered and sat down with Prudence and Rufus. Lizette was curious about the reason Pru wanted to get together but Ellowyne wanted to know if Penn was coming. Prudence turned toward Rufus, rolled her eyes, and made a face. Turning back to Ellowyne and Lizette, she told them that she didn’t invite him because he seemed reticent to go to the place where he was humiliated and groped by Amber.

“Okay,” Prudence said. “I have something here that might just explain Amber’s horrible behavior. Perhaps it is her secret.” She brought out the big, thick book she’d checked out of the health sciences library.

Her friends were aghast when they saw the title. Lizette asked, “Are you telling us that Amber is mentally ill?”

“Not necessarily,” Pru said. “Look at this classification. Personality disorders.”

Rufus smirked. “That’s assuming Amber HAS a personality,” he quipped to the laughter of his friends.” He paused. “Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. Go on, Pru.”

“According to the DSM-V, there are three clusters of personality disorders,” Prudence said. “Cluster A is called the ‘odd, eccentric cluster. Cluster C is the ‘anxious, fearful’ cluster. Cluster B is the ‘dramatic, emotional, erratic cluster’.”

“Dramatic and emotional—that sounds like Amber,” Ellowyne said.

“Yes! It does.” Prudence went on. “There are four personality disorders in Cluster B. One of those is antisocial personality disorder, in which someone might act out in aggressive ways like hurting animals or other people without remorse. Another is borderline personality disorder.”

Rufus looked at the book. “It says that people with borderline personality disorder ‘tend to experience intense and unstable emotions and moods that shift quickly. Does anyone else think that describes Amber? I do!”

“It also says that people with borderline personality disorder see things as all good or all bad, and some engage in impulsive behaviors like substance abuse, overspending, and binge eating. Other than the overspending—which Amber’s parents can afford—it doesn’t really sound like Amber,” Ellowyne said.

Lizette pointed to the book. “What about this one—narcissistic personality disorder? Amber’s behavior fits a lot of the criteria,” she said. “Powerful sense of entitlement, deserve special treatment, arrogance, fantasizing about their superior intelligence of stunning beauty—that sure sounds like Amber.”

“I agree, Liz, but there’s one more personality disorder that I think sums up Amber even better than these.” Prudence turned the page to reveal the criteria for one more Cluster B disorder. “Here we go.”

Rufus, Ellowyne, and Lizette sat, wide-eyed, looking at the page summarizing histrionic personality disorder.

“Okay, she is inappropriately flirtatious and seductive, and she dresses like a skank,” Rufus said. “Maybe that’s harsh but she hits on Penn and me all the time and, while I can’t speak for him, it’s uncomfortable. And I’m not even sure she’s interested in either of us.”

“But see here,” Prudence said. “Her emotions change rapidly. Like she can be kissing one of the guys but then smacks him in the face.”

“Yup. That sounds just like her,” Rufus said while rubbing his cheek.

“Look at this: ‘uncomfortable unless she is the center of attention,” Ellowyne stated. “That’s Amber for sure. And she acts dramatically, ‘as though performing before an audience’.”

“She also is ‘overly concerned with her physical appearance’ and she acts without thinking,” Lizette said. “She is also ‘self-centered and rarely shows concern for others’.”

“Here are a couple more ” Rufus said. “She is ‘excessively sensitive to criticism’ and ‘constantly seeks reassurance or approval’. I never noticed how often she asks me if I like what she’s wearing. Or her makeup, her hair, or her perfume. One time I told her that her perfume was too strong and she sulked for days. Maybe I should insult her more and she’ll leave me alone!”

Prudence said, “I’m not sure you could be THAT lucky!” Everyone chuckled. Pru went on. “Here’s something else. Someone with histrionic personality disorder has ‘difficulty in maintaining relationships, often seeming fake or shallow’.”

“Sometimes, Amber seems so fake. It’s like she’s made of plastic!” Ellowyne said.

