Ennui in the Age of COVID-19

This story is unusual in that it’s organized by dates rather than by chapters. I don’t know how or when this story will end. It evolves over time, reflective of what has happened, is happening, and might happen during the pandemic. I refuse to get political in this. I have my opinions but I’m not going to inflict them upon anybody. My readers deserve more than that. Moreover, the non-political aspects of the pandemic are more interesting than having one character scream at another for wearing or not wearing face masks. Instead, someone becomes anxious. Someone thrives. Someone’s dream comes true. Someone changes career plans. Someone develops PTSD. Someone burns out. Someone feels frustrated and gets angry. Someone gets sick. Someone discovers a new talent. Someone becomes empathetic. And someone falls in love.

Please keep in mind that my stories are not sequential. Unless it’s a multiple-chapter story, what happens in one story doesn’t necessarily carry over to others. For example, while Prudence and Penn were in a romantic relationship in my last story, they probably aren’t in this one. (Sorry Jeanne.)

There may be some strong language in this story. Alcohol use and non-graphic sexual encounters appear in this story as well. There will be nothing in this story that can’t be said or seen on many current TV shows. I want to be sensitive to my readers but I also want this to be realistic. Thus, my rating is M™.

March 04, 2020

Governor Gavin Newsom issued a State of Emergency in California due to the first death from a contagious disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. California suspended in-person classes at state colleges and university. Many students were unconcerned, confident that it was a temporary bump in the road that would be over in a matter of weeks. Ellowyne and her coterie weren’t terribly worried and paid little heed to the news about COVID-19. Penn, who was in his senior year of a nursing program, paid a little more attention, but he considered the news coverage to be pure hype rather than a real, dangerous malady. They decided to forego a spring break holiday and used their time to catch up on papers and assignments, and to get some well-deserved rest and relaxation. They proceeded with planning Rufus’ birthday party, which was going to be ten days later.

March 14, 2020

Everyone was in a festive mood as they celebrated Rufus’ birthday. Prudence, Lizette, Amber, Ellowyne, and Penn took Rufus to Leon’s, his favorite gastropub. They plied him with nachos, poutine, wings, shots of whiskey, and Belgian beer. Three pretty servers brought out Rufus’ birthday cake and encouraged everybody to sing “Happy Birthday” to him before he blew out the candles.

After Rufus had blown them out, Lizette asked, “What was your wish?”

“No, no. Not telling,” Rufus answered, glancing at Ellowyne. “Otherwise it won’t come true.”

Prudence exclaimed, “I hope you wished for some geeky birthday presents! Here, open mine first!”

Rufus opened Prudence’s gift, which was a hoodie. “Cool!” he exclaimed. “Monty Python’s Killer Rabbit! Thanks, Pru!”

“Now mine,” Lizette said. It was a book entitled The League of Regrettable Superheroes, and a t-shirt embellished with Pi to dozens of digits that read, “Born On Pi Day 3.14.”

“That’s going to be a great read,” Rufus said. “Perfect shirt, too! Thank you!”

“Here’s mine,” Amber said as she handed her gift.

“A LEGO Space Shuttle Discovery? Thanks, Amber! I love LEGOs.” Rufus exclaimed.

Ellowyne’s eyes were a little downcast because she feared her gift wasn’t as cool or geeky as what the others had given him. “It’s a Mars globe. It reminds me of the snow globe, the first present you gave me, only it’s red dust instead of snow”, she said.

“I can’t believe you remembered that,” Rufus said. “I mean, we’ve known each other for such a long time and I thought you forgot about it. Thank you for such a thoughtful gift.”

Penn grinned as he gave Rufus his present. “Old chum,” he said. I looked long and hard for something that would convey to the world exactly who you are. So, with no further ado, here you go.” The gifts were three t-shirts. The first one read, “I’m Not Just a Nerd. I’m the King of the Nerds.” The second read, “Engineers Do It With Precision” And the third said, “Science Gives Me a Hadron.”

Rufus laughed so hard that he nearly snorted beer out of his nose. Liz, Amber, and Pru dissolved into giggles, and Penn chuckled uncontrollably. Ellowyne forced a smile and light laugh, but she was puzzled and oddly uncomfortable. She didn’t know what engineers did with precision and had no idea what a hadron was–but it sounded a little risqué.

Then Amber took a sip of her cosmopolitan, walked over to Rufus, and kissed him on the lips. Lizette and Pru followed suit. Ellowyne was terrified. She had never kissed any boy, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to kiss Rufus. Were they friends? Something more? What would a kiss mean? Her heart pounded, her stomach did back flips, and her knees got so weak she was glad she was sitting next to him. She leaned over and kissed him shyly, gently, and sweetly on his lips. She was so caught up in her anxieties that she didn’t notice his arms around her and that he kissed her in return.

Prudence leaned over to Lizette and whispered, “Looks like someone’s birthday wish came true.”

They barely finished kissing when a sixty-something woman with purple hair approached Rufus. She got between Ellowyne and Rufus, applied red lipstick and kissed him on the lips and cheeks, smearing it all over his face. Everyone at the table laughed except Ellowyne, who scowled and glared at the woman. Then, Penn spotted three student nurses from his school. “Judy, Beth, Nancy! Come celebrate my best bro’s birthday!” They toasted Rufus with their drinks, and kissed him as well. The pretty servers who brought out his birthday cake, watched the display, put down their trays, and kissed him, too.

Then Penn stood up, downed a shot, and said, “Oh, what the hell!?!” He kissed Rufus on the mouth, which made everyone in that section of Leon’s roar with laughter.

The bartenders announced that it was last call. Rufus and Penn ordered one last shot, while the girls opted for virgin cosmopolitans and Cuban libres.

After the drinks arrived, Rufus smiled and stood to talk. “I appreciate all of you more than you can imagine. I am so lucky to have you as friends. Thank you for making my birthday special. And here’s to you.” He toasted them with his shot, sat down, and then said, “I hope we’re not going to suffer too much tomorrow, I mean, later today.”

While Rufus was referring to the inevitable discomfort of a hangover, something insidious was stirring, something that would impact not only their social group but the world itself.

March 15, 2020

Around 11 in the morning, Amber texted Rufus. “I’m trying to get in touch with Penn. Do know where he is?”

There was no reply. So Amber sent another text to Rufus, again asking him if he knew where Penn was. Again, no answer. So once again, she texted Rufus about Penn’s whereabouts. When there was still no response, she decided to call him.

“A-well-a everybody’s heard about the bird. B-b-b-bird, bird is the word…”

Rufus groaned when his phone rang. Why did he have such an obnoxious ringtone? He didn’t even like “Family Guy”. But more importantly, who was calling him at such an ungodly hour and why?

“Good morning, sunshine,” Amber said brightly. “How does our birthday boy feel today?”

“Do you really want to know?” Rufus asked. His mouth was bone dry, his muscles ached as if he’d run a marathon, his stomach was as woozy as if it was on an extreme roller coaster, and his head hurt like someone had split it with a sledge hammer. “I feel like crap, caca, Number 2, feces, guano, merde, sh–.”

“Merde. And you said you don’t know French. Très bien!”

“What do you want, Amber?”

“Oh, Rufus. I do feel badly that you have the bottle flu. But you will live to drink another day.” Her tone turned solemn. “I’m trying to get in touch with Penn. He isn’t answering texts and calls go to his voice mail.”

“He was probably smart enough to turn off his phone,” Rufus grumbled. “So what’s so urgent that you’re trying to reach him?”

Amber said, “Well, this COVID-19 stuff sounds serious. There are experts saying that it’s a pandemic and we might have to be in lockdown. We might need to wear masks and gloves and wipe off everything with bleach. But others say this is nothing or a hoax and we don’t need to do anything different. I’d like to get Penn’s opinion since he knows this stuff.”

“That makes sense. I’ll tell him you’re trying to reach him.”

“I really hope you feel better. You were so sloshed last night. But it was a great party! ‘Kaythanksbye!”

His head feeling as if it was stuffed with sawdust, Rufus laid down and tried to sleep. But no sooner than he had drifted off, his phone rang again. This time it was Prudence, also asking about Penn. And, as soon as Prudence hung up, Lizette called, also asking about Penn. By that point, Rufus was getting irritated. He was about to turn off his phone when he received a text from Ellowyne.

She asked, “How do you feel? You and Penn were pretty intoxicated last night.”

“I feel like something Sybil dragged in. But it was a party I’ll never forget.”

Ellowyne texted, “Have you heard from Penn?”

“No, I haven’t. Amber, Pru, and Lizette have called, looking for him. Are you concerned about this coronavirus thing, too?”

“Well, yes. I want to hear what he has to say about it. The information on the Internet and the news is contradictory and confusing.”

Rufus paused for a moment, then texted, “Let me check something. I might know where Penn is. I’ll text you in a little while.”

He padded into the living room of his parents’ house and found Penn, sleeping soundly, on the couch with his clothes still on but his phone turned off. Quietly, Rufus stole into the kitchen and brought out two big metal pans. Then he slunk back to the living room and clanged them together several times.

“Wake up, dude,’ Rufus hollered. Penn stirred but stayed in bed. Rufus sang Reveille: “You’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up this morning.”

Penn weakly opened his bloodshot eyes and groaned. “Is it morning already?”

“It’s two in the afternoon! Wake up! The ladies have been trying to get in touch with you.”

Penn muttered. “What do they want?”

“They’re all concerned about coronavirus. After listening to them, I’ve got questions, too.”

‘Don’t worry, old chum. We didn’t drink any Corona so we can’t get coronavirus”, Penn mumbled. He then sat up even though he was dizzy. “You know, I’m not sure what to think of it. I am sure my epidemiology professor is psyched about it. I’ll email her when I’m more coherent. And then I’ll text all of you.”

After Penn left to go home, Rufus texted Ellowyne and told her that Penn was going to get in touch when he heard something.

Ellowyne texted him back. “Are you feeling better? Are you up to hanging out this afternoon? We can watch a movie or something. I’ll make popcorn.”

Although he still had a slight headache, Rufus accepted Ellowyne’s invitation.

When he got to her door, she embraced him warmly. As he leaned in to kiss her, she put her finger on his lips and asked him a question. “Do you need some Chapstick after last night? I mean, you kissed almost everybody last night. If Leon would have been there, would you have let him kiss you, too?”

“Come on, Ellowyne. Last night, I was kissed by a lot of people—strangers and friends–but I didn’t ask for or initiate any of it.”

Ellowyne bit her lip, then asked, “Was there any kiss that was special?’

“Yeah, there was one kiss that meant more to me than all of them.” His eye twinkled as he grinned and said, “The one from Penn!”

“You are so funny,” Ellowyne said, and she playfully punched his arm. She then turned somber. “I guess I feel a little insecure. Was the kiss we shared meaningful to you? Or am I just one of the crowd?”

Rufus stroked her cheek. “You’re never just part of a crowd. You’re special. I’ve always thought so. ”

They walked over to the couch, ostensibly to watch a movie, but the TV was never turned on and the popcorn went uneaten. Eventually, they both needed Chapstick.

March 16, 2020

Rufus left close to midnight, and Ellowyne texted Prudence as soon as he was gone. “Prudence! Can we talk?”

Pru had already gone to bed but she was intrigued. Usually, she and Ellowyne texted but something—perhaps her sixth sense–told her to FaceTime rather than just talk or text.

Ellowyne looked absolutely radiant, and her voice was rhapsodic. “Oh, Prudence! I just had the most amazing evening of my life!”

Pru was gobsmacked. Typically, Ellowyne was in the throes of an existential crisis, and she complained about feeling melancholic, lethargic, and bored most of the time. But now she sounded happy! And she looked happy! Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks were flushed. Pru asked, “Ellowyne, what’s going on?”

“Grandmother, Father, and Freddy were gone, so I asked Rufus to come over. We were going to watch a movie but we got, um, a little distracted.”

Prudence cautiously asked, “What did you do?”

“It started out with one little kiss and then another and another. We made out on the couch. We got hungry and ordered in some drunken noodles and panang curry from Thai Me Up, you know, Rufus’ favorite Thai restaurant. We ate a little and then we kissed, and we ate a little more and kissed. A lot.” Ellowyne paused to take a drink of water. “He’s such a great guy! He’s smart and funny and kind. And he kisses so well. At least I think so. I mean, he’s the first boy I’ve ever kissed. But I don’t want to know what it’s like to kiss someone else. I want to be with him. He has the most beautiful brown eyes, and his lips are soft, almost pillow-like. Oh, Prudence. I think I am falling in love with him! Do you think I should call him right now and tell him?”

“Let him get some sleep. Talk to him later,” Prudence suggested. “And I need to go to sleep, too. Goodnight”

After Ellowyne ended their FaceTime chat, Prudence sighed and rolled her eyes. “Just like Ellowyne to fall in love during a pandemic.”

Prudence woke early despite her long talk with Ellowyne. She was going to text her, Amber, and Lizette to get together for their morning coffee and cinnamon rolls, but she remembered that all restaurants and bars were closed by order of the governor. So she brewed some coffee and heated a couple of toaster pastries, and texted Amber and Liz that they could take their Monday routine to the phone. She didn’t text Ellowyne to join them because she was so happy and excited. Poor kid probably didn’t sleep all night!

Lizette was the first to answer. She had a jumbo blueberry muffin and a steaming cup of Earl Grey. “Morning, Pru! Who else is coming?”

Before Pru could greet her, Amber texted her in response. Marisol, the Stanhope family cook, prepared a delicious breakfast of strawberry crepes with homemade whipped cream and orange zest. As Amber texted Prudence back, Marisol prepared some freshly ground kopi luwak.

Lizette queried Amber, “What kind of coffee are you having? Is it that weasel poop coffee?”

“It isn’t weasel poop,” Amber replied. “it’s coffee beans that have been pre-digested by a civet, and—um—okay, fine it’s civet poop. But you, my dear veterinarian-to-be, should know that civets are not weasels. LOL.” Then she asked, “Where’s Ellowyne?”

Prudence stared at her phone, then said, “I didn’t text her. I think our Ellowyne has something else to think about.”

Amber texted, “What?”

Lizette wrote, “Is it her ennui getting worse because of the pandemic?”

“Okay. But you can’t say anything to either her or Rufus. Promise?”

Lizette and Amber said they promised.

“They made out last night.”

Amber and Lizette were utterly without words. Finally, Lizette wrote, “Well, it’s about time. He’s been crushing on her forever.”

Amber texted “WOOHOO! Atta boy, Rufus!”

Pru said, “But wait—this is the good part—Ellowyne seemed happy. She was like a whole different person. No complaining, no fatigue, and no ennui!”

Her friends were dumbstruck. Nothing ever seemed to assuage Ellowyne’s ennui. Shopping, dining out, going to gardens or the zoo—none of it changed her mood. But a good snog with Rufus did what nothing else could do.

“Let’s hope this is the start of a great romance,” said Amber. “And if they keep this up, Ellowyne might never be gloomy again.” She paused and texted, “Oops, I need to go. Marisol is going to the grocery store to pick up food and essential supplies, and she wants to know if there was anything I might like.” After she hung up, Amber told Marisol, the Stanhope family cook, what she wanted. “Some Ghirardelli truffles and coffee ice cream. It needs to be Ben & Jerry’s because no one else has any coffee ice cream as good as theirs. And don’t forget some strong white bread flour and whole wheat flour for some of your delicious sourdough bread.”

Prudence and Lizette continued to chat. “I hate to admit this, Pru,” Lizette said. “I was always kind of hoping Rufus would give up on Ellowyne and turn to me.”

“Yeah, I was, too,” Pru responded. “I think Amber hoped the same.”

Lizette said, “I’m not sure any of us could ever compete with his fantasy of Ellowyne. I hope she can.”

Penn received an urgent email from the School of Nursing. It stated that senior nursing students would receive clinical time credit for working at the hospital because the emergency rooms were getting overwhelmed with sick patients who had COVID. Of course he was going to do it. He had done several tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he was an Army medic, and saved the lives of fallen soldiers. He figured that a viral pandemic would be nothing more than fighting the flu, and that it would be all over quickly.

To his chagrin, he also received criteria to figure out under which conditions one could be exposed. Leon’s had been fairly busy the night of Rufus’ birthday party but by the time they all arrived, much of the crowd was gone. Most likely, Penn and the girls were okay. But Rufus was kissed by twelve people, many of them strangers, and he should quarantine for the next 14 days.

When Penn called Rufus to let him know he should be isolated for two weeks, Rufus asked, “Are you kidding me? I mean, I was having a great time at the party and finally got to kiss Ellowyne.” He stopped for a moment. “And last night we made out at her house. She’ll need to be quarantined, too, right?”

Penn replied, “Wait a minute. You did what with Ellowyne last night?”

“Well, we made out a little. Okay, a lot. Dammit. I’ve been waiting for this since I met her. After all this time, finally, it looks like things will get romantic and now I might have given her COVID. I can’t believe it.”

“Now, you don’t know for sure. I mean, you don’t know if you were exposed. But it’s better…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Rufus replied. “Better safe than sorry.”

“Which reminds me…”

“Look, we just made out on the couch. We didn’t do anything else. I’m not sure she’s ready for anything else. I’m not sure I’m ready for anything else.”

Penn said, “Okay, I just want to make sure you’re protected, not only from the virus but…”

“Yes, I know. I guess this is what I get for having a nurse for a best friend. Hey, take care of yourself and let me know how things go for you in the ER.”

After he talked with Penn, Rufus called Ellowyne. “Apparently I need to be quarantined because I might have been exposed to COVID Saturday. Last night, I might have exposed you, too. I’m sorry.”

Ellowyne paused, then said, “My family is coming home this evening, and I don’t want them to catch anything. Maybe I could stay with you.”

Rufus’ eyes widened and his cheeks reddened. What was she suggesting? “Uh, sure. You can have my parents’ room. They’re stuck in Italy. It was their dream vacation, a culinary tour of Italy. Sounds like it turned into a nightmare. So you can come whenever you’d like.”

Penn texted Rufus to see what supplies he might need. Rufus told him that Ellowyne was going to quarantine at his house, so Penn brought some things they might need. He brought the necessities: frozen Chicago-style pizza and smoothies, bread, ice cream, whipped cream for Ellowyne, craft beer for Rufus, and some wine. He also gave them a box of surgical masks, gloves, toilet paper, and a little something special for Rufus.

“Thanks, buddy. I owe you,” Rufus said to Penn.

“Don’t mention it. Have fun in quarantine!”

Later, Penn sent a text to Lizette, Amber, and Prudence about what he was going to do at the hospital. “Eh, it’s not going to be a problem,” he wrote. “I’ve been through worse. How are you ladies holding up?”

Pru said, “I was surprised to get that email from State saying that classes were going to be online as of the next week, and there would be no in-person classes for a month.”

“I’m getting anxious about not getting back to my biochemistry lab. I need to get through it before I can start veterinary school,” Lizette said.

Amber said, “It’s nice to get another week off from school!” Everyone responded with smiling and laughing emojis.

Prudence asked, “Where are Ellowyne and Rufus?”

“They’re in quarantine. Together. At Rufus’ house. And his parents are stuck in Italy,” Penn answered.

Almost in unison, Pru, Liz, and Amber said, “Ooooooooooooooooooooo.”

“I think someone’s going to do the deed,” Amber squealed. “Should we create a pool as to which day it will happen? Say ten dollars?”

“Oh, now that’s tacky,” said Prudence. “It should be twenty-five dollars. Put me down for Monday the 23rd.”

Lizette said, “I think they’re both a little shy, maybe naïve. If they do anything, it will be closer to the end of their quarantine, Saturday the 28th.”

“Put me down for the 20th,” Penn texted. “I know how guys are.”

“I know how guys are, too,” Amber stated. “Like that old song, ‘Tonight’s the Night.'”

“Wait a minute,” Pru texted. “I just got a notification stating that San Francisco County and neighboring counties are issue stay-at-home orders. No one is supposed to travel unless they’re going to an essential business, like a grocery store or pharmacy. Restaurants are open only for carryout or delivery. And we’re supposed to wear gloves and masks and wipe down surfaces with bleach-based cleaners to avoid spreading the virus.”

“Ladies,” Penn said. “I need to go to work. I’ll be back later.”

“Please take care and let us know how you’re doing,” Lizette texted.

“Don’t worry, Liz, Penn answered. “I got this.”

March 20, 2020

At 7:30 AM, Penn thought he could head home after a grueling 12-hour shift. But it was not to be, for the nurse manager begged him to stay until 11:30. Bleary-eyed and weary, he wanted nothing more than to get some rest, but other nurses and doctors were as exhausted as he was, and he felt it his duty to work as much as he could. His stomach grumbled and he realized he hadn’t eaten anything since he started his shift the previous night. He gulped down a disappointing cup of coffee. It was thick, sour, and bitter, and had probably been brewing all night. He donned the face mask he’d been wearing since he first came into work, and went back to the emergency room to meet and treat new patients.