Her friends nodded in agreement.

Prudence put down the book. “So I guess we all know why Amber behaves the way she does. She likely has histrionic personality disorder. But the question is—now that we’ve figured out her secret, what do we do about it?”

She and her friends sat, speechless and stunned. What should they do? Confront her? Ignore her? Empathize with her because they knew why she behaved so badly?

Prudence made a mental note to create some necklaces and bracelets out of protective stones for her friends. Just in case.

 

Lizette

“Hey, Liz. You okay?” Rufus asked as he drove her home. “You’re so quiet.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied. “I guess I’m lost in my thoughts. This afternoon was—well—weird.”

“Amber has that effect on people.”

“I don’t know her all that well and I can’t figure out why she acts the way she does.”

“If it’s any consolation, I’ve known Amber for years and I still can’t figure her out. Maybe she’s hiding some deep dark secret. Or maybe she’s just cray-cray.”

“Has she always been so, um, pushy with you?”

“Oh yeah. The first time I met her, she kissed me and then smacked my face.”

“That sounds annoying. And painful.”

“I don’t know why she does that. It’s always in front of Ellowyne. Maybe Amber does it to irk Ellowyne.”

Well, it irked Lizette. She hoped that someday Rufus would give up his quixotic pursuit of Ellowyne and turn his attention toward her!

Rufus chuckled. “Don’t let Amber bum you out. She’s irritating and obnoxious. But I guess she’s never boring!”

She pondered Rufus’ words the rest of the day. Boring. He said Amber was never boring. Ellowyne was never boring, either, even though she constantly complained about being bored. What was it that Ellowyne once said? It was after their Introduction to Philosophy class. The professor discussed Descartes and his most famous statement: “I think, therefore I am.” After class, Ellowyne quipped, “I brood, therefore I am.”

When she got home, she opened her laptop without even checking her email or Facebook. A newly declared psychology major, she was curious about the concept of boredom, especially ennui, since that was Ellowyne’s chief complaint.

But what she thought would be a quick search ended up taking hours. Lizette pored over information gleaned from disparate sites ranging from message boards and blogs to abstracts of scholarly papers. She read about existential ennui and four—no, wait—five different types of boredom. And then she had an “A-Ha” moment, finding something so mind-boggling that she had to share it with Rufus and Pru right away. She texted them and asked them to meet her at Molly’s Cupcakes the very next day.

When Rufus and Pru walked into the cupcake shop, they found Lizette waiting for them at a booth in the corner with coffee and cupcakes.

“Hey, Liz! What’s up?” Rufus asked.

Prudence sipped some coffee and reached for a decadent chocolate cupcake. “This must be pretty big since you’re bribing us with coffee and treats. Thank you!”

Rufus also thanked Liz and noticed that there were only three mugs of coffee and only three cupcakes. “Where’s Ellowyne?” Rufus asked, his eyes scanning the place to see if she was there.

“I, um, I didn’t invite her,” Lizette answered. Rufus cocked an eyebrow and turned toward Prudence, who glanced back at him, wide-eyed with surprise. Lizette continued to speak. “I love Ellowyne like a sister but what I have to share with you might be difficult for her to hear.”

Prudence leaned forward at the table with her arms crossed. “You said you wanted to talk about Amber. Why would that be tough for Ellowyne?”

“You’ll see,” Lizette answered. “Rufus, do you remember yesterday when you were talking about Amber never being boring? That got me thinking about boredom. And of course, I thought about Ellowyne and her ennui and how she always complains about being bored. So that’s why I didn’t invite her.”

Prudence and Rufus nodded their heads in agreement. They knew that Ellowyne could get rather prickly if anyone so much as mentioned her ennui.

Rufus asked, “Is there a difference between boredom and ennui? I thought they were the same thing.”

“I did, too,” Liz said. “And some sources, like online dictionaries or thesauruses say that they are. But others say that ennui is a state of being, an existential phenomenon really, while boredom is a state of mind. There are even five different kinds of boredom.”