On the outskirts of San Francisco, Amber started her day around 10:30, and meandered into the kitchen of her lavish home. Marisol brewed her some fresh coffee. Amber smiled as she remembered that Lizette always called it “weasel poop” coffee. She leisurely nibbled on a chocolate croissant, one of Marisol’s specialties, and perused the newest issue of Cosmopolitan. Online classes would not start for a few days, so she enjoyed the time away from her studies. Come fall, she would start law school at Stanford, so she would have less downtime. She hadn’t yet picked a specialty, although she was leaning toward becoming an entertainment attorney. It sounded like a glamorous field. Her father suggested she go into corporate or securities law, saying that wealthy people needed good lawyers to protect their interests. Ah, enough thinking about that. Amber immersed herself in her croissant and Cosmopolitan.

Meanwhile, Prudence was immersed in meditative yoga. She was frustrated that she couldn’t go to her favorite hot yoga studio, but she could do some poses and chant on her own. When she finished, she joined her parents in the kitchen for some lunch. They embraced healthy eating habits, and all had a delicious lunch of stir-fried tofu and vegetables with brown rice. However, Prudence missed having doughnuts and cookies with her friends. She missed them. Sure, there was always text messages and FaceTime, but it wasn’t the same as hanging out in person. She saw several news stories about hospitals being near capacity with COVID patients and wondered how Penn was holding up.

Still in the ER, Penn looked at his watch. He stayed much later than 11:30 PM. Around 2:15, he asked Cindy, the nurse manager, how much longer he’d be needed. She averted his eyes because she heard that from every staff member in the ER. Everyone put in extra hours. Some nurses put in 16 to 18 hours. A few worked around the clock. “Penn, I need you. Can you work until 5:00 PM? You did that in Iraq, didn’t you?”

Penn was irritated. “Afghanistan. Three tours. And I will work until 5:00 but no longer. I have to get some sleep. I’m not going to be safe working nearly 24 hours straight,” he answered.

Cindy rolled her eyes. “They’re putting up cots in the staff lounges so nurses can sleep between shifts,” she said. “I’ll need you back here at midnight.”

Penn was too cross and frazzled to reply.

About the same time, Lizette was reading the news on her phone. She saw the stories about the strain the pandemic caused hospitals, in terms of equipment and manpower. She thought about texting Penn but didn’t know when he might be at work.

She received a text from the veterinary clinic at which she volunteered. The clinic didn’t need her quite yet, but she might be needed the next week. Lizette was so excited to go to UC Davis, the top-rated veterinary program in the country. She was also so happy to be close enough so that she could commute to classes. It was heart-wrenching for her to leave friends back in New Orleans when her family moved, but she didn’t have to give up her new friends in San Francisco.

Lizette then checked Facebook, and saw a friend request from her ex-boyfriend back in New Orleans. Jamal was the first boy she had ever kissed. He was smart, tall, and handsome, and he made her laugh like no one else could. He took it badly when she told him she had to move, but they tried to continue their relationship long-distance. It worked well enough in high school, but it fell apart when Lizette decided to stay in San Francisco for college rather than go to Tulane, where Jamal was going. Jamal ended their relationship and cut off all contact, which broke her heart. She was curious as to why he contacted her. Maybe things weren’t over between them.

Meanwhile, Rufus and Ellowyne were having a great time in quarantine. Neither developed any symptoms of COVID, so they decided to have some fun. They played chess, Scrabble, and video games. They tried to cook but were woefully inept, which they found hilarious. Sometimes, they streamed programs and movies. Rufus introduced Ellowyne to old movies: cheesy sci-fi and horror, film noir, movie musicals, and dramas. Late that afternoon they watched An Affair to Remember, which left Ellowyne crying. Rufus embraced Ellowyne and let her weep on his shoulder. Between sobs, she said, “This was such a beautiful love story, the way they returned to each other and how much Cary Grant really loved her. You were so right to recommend this movie.” Ellowyne pulled herself from him, and looked intensely into his vibrant brown eyes. She said, “These past few days while we’ve been quarantined have been incredible, and I think we’ve gotten to know each other in ways we never expected. You are an amazing man. You’re sweet and kind. You’re the smartest and funniest man I know. I love you.”

At first, Rufus didn’t respond. Finally he said, “I have loved you from the first time we met, and I’ve wanted to hear those words from you. But I need to know. How do you mean it? Do you mean you love me as a friend? I remember you said that long ago, and you’ve probably told it to our friends. Or do you mean you love me in THAT way?” He tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a hot tear that threatened to trickle down his face.

She wiped his cheek with her finger. “I’m so sorry. I was an idiot to tell you—or any of our friends—that I loved you as a friend. At the time, I did. I guess I was too wrapped up in my stupid ennui that I wasn’t sensitive or receptive to your feelings. That was the dumbest and most selfish thing I’ve ever done. But what I feel now—no, you’re not just a friend. What I feel is far more than that. I do love you in THAT way. Please, let me show you.”

Wordlessly, she took his hand and led him to his bedroom.

March 21, 2020

Rufus awakened to find Ellowyne gone from his bed. Did she go home? Did she regret what they did the previous night? He threw on his robe to look for her. But before he could do so, Ellowyne sauntered into the bedroom with a tray. “Good morning! I made avocado toast.”

He raised an eyebrow when he looked at the breakfast she prepared. “Um, I think something’s not right here.” 

Ellowyne looked at the tray and squealed. “OMG! I forgot to toast the bread!” She and Rufus dissolved into laughter until both of them were in tears and Ellowyne snorted like a pig.  Rufus had never heard her laugh like that, and he thought it was adorable.  

“We are so going to starve to death,” Rufus said. “I’ll put the avocado into the refrigerator and maybe later we can try making guacamole. Do you want anything that I won’t mess up?”

“Do we have any ice cream?”

“We do! Penn made sure we had several pints. We finished a pint of chocolate fudge last night. Or this morning,” Rufus said, grinning. “We didn’t get much sleep, did we?”

Ellowyne scrunched her nose and smiled. “That’s it. We can live on our love.”

“And avocado bread!” He ducked when Ellowyne playfully threw a pillow at him. “I love you,” Rufus called out from the hallway. 

“I love you more,” Ellowyne answered. 

Pru was in the middle of practicing Tai Chi when her phone rang. It was Ellowyne, wanting to FaceTime.  She usually didn’t let anything interrupt her meditative workout but Pru had a hunch this was important. 

“Hi Pru! I hope I’m not interfering in something important,” Ellowyne said. 

“No problem,” Pru replied. “I was parting a wild horse’s mane.” She noticed the perplexed look on Ellowyne’s face. “It’s a movement in Tai Chi. So what’s up?”

Ellowyne looked absolutely radiant. Her blue eyes sparkled, her cheeks were flushed,  and she flashed a gleaming  smile. “Rufus and I are officially a couple. We’ve even changed our relationship statuses on Facebook.”

Prudence wasn’t completely surprised. Because of the way Ellowyne gushed when she talked about falling in love with Rufus, Pru thought they might finally get together when they were quarantined.  “That’s wonderful. I always thought you two belonged together. And I’ve never seen you look so happy. Congratulations.”

Rufus wandered into the living room where Ellowyne was Facetiming Pru. “Hey, Pru,” he said. “How are things with you?”

“Okay,” Pru replied. “Just getting some exercise.”

Ellowyne looked at Rufus and said, “Maybe we should get some exercise.”

“I thought that was what we were doing last night. And this morning.” He and Ellowyne chuckled. Prudence blushed.

“We’ll let you get back to your wild horse’s mane.” Ellowyne noticed that Rufus looked confused. “I’ll explain that to you later,” she said to him.


Meanwhile, Penn was immersed in the Sisyphean task of taking care of COVID patients in the ER. No sooner he had one patient stabilized and sent to the intensive care unit, he got a new patient, as sick or even sicker than the previous one. The pace reminded him of his days as a medic in Afghanistan, tending to one wounded soldier after another. He tried not to think of the soldiers  we could not save. He hoped his COVID patients would recover, but he was uncertain of their fates. By the time he reached the end of an 18-hour shift, the days and nights became blurred. He couldn’t remember the last real meal he had, the last time he slept for eight hours, or the last time he showered and shaved. Penn cursed the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE). He and other nurses in the ER wore tissue-thin isolation gowns and had to re-use their face masks and shields meant to be worn only one shift. His spirit was crushed, and he didn’t know how he could cope much longer. 

Penn was working with yet another sick patient when he felt his phone vibrate. When the patient was sent to the ICU, he took five minutes to use the bathroom and guzzle coffee the consistency of sludge. At last there was something about which Penn could be happy. The text was from Rufus, and it said, “Thanks for the extra special things you got for me.”

He laughed for the first time in days. He texted back, “Way to go, buddy!” Penn texted Pru, Liz, and Amber. “You three owe me $75!” 

He then went back to his patients, feeling upbeat if for only a few moments. 

March 23, 2020

Lizette was awake at 8:00 AM. While she enjoyed the break, she was ready to dig into her coursework. She only had two pre-veterinary science classes in her final semester: biochemistry and human physiology. Spirits high and a delicious bran muffin on the desk, Lizette signed onto State’s online platform, ready to get started.

Prudence woke up early as well. Like Lizette, she was anxious to get back to learning. She was taking movement science to satisfy her kinesiology major. She took courses in anthroposophical health studies and alternative health practices to satisfy the requirements of her holistic health studies minor. She was eagerly anticipating starting the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at State in the fall.

Penn was eating breakfast at the hospital cafeteria when he logged onto State’s school of nursing site. He was taking two courses other than his clinical practicum. One was informatics, an online course for which he was well-suited because of his computer skills. The other course was, ironically, epidemiology. At the beginning of the semester, he didn’t think it would be an interesting subject but as the pandemic unfolded, it became relevant and exciting. Then he looked at the time on his phone. His 15-minute break was over, so he scarfed down the rest of his omelet and scrambled back to the ER. 

Amber lazily hit the snooze alarm on her phone. She didn’t like starting her day before 9:30, but she wanted to get some coffee and see what wonderful treats Marisol had made for breakfast. The delicacy of the day was chocolate croissants. She had finished all the coursework for her pre-law degree, so she took classes that sounded fun. She studied anthropology, world music, and French. She smiled to herself when she remembered the times she teased Rufus about his inability to speak French. Even a Mensa life member didn’t know everything. 

Rufus was at his desk when Ellowyne woke up. A double major in mechanical engineering and engineering science, he had what he considered an easy semester. He had only three courses: a seminar-based course in mechanical engineering that was meeting on Zoom even before the pandemic, Bayesian statistics, which he could do at home since he had the necessary software, and academic writing, which would be vital for his PhD. Ellowyne went to the kitchen and came out with juice and avocado toast—made this time with actual toast! She kissed him, sat on the bed, and opened up her laptop. When she was a college freshman, no, when she was still in high school, she wanted to be a poet. She wrote a myriad of poems ranging from haiku to blank verse to sonnets, all variations on a theme of ennui. She opened a file that contained her earliest poems and another that consisted of her college coursework. Ellowyne sighed for the first time in over a week. Her style had never matured. Her work was maudlin, trite, and whiny. She was self-absorbed and wrote about nothing  but her “great” ennui. She remembered the time she participated in a poetry slam. Her friends tried to discourage her, but she insisted. Rufus and Pru were in the audience to offer moral support. She wept when she was heckled so badly she was forced off the stage. At the time, she thought it was because the audience simply didn’t understand. But now she realized that her poetry simply wasn’t very good. She closed her laptop and slipped out of the bedroom so Rufus wouldn’t hear her cry. 

But he did hear her. He found her curled up on the sofa, ugly crying. He sat next to her, smoothed her hair, and asked, “Ellie, what’s wrong?”

She blew her nose and said, “Before I logged into my poetry independent study, I opened the file of the poems I’ve written in college. I also looked at the poems I wrote long ago, from high school, even middle school. There’s no change in my style, no growth as a writer. And it’s all about ennui. Looking at the world, wondering why it made me so glum. But it’s not the world that needs fixing, it’s me. I can choose to wallow in woe or actually live in, interact with the world around me. And I’m going to live in the world. But what can I write about?”

Rufus wiped away her tears, and gently asked, “Can you write about something else? Love? Happiness? Hope?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure I have the words.” She buried her head in his shoulder and sobbed. “And I don’t think I’m very good.”

“What? Why would you say that?”

“I haven’t told you or anyone else that all of my classmates have been accepted into Master’s of Fine Arts programs. I applied at State and a couple of other programs and was rejected. I’ve only had one poem published in State’s literary magazine, even though I’ve submitted dozens. My GPA is only 3.25. I do well in every subject, usually getting an “A”, except in my writing classes. Last year my advisor suggested I consider another major but that would have put me back at least another year. I don’t know what to do.”

“Can you defer graduation and apply for a different major? Or maybe transfer to a different school?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

Rufus loved Ellowyne but he would never tell her that her poetry was rather sophomoric. She was wildly creative but only a mediocre poet. He always thought she was more talented in visual art. She could draw with a whimsical, manga-influenced style. He looked at her distressed jeans, upcycled sweatshirt, and handmade silver jewelry. Clearly she was an artist in search of a medium. She could be a textile artist, a fashion designer, or a jewelry maker, maybe all three. “You’re going to figure this out,” he said, “And I will cheer you on, whatever you decide.” 

Penn said, “Yeah. It was bad. She singled me out—made derogatory comments about how she disliked ‘male nurses’ and  she was obnoxious to me about my military service. She kept saying I had been in Iraq when I repeatedly told her I was in Afghanistan.”

April 1, 2020

“April Fool’s Day. How appropriate,” Penn muttered to himself. It was 9:30 AM and he just finished another 18-hour shift in the ER. He managed to get to the cafeteria before they stopped serving breakfasts. His pancakes were cold, his bacon was burned, and his coffee was anemic.  He would have loved a to have a scone or a doughnut and a freshly brewed cinnamon latte with his friends. They texted him several times but he didn’t have the time to reply. He missed them. He missed the way he and Rufus used to make each other laugh until one of them snorted beer out of his nose. He missed listening to Lizette talk about animals and Prudence talk about the sports and holistic healing. He even missed hearing Ellowyne and Amber discuss shopping. Penn really didn’t have many friends. He lived with a bunch of nursing, pharmacy, and medical students. They didn’t interact much because they were all too busy. He kept in touch with several soldiers with whom he was deployed, but none of them lived close. Nursing school was rigorous and he had little time or energy to hang out with anyone but his group of friends. They kept him grounded and sane. Eh, enough pondering. Penn needed to finish his food and get some sleep. 

He had slept for only five hours when Cindy barged into the lounge, yelling at him. “SOMEONE COMPLAINED THAT I WAS BEING UNREASONABLE TO THE NURSING STUDENTS. IT WAS YOU, RIGHT?”

Penn rubbed his eyes and forced himself to sit up. “What are you talking about?”

Cindy was enraged. How dare Penn play innocent! “Someone told the Dean of Nursing at State that I was ‘abusing’ the students, and now the Chief Nursing Officer is demanding an emergency meeting with me. The Dean’s going to be there, too! You did it. I just know you did!”


“I want you out of here right now! I can’t stand the sight of you. Don’t bother coming in for another shift. And rest assured, I will bring this up at the meeting. I will see that you fail this semester and never get to take boards. You’re going to be nothing. When I’m done with you, you won’t be able to wipe asses!”

With that, Cindy marched out of the lounge and slammed the door. Penn gathered his things and went out to his car. It felt so good to be out of the hospital. He called his advisor and clinical instructor, Kay, to tell her what happened.

Kay was horrified. “Cindy has no authority over you. She can’t make you fail anything and she can’t prevent you from taking boards. You have done nothing wrong. As far as I’m concerned, you have completed all of your clinical objectives and you don’t have to return to that hospital.”

“But what happened to get Cindy so upset?”

“There were numerous complaints from other nursing students. They said they often worked 16-20 hour shifts and only allowed to sleep for six hours in the staff lounge. They weren’t given days off. They were also verbally abused.” She inhaled sharply. “Apparently, Cindy was trying to save money on her unit budget by using student nurses instead of the hired staff. We haven’t confirmed it yet but it seems that she was cutting the hours for nursing staff and relying more heavily on you students. And that was your experience, wasn’t it?”

“I am so sorry you had to deal with that. Next week, could you please stop in and talk to the Dean? She’s meeting with Cindy and the CNO this afternoon, but she will surely want to hear your story. The Dean is considering ending its relationship with that hospital, so students will go elsewhere for their clinical experiences. That will cost the hospital a chunk of revenue because schools pay them to use their facilities. Hearing your story will surely help the Dean make her decision. But now, get some sleep. Get some food. Take a few days to unwind. Take care!”

“Thank you, Kay. I appreciate you.”

Penn started his car to drive home. When he got home, he had received a couple of texts. One was a cute meme from Ellowyne showing a laughing cat. Prudence rickrolled him, and Amber sent him a funny but slightly risqué video. Lizette sent a Keanu Reeves meme. But there was not a word from Rufus until late in the day. He finally messaged, “April Fool’s Day has been cancelled this year because no prank could match the unbelievable crap going on in the world right now.”

Penn opened a bottle of beer and texted Rufus, “Touché, old chum. Touché.”

April 3, 2020

It was a hot, dry summer’s day. Penn felt the sweat trickle down his face into his shirt. Suddenly, shots were exchanged, and Penn’s heart raced. He had never been in the middle of combat before this as he was a new medic. The injuries to which he tended were casualties of a battle with insurgents or snipers or those wounded from the explosion of an IED. Penn was nineteen years old and he had never experienced combat firsthand. He tried to be brave but he was so afraid. The more experienced medic with him crept toward a wounded soldier but, to Penn’s horror, she was shot. Penn froze. He wanted to scream or cry out, but he couldn’t make a sound. Was he a coward? When it was safe to do so, he and an uninjured first lieutenant moved the wounded soldiers out of harm’s way and then to their nearby Combat Surgical Hospital, which was the replacements for MASH units after the war in Iraq. More medics, nurses, and doctors came to triage and treat the wounded soldiers. The chaplain came to pray for those who were dying or already dead. Penn kept seeing his dead colleague, who left behind two small children. He smelled burned flesh and the acrid remnants of gunfire. Finally he cried, broke out in a sweat, and started to scream.

“Hey, Penn”, one of his roommates called. “You okay in there?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a nightmare.” He used to have frequent nightmares about his tours in Afghanistan, but they abated when he got therapy through the VA. Shortly thereafter, he met his group of friends and got much-needed social support. Occasionally something might trigger his PTSD. It might be a crowded room or a discussion of combat on a news show. The worst trigger was loud noises like a car backfiring or unexpected fireworks. He had begged off seeing July 4 fireworks every year, saying that he had seen the real thing. He thought the worst of his PTSD was over. And now this. When he worked in the ER, he had some flashbacks to his experiences as an Army medic. Now those flashbacks threatened to pummel him into the darkness that was PTSD.


Prudence woke up early to meditate and do some yoga. After she had a healthy breakfast of homemade yogurt and organic granola, she logged onto her class websites, participated in a Zoom class discussion meeting, and finished her work for the weekend. She thought about texting her friends but she got distracted when she started looking on YouTube. There were cute and funny cat videos—she decided to send the links to Ellowyne. The Engineers Guide to Cats were old videos but still hilarious, so she sent those links to Rufus. Pru found relaxing videos about birds, including one that lasted for eight hours! Of course she shared the link with Lizette, along with a video of the biggest birds in the world. To Penn, she sent links to videos about meditation and stress relief. He had been working so hard and she was concerned about him. And finally, Amber. Pru considered sending her some Karen videos but since Amber could be a bit of a Karen, she decided against it. Instead, she sent links to clothing, hair, and makeup fails.

By the time Prudence finished, it was nearly four in the afternoon. She actually missed lunch! So she went to the kitchen, grabbed some fruit, and went back to her computer.


Rufus had been crabby that morning. Ellowyne knew that he wasn’t always the jovial person he presented to others, but she had never seen him quite so moody. He woke early to work on his classwork. So when she awakened, she rubbed his neck and asked him if he wanted any breakfast. He muttered something unintelligible and finally asked for an English muffin. Ellowyne brought him some food, then showered. When she was done, he was still hunched over the computer, working with numbers and formulas that most people could never understand. So she went to the living room and did some of her classwork so she’d have a free weekend. She was done studying and clicked on some of the videos Prudence sent her. Around noon, Rufus came into the room.

“Ellie, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry I’ve been in a bad mood today and that I’ve been a jerk to you.”