“Well, there’s the kind of boredom you have in a class you don’t like,” said Rufus, who declared a double major in engineering and statistics when he was admitted to the university. “Like that tedious Introduction to Philosophy class. Or Freshman Comp.”

Prudence grinned, rolled her eyes, and playfully elbowed him. “I think statistics is the most boring class ever!”

They all laughed. “But as far as I can tell,” Lizette said. “That really is a type of boredom. Look at this.” She read from the website of a favorite publication, Mental Floss. “The first category is indifference, in which someone is relaxed and mellow, not stimulated or excited about something.”

“Would that include being in an utterly boring class?” Prudence asked.

“Actually, no,” Lizette answered. If you’re in a boring class, on some level you’re agitated or disturbed about something. Indifference mans you simply do not care. Rufus, your feelings about Freshman Comp and Prudence, your feelings about statistics represent your investment in these courses. You’re bored because you want to be doing something else. Now, if you were indifferent, you simply wouldn’t care. And that brings us to the next type of boredom, apathy.”

Rufus asked, “Isn’t apathy the same thing as indifference?”

“Actually, not in this context. Apathetic boredom is common among high school and college students. Its like learned helplessness. You’re not in control of a situation and have low levels of stimulation or arousal. But you have high levels of aversion. So it’s like the class you don’t like. You really don’t like it and you actively try to put off doing homework or attending class.”

“And you only study if you have a test,” Rufus added as he gently elbowed Prudence, who made a funny face at him.

“So Liz, what’s next?” Pru asked.

“Well, this one is called calibrating boredom, and it often happens when people are performing repetitive tasks. It’s like how you might daydream or want to do something different than what you’re actually doing”.

Prudence chimed in. “Rufus, don’t you ever let you mind wander when you’re doing handyman chores at Ellowyne’s grandmother’s house?”

He blushed a little and chuckled. “Who? Me? Daydream? Never!”

When the three friends stopped laughing, Lizette suggested they look at the fifth, rather than the fourth type of boredom. “This category of boredom is called searching, which is when you experience negativism and restlessness. This can actually be helpful in that such restlessness can sometimes bring about creativity because you’re searching for something to alleviate your boredom.”

“Okay. So boredom can sometimes be a good thing,” Rufus said. Kinda like the way Ellowyne writes poetry—“

“Or how she goes to thrift shops and upcycles old clothes into funky, one of a kind fashions,” Prudence added.

Lizette nodded. “Exactly! Ellowyne is creative, no doubt about that!”

“And she’s bored,” Pru interjected.

Lizette bit her lower lip and inhaled sharply. “The fourth type of boredom—remember, we skipped that—is reactant. People who have this kind of boredom can get aggressive. They react—maybe they overreact—to stimuli and are prone to lashing out. They blame their boredom on someone else, a teacher, perhaps, or family members who they see as having control over their lives. In short, they act out—“

Prudence leaned over the table and said, “Because that’s their way of dealing with their boredom!”

Rufus’ mouth gaped open. “Is that why Amber dresses like a skank and kisses and slaps me and Penn? She’s bored?”

“Yeah, it sure seems so,” Lizette responded. “Look at her. She has all the material possessions she could possibly want but she’s still bored. Her parents have taken her to Europe several times and when anyone asks her about her travels, she just sighs and looks uninterested. And one time she left her Kindle open and I saw that she was reading The Bell Jar.”

Wide-eyed, Prudence said, “Sylvia Plath is the patron saint of disaffected young women. Ellowyne reads her poetry all the time!”

“Now, you said that boredom is a state of mind while ennui is a state of being,” Rufus said. “We know that Ellowyne has ennui but is it possible that Amber has it, too?”

The three looked at each other. Lizette bit her lip and said, “I think so. Amber’s secret is that she has ennui.”

 

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