“It’s okay,” Ellowyne answered. “But is something going on? I mean, we’re okay, aren’t we?”

“Oh G-d. Of course we’re fine. These past few days have been amazing. I’m just, just—well, you know, we’re out of quarantine Sunday. You’ll head back to your house and this amazing time we’ve shared will be over.”

Ellowyne embraced him. “Oh Rubear, I don’t have to leave. I can stay here until your parents come home. And when they’re home and I have to return to Grandmother’s house, we’ll figure out ways to see each other.”

Rufus leaned back on the sofa and his mood immediately lightened. “It sounds so silly but I was afraid that what we have here might end if we didn’t see each other so much. But this isn’t an ending. It’s a beginning.”

“COVID or no COVID, I’m here for the long haul,” Ellowyne said brightly. Rufus smiled, shook his head in agreement, then pulled her into an embrace.

Prudence’s Lucky Break Part Two

Rating: K+

It had been nine weeks after Prudence’s injury. She had a quick, uneventful recovery, got her cast removed, and was starting physical therapy. She still was on crutches but otherwise, she was getting around more easily. She texted her friends to meet her at Leon’s Pub the next afternoon, and said she would be bringing Penn.

Pru’s text arrived on an afternoon when Ellowyne and Lizette were hanging out with Amber at her house. They were looking through Amber’s closets and trying on some of her crowns. “About time,” Lizette said when the text showed up on her phone.

Amber said, perhaps too eagerly, “And she’s bringing Penn. Glad we’re finally getting to meet him.” 

“You know, Pru sure seems to have less time for us now that he’s in the picture,” Lizette added.

“Oh, I know!” Ellowyne exclaimed. “Don’t you just hate it when a girl drops her friends to spend more time with a guy?”

Lizette and Amber looked at each other in disbelief. Amber rolled her eyes, and Lizette said, “Um, now that you and Rufus have finally gotten together, you do spend a lot more time with him than with us.”

“And he does hang out with us a lot,” Amber said. 

Ellowyne’s jaw dropped. “I still spend time with both of you and Prudence,” she protested. “And Rufus and I hang out with all of you. Maybe I tell him to not come around so often with us.”

“Come on, Ell. Rufus is our friend and we like having him around,” Amber responded. “But it would be nice to have another guy in our circle.” 

Lizette asked, perhaps a little too eagerly, “Do you think Penn and Prudence are dating?”

“I don’t know,” Ellowyne replied. “I just hope she hasn’t lost herself in a new relationship and–oh, wait! I need to go. Just got a text from Rufus.”

Lizette and Amber looked at each other and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle their laughter.

The next day, everyone met at Leon’s. Prudence and Penn were the first to arrive, and they sat at the end of the circular booth, with Prudence on the outside so she could rest her leg on a chair. When they got into the pub, Amber and Lizette scrambled to get to the table and sit next to Penn. Unless Penn was actually Prudence’s boyfriend, they figured he was fair game. Lizette was just a little faster, and she flashed a toothy smile at Amber, who half-heartedly sat next to her. They were all involved in a lively conversation when Ellowyne and Rufus finally arrived. “We were just talking about you,” she exclaimed.

Ellowyne leaned over to hug her friend but was slightly taken aback. “Really? What did you say about us?”

Penn stood up and proffered his hand to Rufus. When they were done shaking hands, he said, “Prudence, Lizette, and Amber told me you were two of the best friends they’ve ever had. They also told me you’re a talented poet, Ellowyne, and that you’re a brainiac, Rufus.”

Rufus laughed genially. “Wow! Ellowyne is a creative genius, but I’m not sure if I can live up to my reputation,” he said, as everyone else chuckled at his comment. 

“Now, Ellowyne, you go to State like the rest of us, is that right?” Penn asked.

“I do”, she answered. I’m majoring in creative writing, with a concentration on poetry.”

“I’d like to hear you recite some of your poems sometime. And you, Rufus?” Penn inquired. 

“I’m at Berkeley, doing a double major in mechanical engineering and math,” he said.

Penn whistled. “You really are a brainiac!”

The server came with Rufus and Ellowyne’s drinks, a craft lager for him and a cranberry vodka for her. The six of them started to chatter again, and Ellowyne asked Penn about his studies. “You said you go to State, Penn. What’s your major?”

“Actually, I’m in the nursing program,” Penn said.

Rufus, who was usually sensitive and rarely obtuse, stumbled right into a verbal booby trap and asked, “So you’re going to be a male nurse?!?”

Penn waited until Rufus was taking a generous gulp of his frothy beer, and said, “Well, I thought about becoming a female nurse, but I didn’t want to have the surgery!”

With that, Rufus snorted beer out of his nose. When everyone stopped laughing, he said, “Okay, I deserved that. We don’t have a nursing department at Berkeley, and I’ve never met any guys in nursing. Wait. There’s my buddy Jamal’s brother and he’s g—”

“Rufus!” Ellowyne snarled as she kicked Rufus on the shin. Hard. 

Penn mercifully decided that Rufus didn’t need another snout full of beer, so he laughed and said, “Not all male nurses are gay. Some are but most aren’t.” He turned to Prudence and asked, “Do you think I’m gay, Pru?”

Much to the chagrin of Lizette and Amber, Pru leaned over to kiss Penn. She looked at him, her eyes sparkling with affection and admiration. “Tell them how you decided to get into nursing.”

“Well”, Penn said. “I joined Army when I graduated high school. I figured I’d be fixing and driving trucks or get into communications. I never had an interest in health care, but they assigned to be a combat medic. I’ve done three tours of duty in Afghanistan, and while I’m in school, I’m in the Army National Guard.”

“Ah, geez, I’m sorry, man, for being a douche,” Rufus said. He stood up and shook reached for Penn’s hand again. “You are the real thing and deserve respect. You have mine. Thank you for serving our country.”

Penn nodded. “No problem, man. But the next time we go out for beer, you’re buying!”

Ellowyne spoke up. “At the risk of sounding as ignorant as my bae, why did you choose nursing instead of medicine?”

Penn took a thoughtful sip of his ale. “I found out I like being on the forefront of care. Too many doctors waste time on other tasks but as a medic—or a nurse—I can have more direct interaction with patients. I’m also impatient. If I decided to go to medical school, I would have needed a bachelor’s degree. I don’t want to go to school for eight years.”

Amber asked, “So what do you want to do as a nurse?”

Penn replied, “I like the fast pace of the emergency room, and my Army background comes in handy if I’m taking care of trauma patients. Eventually, I’d like to be a helicopter nurse. Or maybe I’ll stay in the Guard and see what happens.”

Prudence furrowed her brows and appeared to be on the verge of tears when Penn said he might remain in the Guard. During their short time together, she noticed that Penn startled easily, especially if there were unexpected fireworks or other loud noises. Sometimes he told her about his nightmares, which almost always reflected the things he did and saw while deployed. Sometimes, when he was stressed, he’d become angry, although he got over it as soon as it started. 

Lizette queried, “How far along are you in the nursing program?” 

“Like all of you, I’m a junior this year. I did two years of prerequisites and am finally in the nursing program. I should graduate when you do.”

After chatting for what seemed to be only a few minutes, Lizette looked at her phone and saw what time it was. “We’ve been here for more than three hours! I need to study biochemistry tonight.”

“I’m glad we all switched to pop a couple of hours ago,” Ellowyne commented. 

“It’s been great to meet all of you,” Penn said. “Rufus, maybe you and I could hang out sometime. Remember, you owe me a beer!”

Rufus nodded and seemed to be relieved that Penn forgave him for being a jerk.

The friends shuffled out the door to their cars, “Your friends are great people, Pru,” Penn said as he was helping her to get into his car.

“Maybe we should say OUR friends,” Prudence replied. “I hope that you’ll be hanging out with us when you can.”

Penn nodded in agreement, then took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Our friends. I like that.”

Prudence’s Lucky Break Part One

Rating: K+

Amber anxiously scanned the bleachers for her friends. She started out late, got a ticket for speeding, and couldn’t find a parking space, so she arrived to the game a little later than she wanted. Ellowyne spotted her first, and waved so she could see them. “I’m so sorry I’m late. Did I miss much?”

 Lizette deadpanned, “Well, you missed the cheerleaders. Seven of the hunkiest shirtless guys you’ve ever seen.”

“She’s kidding,” Ellowyne said. “There were eight cheerleaders. Two for each of us,”

 Rufus chuckled, shook his head, and squeezed Ellowyne’s hand. “You don’t need a cheerleader when you have me,” he whispered. She kissed his cheek and squeezed his hand in return. Then he said, “I hate to break this to you, Amber, but there are no handsome cheerleaders at women’s rugby matches.”

“Une telle déception,” Lizette said to Amber, who also spoke French. Rufus quizzically lifted one eyebrow. “That, to our favorite non-French speaker, means ‘such a disappointment.’” Rufus gave her a thumbs up. “But never fear, Amber, I have some snacks that should get you over this big letdown: Pixi Stix and a concoction of Mountain Dew and Red Bull.”

Amber laughed. “Pageant crack and Go-Go juice. I should never have let you know I was a pageant kid!”

The players took the field and everyone stood for the national anthem. Prudence, the home team captain, won the coin toss and decided that her She Devils would kick off. Not only was she the captain, she was a forward, a position played by the toughest and strongest team members. 

 Lizette, Ellowyne, and Rufus attended most of the She Devils home games, but this was the first one Amber came to watch. She had lots of questions and whispered to Lizette that she didn’t understand the game. Lizette told her that she still had much to learn about the game. “I have a copy of Rugby for Dummies. You can borrow it anytime. The most important thing to remember is that it’s a rough sport. Sometimes Prudence is covered with cuts and bruises but she’s never been seriously hurt, like spraining her ankle or breaking any bones. She brags that she mocks pain, and she has a bumper sticker that says, ‘Give Blood. Play Rugby.’”

No sooner had Lizette spoken these words, than the referee’s whistle sounded and the announcer said that a player for the She Devils was down. The team gathered around the injured player. The announcer said that it was Pru. Her horrified friends climbed down the bleachers to the field were she was. The usually stoic Prudence, who claimed she laughed at pain, was in tears. 

Pru felt light-headed and dazed after her injury and wasn’t sure if the handsome man looking down at her was real or a fantasy cooked up by her pain-mediated imagination. The paramedic, whose name was Penn, had red hair and eyes as blue as the ocean. He asked Pru where it hurt and, after gingerly palpating her left ankle, said that she should go to the emergency room to see if it was broken or sprained. The other paramedic, who wasn’t nearly as cute as Penn, helped him get Pru on a gurney. As they moved toward the ambulance, both teams and their fans held a moment of silence for Pru, and then burst out clapping as Penn said that that her injury was not deadly and loaded up the gurney. 

Ellowyne, the first one to get to Pru and Penn, was distraught at her friend’s injury. She asked, “Can I ride in the ambulance with her?” 

“I’ll go,” Amber suggested, perhaps more interested in the handsome Penn than Pru’s condition.

“You have your car here. I should ride with Pru,” Lizette said. She also found Penn attractive.” 

“No, I’m sorry but I can’t let any of you ride in the ambulance,” Penn said. “But you can follow me to the hospital and wait there.”

So off the friends to the hospital. Ellowyne called Pru’s parents, who were at work, and they were going to get to the ER as soon as possible. She also asked Pru to permit the hospital staff to let their friends know about her condition, which naturally she approved. 

The ER was abnormally, almost eerily quiet for an early Saturday afternoon. Rufus paced while Lizette and Ellowyne sipped on coffee. Amber searched the Internet on her phone, looking for rugby injuries. She was horrified to see x-rays and pictures of badly broken limbs with bones sticking out of the skin. She inhaled sharply. Lizette walked over to Amber and looked at some of the photos. “God, Amber, those pictures would disturb anyone,” she said. “But I’m sure Prudence isn’t hurt that much. At least I hope not.”

It was the second time that day Lizette immediately regretted what she said. Penn and the orthopedic surgeon entered the waiting room. The doctor said, “It appears that your friend has a unstable lateral malleolus fracture that will require surgery. I will contact the OR to get ready for surgery.”  The doctor went back to the ER but Penn stayed behind. Pru’s friends and teammates gathered around him and started asking questions.

Ellowyne asked, “Can you please translate what the doctor said?”“Sure”, Penn replied. “Prudence has a broken fibula, which is the slender bone in her leg that attaches to the ankle joints. It was an unstable break, which means that the ligaments were damaged. She’s going to need immediate surgery. She will wear a cast and use crutches, and she’ll need physical therapy.” 

Prudence’s friends were shocked and saddened. Amber asked, “Will she be able to return to rugby?”

“Her recovery will take months. She’s not going to play the rest of this season.” Penn shook his head. “Poor kid. She’s taking it pretty hard. She’s had some pain reliever, and then she will go to the surgical suite. Would you like to see her before she goes?”

Of course Pru’s friends wanted to see her. The usually robust, cheerful Prudence looked small and vulnerable. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks and her eyes were red from crying.  “I guess this time pain won,” she said softly. 

 Ellowyne smoothed Prudence’s hair. Rufus hugged Prudence, and Lizette and Amber held her hands. Penn stood near the curtain separating the gurneys from each other, silently watching Pru and her friends. He figured Prudence must be quite special to have such a devoted coterie. 

By that time, the She Devils flooded into the ER waiting area. One of the women said, “We won the game for YOU!” 

Prudence sobbed. “You are so awesome.”

The coach responded, “Once you’ve recovered enough to get around easily, you can still come to the games. After all, we need our captain!” 

Prudence tried to choke back her tears. “I wish I could play now. I’m scared. I need surgery. I’ve never had surgery.”

Penn moved to the side of the gurney and squeezed her shoulder, and whispered, “You got this.”

Prudence got lost in Penn’s deep blue eyes. “Can you stay with me when they operate?” 

“They’ll let me be with you before and after the surgery, Penn replied. “If you don’t mind, I’ll ask if I can watch your operation. They should let me, since I’m a student here.”

Just then, a couple of transport techs came to whisk Pru away. She said her goodbyes to her friends and teammates, and she and Penn went off to the OR waiting area.

The She Devils left the hospital but Prudence’s best friends stayed in the waiting area of the ER to greet her parents. 

Ellowyne said, “Well, that was different. I’ve never seen Pru get that interested in any guy.” Amber and Lizette exchanged knowing glances, while Rufus raised one eyebrow as he always did when he was perplexed. Ellowyne spoke up again. “Who knows? Maybe, as far as her love life is concerned, this is Prudence’s lucky break.”  

Amber’s Secret: Updated

Rating K+, language and suggestive behavior

Based on the Ellowyne canon


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 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.

Rufus’ REAL ending

Several months had passed and Amber and Rufus continued their charade when they were with the Stanhopes. However, they spent increasingly more time together, even when Amber’s parents weren’t around. The two went to coffeehouses, cupcake shops, and hole-in-the wall burger joints. They went to movies, mostly foreign-language or obscure independent films. Rufus took her to lectures at UC Berkeley, where he was studying engineering. In turn, he attended all the exhibits at San Francisco Art Institute, Amber’s school, and he was so proud to see her mixed media art on display.

One evening they went to a soul food restaurant. After taking their order, the server asked them how long they’d been married. They laughed and Amber said, “We’re not even dating. We’re just friends.”

The server put her hand on her hip, shook her head and said, “Oh, Hell no! The two of you act like you’ve been married at least five years.”

They continued their conversation over chicken and waffles and bacon studded greens.

“Married?” Rufus asked. “She thought we were married!”

Amber exclaimed, “I know! How crazy is that?”

They laughed some more, and soon it was time for him to take her home.

He walked her to the door but he hesitated before saying good night. He remembered what the server at the soul food restaurant said. Married? No. Not even dating. He hugged Amber and looked deeply into her eyes before awkwardly turning away. When he got into his car, he wondered why his heart was pounding and his knees felt weak. What was happening? Wasn’t he in love with Ellowyne?

Amber also slept poorly that night. On sleepless nights, she entertained thoughts about Ellowyne and wondered what it would be like to be romantic with her. But that night, she couldn’t get Rufus out of her mind. Married? Dating? Just friends? He was sweet, smart, and kind. He made her laugh and always listened to her. And she loved being with him. What was happening? Was she falling in love—with Rufus?

Sleep continued to elude Amber so she went downstairs to the kitchen to seek solace in a pint of Häagen-Dazs and a stack of old issues of Cosmopolitan. As she savored every spoonful of the rich Belgian chocolate ice cream, she leafed through the magazines, stopping to read the confessions, romantic advice, and the quizzes. One quiz in particular caught her eye. “Lesbian Love or Girl Crush?” She set aside her ice cream and quickly went to work on the quiz.

It was 3 o’clock in the morning but she was so excited about her results that she called Rufus. “I just took a Cosmo quiz and I’m not gay!”

Rufus, who had just nodded off to sleep, saw the text. He answered, “Wut?”

“I’m not in love with Ellowyne or any other girl! It’s just a girl crush!”

“Uh. Cool.”

“Don’t you see? I thought I couldn’t be interested in you because I thought I was in love with Ellowyne. But I’m not in love with her. I’m in love with YOU!”

Immediately she regretted telling Rufus about her feelings. What was he going to say? Would he laugh? Would he reject her?

“Don’t worry, Amber. I’m in love with you, too.”


What a hot mess we have here! Rufus and Amber in love with each other? Amber having a huge girl crush on Elllowyne? And what would happen to Ellowyne now that she no longer had Rufus’ undivided attention? Well, it doesn’t matter because this ending is absolutely, completely false. Rufus and Amber can’t stand each other! Amber will simply need to continue with her outrageous appearance and behavior while Rufus will need to continue avoiding the kiss-and-slap.



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.

Prudence’s REAL ending

Prudence’s story contains elements of the truth, but she never finds out exactly what huge secret Amber has that motivates her inappropriate behavior. Pru remembered the first time she met Amber. She got a headache and could tell that something different was happening  and knew when she first met Amber, she read her aura and realized how big an energy vampire she was. Many of the times she encountered Amber, Pru would develop a migraine, sometimes one bad enough to land her in the hospital. We all know from the canon that Prudence is a spiritual character, someone who would be inclined to meditate or practice controlled breathing when stressed. It’s a little stretch, however, to envision Prudence as someone who would happily wade in piles of dry, clinically oriented book to find answers. She is surely smart enough to understand what is written in the DSM-V, and she might use it as a springboard for understanding behaviors like Amber’s. But no. This ending is false.


“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.”

Lizette’s REAL Ending

Lizette’s mind wandered the rest of the day. Freshman English and Introduction to Biochemistry, two classes she usually enjoyed, seemed tedious and downright boring.  She wondered if this was how Ellowyne and Amber felt as they wallowed in ennui.

After her last class, she stopped by The Hub, a popular coffee bar on the first floor of the humanities building. To her utter surprise, she saw Ellowyne and Amber seated at a table. They weren’t arguing. They weren’t deep in discussion. They weren’t studying, either. Instead, they were lazily leafing through the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. One thing they had in common—other than ennui—was an addiction to Cosmo’squizzes, celebrity gossip, and sex tips, even though Lizette suspected that neither girl had much of a love life.

She grabbed a latte and sat down. “So, what’s in Cosmo this month?”

“It’s so boring,” Ellowyne whined. “I’m so sick of profiles about famous stars.” She paused. “Who is it this month again?”

Amber shrugged. “The Kardashians. Again.”  She shifted in her chair and took a sip of her blueberry and kale smoothie. “Did you see that Justin Bieber is married?”

Ellowyne laughed. “Who cares? He is so boring! Hey, did you see the fashions in this issue? Lots of expensive stuff that I can’t afford.”

“I can afford them,” Amber said. “But I won’t because they’re…”

Lizette piped up. “Boring?”

“Ohmigod! Yes! They’re boring!” Elllowyne exclaimed.

Amber moaned. “Everything is boring. Life. Love. College.”

Ellowyne chimed in. “Even San Francisco is boring.”

Lizette became angry. She had a hard time moving to San Francisco from her beloved New Orleans. But Ellowyne and their other friends, including Amber, took her around the city to show her what a great place San Francisco was. They went to museums and restaurants, took her for rides on the trolley, and visited so many places to shop for clothes, from department stores to boutiques and thrift stores that were like hidden treasures to be explored. Ellowyne’s sudden ignorance of the fun things she shared with her was simply too much to bear.

“Do you know what’s really boring? Listening to the two of you whine about how bored you are!

Lizette stormed off. While waiting for the bus that would take her home, she called Rufus. Between sobs she said, “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I got angry and told Amber and Ellowyne that their ennui is just boring. Ellowyne probably won’t speak to me ever again. What am I going to do?”


As it turns out, Lizette didn’t need to worry. This ending is false. Although Lizette is smart enough to tackle a complex concept like ennui, as a college freshman, she didn’t have the academic skills necessary for this kind of study. As someone dangerously overeducated, my gut level reaction was that Lizette could write a concept analysis about ennui. But trust me on this: Lizette wouldn’t be ready to do such a project until she was in graduate school. Let’s let her enjoy life as an undergrad for a little while! Another clue that this is a false ending is that Amber and Ellowyne were sitting quietly at a table, contemplating the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. While Cosmo probably on the girls’ reading lists, I’m not sure Ellowyne and Amber would sit together, quietly reading. Um. No. Not gonna happen.


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.

Ellowyne’s REAL Ending

A few days later, Ellowyne and her friends met at Déjà Brew. Knowing that Amber was often there on Wednesday afternoons, they came prepared with some ammunition. To their delight, Amber showed up, wearing a skintight dress and platform heels, and she strolled over to them expecting to create a commotion.

Prudence gave Amber a saccharine smile. “I hope you don’t mind but we ordered you a beverage. Go-Go Juice. Part Mountain Dew, part Red Bull.”

“I have something sweet for you too, Amber.” Lizette chimed in. Then she handed some Pixy Stix to Amber. “I hear this stuff is addicting!”

Ellowyne smiled with the satisfaction of a dog eating the juicy steak he had grabbed out of the kitchen. “Which was your favorite costume? Satine, Jessica Rabbit, Jayne Mansfield, a Playboy bunny?”

Penn, who first asked the question of Amber’s secret, queried, “So how many times have you been Grand Supreme Queen?”

Amidst the laughter from his friends,, Rufus, who for so long had been the target of Amber’s unwanted attention, got in the last word. “Will you holler for a dollar, honey boo-boo child?”

Amber’s eyes and mouth widened in surprise. Then she did something most unexpected. She laughed. She pulled up a chair, sat down, and laughed until her sides ached and tears streamed down her face. She even snorted a couple of times. “How did you find out?” she asked. The friends were shocked.

“I watched some reruns of Toddlers and Tiaras online. It’s kind of my guilty pleasure,” Ellowyne replied. “And I thought I saw you and decided to Google you.”

Amber wiped her cheeks and blew her nose. “Good sleuthing! And to answer your questions: Yes, Pru, I drank Go-Go Juice and ate Pixy Stix. You’re right, Lizette. The pixy stix are addictive and in the pageant circle, they’re known as pageant crack. Actually, sometimes I have Go-Go Juice and Pixy Stix, and trust me, they keep me going when I’m busy studying. Ellowyne, my favorite costume is as a Barbie doll. I wore a black and white swimsuit and mules. My father actually built me a Barbie box. And yeah, I won that competition hands down. Penn, I usually win queen in most pageants and have been Grand Supreme Queen, oh, maybe a dozen times. Maybe more. And Rufus, I knew Honey Boo-Boo. She really did holler for a dollar. But I didn’t. I kind of flirted with the judges but never did anything as brash as what Honey Boo-Boo said.”

Rufus cocked his head and furrowed his eyebrows. “You flirted with the judges? Did you ever, um, kiss any of them?”

Amber’s tears of laughter stopped at Rufus’ question. “Omigod! No! I never kissed any of them but I learned how powerful flirting can be.”

“Maybe you’re treating us the way you would a pageant judge, only more extreme,” Penn said.

Amber quietly considered his statement. “You’re right. I’ve been treating you and Rufus like pageant judges. When the judges didn’t respond, I’ve had to kick it up a notch. I guess I’ve done that with the two of you. I’m really sorry.”

Prudence spoke up. “Is that why you dress so, um, provocatively?”

Amber shrugged. “I think so. I mean, the if judges liked it, it must be okay.”

Now Ellowyne furrowed her eyebrows. “Amber, you always seem to be in competition with us. Is it because you did child pageants?”

“And I competed with every girl I knew,” replied a dumfounded Amber. “I am so sorry! I like all of you and I want to change. Can you please help me?”

Of course Ellowyne and her coterie agreed that they would be glad to help Amber be a real friend. Ellowyne, Prudence, and Lizette took Amber to a makeup counter for a makeover—or perhaps a “makeunder” to tone down the way she applied cosmetics. The girls also took her shopping and Amber found some cute clothes at a couple of thrift stores. The boys were a little hesitant to embrace Amber as a friend but she earned their trust by no longer trying to force her affections on them. Rufus and Amber continued to argue, but the discussions were friendly banter rather than heated debates. Penn appreciated the change in Amber’s behavior and considered asking her out on a date. Everyone went to Amber’s house to look at her pageant crowns and prizes, and watch old tapes of Toddlers and Tiaras and videos taken by her parents that showed many of the things that had been edited out of the program.

And this, dear friends, is the true ending and exactly what happened.

Ellowyne’s Wedding

After the news of the discontinuation  of Ellowyne Wilde and other proprietary Tonner/Wilde dolls, several collectors on the popular Ellowyne’s Ennui message board, http://members7.boardhost.com/EllowyneEnnui/ , wrote what a good send-off for our favorite girl might have looked like. One envisioned a Wilde Weekend with a theme of fulfilling Ellowyne’s dreams, while another was inspired to come up with a Wilde Weekend that saw Ellowyne’s launch as a fashion designer and her squad signing on in various capacities in her new business.

My gift is telling stories, so it I decided to write a story, one inspired by Robert Tonner’s beloved Tyler Wentworth. Nearly eight years ago, Robert married off his iconic Tyler at the annual Tonner convention. It was a lavish event with actors who portrayed the new Mr. and Mrs. O’Neill and other members of the wedding party. It was the great send-off of a doll so many collectors loved. So, perhaps a wedding might be an appropriate finale to Ellowyne’s canonical story. By the way, I am not stopping writing my stories. The Ellowyne Wilde line is discontinued but the creativity inspired by these dolls is not.

Rating M for coarse language and minor adult situations

Ennui and the Bride

“Ellowyne! Get up already!” Prudence, the maid of honor and Ellowyne’s best friend, shouted. “I’ve been up since six and I did cardio and Pilates. I begged you to come with me but you didn’t. Now you’re groggy and not even close to being ready for your own wedding!”

Ellowyne moaned. “It’s not until four this afternoon. Ugggh. I had a hard time sleeping last night so let me be!”

“You have to get up so we can get our makeup, nails, and hair done. We’ll stop by Starbucks and get you a vendi mocha. With extra whipped cream,” said Lizette.

Ellowyne rolled her eyes and then rolled out of bed. “Fine. I’m up.” In spite of going to bed earlier than her friends, Ellowyne had a hard time getting to sleep. She tossed, turned, fidgeted with her cell phone, and tried to read a little but to no avail. After she had gone to bed, she overheard a conversation between her three girlfriends not meant for her ears and she could not get it out of her mind.

On the way to the salon, Amber noticed Ellowyne’s somber mood. “Today is your wedding day. But you look so worried and sad.”

Pru said, “You do seem a little reluctant, Ello. What’s wrong? Cold feet?”

Lizette agreed with Pru. “Every bride gets cold feet. It’s normal.”

However, Amber disagreed. “OMG, Ellowyne! Don’t tell me you’re letting ennui spoil your wedding day.”

Ellowyne shrugged. Maybe it is ennui, she thought. She loved Penn, didn’t she? And she thought she wanted to marry him but could not care less about planning the wedding. Picking out the dress, sampling wedding cakes, hiring a band and caterer for the wedding—none of it was even remotely enjoyable. Then there was that nagging, gnawing feeling deep in her heart warning her that she was just settling for Penn. She once read a magazine article in one of her mother’s old Cosmopolitan magazines. The author made a case for settling, to stop looking for Mr. Right and pair up with Mr. Not-So-Bad. Penn was a nice enough guy but Ellowyne didn’t feel like she was really was in love with him. She didn’t feel a toe-tingling, pulse-racing, butterflies in the stomach when she was with Penn. She had felt that way once, but it was too late to cancel the wedding. Her father paid all the wedding expenses and she didn’t want to see his money go to waste.

Moreover, she had a couple of nagging reservations about Penn. Sometimes he seemed angry and frustrated when she need to change plans because she was simply too tired or melancholy. But if she didn’t marry Penn, who would want her? Of course there was Rufus, but, since he agreed to be Penn’s best man, she assumed he was no longer interested. Marrying Penn was the most logical choice she could make. And if she was dispassionate about wedding planning, it had to be ennui ruining her life again.

Or was it something else?

Ellowyne and her friends arrived at the stylist’s salon. She stared into her mocha—the third cup of the day—and played with the whipped cream while her favorite hairstylist coaxed her hair into thick, beachy curls. Her thoughts went back to Rufus. Why did he come back? Pasadena, where he was doing graduate work at Cal State, was nearly a six-hour drive one way. He didn’t come home very often because he was immersed in his studies. She could not remember which one of her friends —Pru, Lizette, or Amber—brought up that Rufus had been in love with Ellowyne. Why didn’t one of them tell her? It didn’t matter. She was marrying Penn that afternoon. She wondered if she would have accepted Penn’s proposal if she had known how Rufus felt.

Meanwhile, Penn and Rufus, who stayed overnight in the hotel where the reception was going to be, were feeling the effects of an alcohol fueled bachelor party. “Dude, why did you let me drink so much?” Penn asked.

Rufus, who was nursing a headache, shook his head. “Shush, shush, shush. Don’t talk so loud.”

Penn ignored him. “You promised the most epic bachelor party ever. And you did it!”

Rufus groaned. “Thanks, I guess.”

Penn wondered how Ellowyne’s bachelorette party went. Prudence would have taken her friends to a hot yoga studio, and Lizette would’ve insisted on dinner at a fine restaurant, maybe one that served Cajun or Creole food. And Amber. Oh, Amber. She would have dragged everyone to a bar, maybe even one with male strippers. He could never understand why Ellowyne, Pru, and Lizette even hung out with Amber, since she was so rowdy. Then again, Penn, Rufus, and the other groomsmen had gotten rather rambunctious themselves.

Rufus looked at the alarm on the clock radio. Suddenly he was awake and shouted, “Dude! It’s almost noon! You’ve got to get sober before the wedding!” Rufus threw Penn in the shower and turned the water as cold as possible. He called room service to bring up some espresso and then he called a nearby Thai restaurant to get a couple of orders of drunken noodles, his favorite dish when hung over.

When Penn and Rufus arrived at the church, they bore no signs of the previous night’s debauchery. Indeed, they looked dapper in their tuxedos. Rufus made sure he had Ellowyne’s wedding ring in his pocket. He took a sharp breath. Maybe agreeing to be Penn’s best man wasn’t such a great idea. It was meant to bring him closure but he wasn’t over Ellowyne at all. He could hardly wait until the festivities were over and he could return home to his studies—the only thing that made him stop thinking about her.

The wedding could not be more splendid. Orchids and white roses decorated the altar and were carried by the bridesmaids. The groomsmen and Penn wore white rose boutonnières. Before he escorted Ellowyne down the aisle, her father noted how miserable she looked. “Are you okay, Honey?” He said, “I know you have trouble being happy but you look so sad. At least you should be a little happy on your wedding day.”

The string quartet played Pachelbel’s Canon in D as Ellowyne and her father walked down the aisle. She thought about her deceased mother and how overjoyed she and Father looked in their wedding pictures. Maybe I’m never going to be happy, she thought. She looked at Penn, who beamed seeing her in her wedding gown. She sighed and wished she could be as elated as he. She looked at her bridesmaids, who looked beautiful and radiant. She then looked at Rufus, who stood stiffly. He refused to look at her, and his usual smile was replaced by a cold, stony countenance.

The wedding ceremony went by in a blur. Penn’s smile was broad and his eyes sparkled as he recited his vows. And suddenly it was time for her to recite her. Looking into Penn’s eyes, she said, “I, Ellowyne, take you, Rufus—“

Everyone at the church gasped, especially Rufus, who was so shocked that his mouth gaped open, his eyes nearly popped, and his cheeks burned.

Penn’s face reddened with anger. He pulled away from her and asked, “What the hell, Ellowyne?”

“I’m sorry, Penn. You are a wonderful man but I don’t think we’re meant to be together. Especially when I think I might have feelings for Rufus.”

“Are you serious? You think you have FEELINGS for him? When did you figure that out?”

“This morning, I guess. Last night, after I went to bed, I overheard Liz, Pru, and Amber talking about how Rufus has been in love with me for years. I’m sorry, Penn, but I can’t marry you because I’m not in love with you. I love you but as a friend, not as a fiancé. I think I might be in love with Rufus.”


Penn shook his head and glared at Rufus. “Is that why you came back? You son of a bitch. Ellowyne would never have known if you stayed away.”

“Dude, I’m sorry—“

“Sorry isn’t good enough!!”

“Penn, he has nothing to apologize for. This is all on me,” Ellowyne said softly. “I am so sorry that I have hurt you. I guess I thought the reason I was so half-hearted in planning the wedding was ennui. But now I realize that ennui had nothing to do with my disinterest. I really can’t marry you when I think I might want to be with Rufus.”

Penn raged at Ellowyne. “So you might want to be with another man. Fine. Whatever you want. You know what? I’m glad to be rid of you. You and your damned ennui. You don’t want to go to a baseball game because you think it’s boring. You can’t go to a new restaurant because you live on whipped cream and nasturtium. You don’t want to go dancing because you’re too tired. I can’t spend the rest of my life with you and your issues.”

Rufus took her wedding ring out of his pocket and Ellowyne removed her engagement ring. As they gave the rings back to Penn, he sneered and said, “Good luck, Rutter. You’re going to need it. You know, I think the two of you deserve each other.” Penn stormed out of the church and shouted, “I hope you’re both HAPPY together.”

Ellowyne’s father ushered the guests out of the church and invited them to the reception, where a sumptuous buffet awaited them. When everyone had left, her father approached Ellowyne and Rufus, who were sitting on the altar stairs. “Honey, you did what you had to do. Ennui didn’t ruin your wedding. It was your heart, telling you that, deep down inside, you didn’t really want to marry Penn. He’s a nice enough fellow but I don’t think he was the right man for you.”

As her father walked away, Ellowyne turned to Rufus. She felt her toes tingle, her pulse racing, and butterflies in her stomach. Then she smiled.

Guests at the Wedding

Rating: M for Language and Mild Adult Theme

Rufus had a grueling day in the emergency room. It started with the attending physician yelling at him for an error made by a different medical student and it progressively got worse. The first patient he saw was a little girl with a Lego brick shoved up her nose. She was cooperative, even calm, as Rufus removed the piece but her mother was out of control, sobbing and shrieking until he was done. The next patient was a charming, elderly gentleman who came in complaining of vague symptoms and malaise. Rufus was taking his history when the man’s eyes rolled back and he became unresponsive. Rufus called a code and did chest compressions before the code team arrived. Sadly, their efforts were fruitless and Rufus had to choke back his tears when he and the attending gave the family the bad news. Next up was a patient suspected of seeking narcotics. When Rufus tried to explain that he was a medical student and could not give her any medication, she punched him in the face, resulting in a black eye. And before lunch, members of a nearby sorority came in with symptoms of food poisoning from eating raw cookie dough. One of the women tried to flirt with him and then threw up on his scrub suit and new tennis shoes. When he went to change, he decided to take a break for lunch and he found that the bento box Ellowyne made for him had been stolen so he had an energy drink and cookies from the nurses’ station. In the afternoon, he saw a man with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and another man who had an accident with a chain saw. A woman came in with complaints of abdominal pain and swelling. She had no idea that she was pregnant until she was in labor. The last patient of the day was a woman who tried on her best friend’s new engagement ring and could not remove it. After trying soap, petroleum jelly, and cooling off her hand, the ring remained stuck. Finally one of the doctors suggested cutting the ring and the engaged woman said she would rather have her friend’s finger cut off! After the problem with the ring had been resolved, Rufus was off duty. But as if to add insult to injury, when he went to the staff parking lot, he found that someone badly dinged the door of his red Subaru. He could barely wait until he got home.

When he got back to the apartment he shared with Ellowyne, he smelled drunken noodles, his favorite Thai dish, wafting through the hallway. From his texts, Ello knew he’d had a rough day and she greeted him with a kiss and a Scotch on the rocks. She asked, “Tough day, huh?”

“The worst. God, I hate this clerkship. There’s an unending stream of patients and you can’t take care of them in a timely fashion. And you don’t get a chance to get to know your patients. It’s almost like an assembly line. Patients come in, get released or transfer, and as soon as they’re out, someone else comes in. And the staff! After the alleged drug seeker punched me, the nursing staff called her a GOMER. Do you know what that means? It means, Get Out of My Emergency Room. Yeah, I’m pissed that she hit me but—I don’t know. Every person should be treated with respect, even the ones who are pretty obnoxious.”

Ellowyne looked at Rufus’ black eye and gently touched his face. “Honey, you have quite the shiner. Let me grab a washcloth and some ice. You lay down for a little bit while I finish supper.”

Rufus groaned. “Yes, doctor,” and stretched out on the couch. Sybil, their cat, jumped on his chest, kneading him and purring. “Sybil, are you trying to make me feel better or are you just an opportunist?”

About ten minutes later, Ellowyne was close to finishing cooking and called Rufus to the kitchen table. As she ladled drunken noodles onto their plates, he looked through his mail. There were a couple of bills, a catalog, the New England Journal of Medicine, and an envelope that looked suspiciously like an invitation. He stared at the sender’s name on the return address. Gwendolyn Wilde. He hadn’t heard that name in years. He opened it and found indeed that it was an invitation—to her wedding.

He asked, “Did you see this, Ello?”

“Yes. Uh, is that the girl?”

“Who broke my heart in college? Yeah. That’s her. And look. She’s marrying that ‘handsome’ man she said was more her type. And I’m invited. Oh, joy.” He sighed and shrugged. “She told me wasn’t attracted to me and that she’d rather be with Penn. I could have been okay about it but then she said, ‘even the homeliest doctors get dates plenty of dates.’ God that hurt!”

“That was rude and mean. I think you’re handsome. I love the way you look. You are catnip to me.” Just then, the cat rubbed Rufus’s leg and purred. “See? Sybil thinks you’re catnip, too!” Ellowyne stroked his hand. “So, do you think you’ll go?”

“Probably not. I haven’t kept in touch with her. I really don’t get why she even invited me. To make me feel like a loser like she did in college?”

“Maybe she’s offering an olive branch because of the way she treated you.”

“And maybe it’s just a gift grab.”

“Get them a gravy boat. Now, is this a plus one?”

Rufus looked at the invitation again. “You know, it is.” He smirked. “Hmm. If I go, who should I ask?”

Ellowyne laughed and made a face. “You better be nice to me or I’ll never make Thai food again!”

He grinned and said, “Okay, okay. You win. I think I have a three-day weekend then. And it might be fun to meet up with some of my college friends. Can you clear your schedule?”

“I think so. I do my presentation in my qualitative methods course a couple of days before the wedding so I won’t have that hanging over my head. And a weekend away from the ivory tower might be just what the doctor ordered.”

Rufus grinned. “Would that doctor be a future MD like me or an aspiring PhD like you?”

“Watch it buddy. You keep picking on me and I won’t give you any of the cocoanut sorbet I got today.”

“I give up! Woman, you are not my equal. You are my superior.”

“Don’t forget that!”

When they got to bed around 11:00, Rufus had trouble falling asleep. Memories of Gwendolyn swam through his head. was restless and could not stop thinking about her. She shattered his heart and threw it on the floor, leaving tiny shards that unexpectedly cut him long after she rejected him. He thought about happier days, to the time when they first met at State. They were in the same orientation group the week before their freshman year began and were paired together as orientation buddies. Rufus could not believe his luck. Gwen was the prettiest girl he’d ever known and he was immediately smitten. She had a soft but clear voice, an eclectic style, and a sense of vulnerability that made him want to protect her. As their semester went on, Gwen introduced Rufus to three of her sorority sisters: Amber, Prudence, and Lizette. They had several classes together and frequently studied with each other. By the end of the first semester, Rufus befriended Liz, Pru, and Amber—and he realized his feelings for Gwendolyn had morphed into love. The three friends tried gently to dissuade him because they knew Gwen wasn’t romantically interested in him and they didn’t want him to get hurt. But in the end, he was hurt anyway. Badly.

In her junior year, Gwen met Penn, who recently graduated from State. They only had a few dates but she thought that he might be the ‘one’. In the meantime, Rufus changed his major to pre-med with a minor in neuroscience. He was so focused on his studies that he didn’t notice that Gwen was seeing someone. When he was done with finals, he asked Gwen to meet him at a coffee house close to the campus. He decided to tell her how he felt about her. He told her that he loved her but she seemed uncomfortable. She had to tell him that she loved him as a friend, nothing more. She also said that she simply wasn’t attracted to him and found Penn  more attractive. Gwen tried to tell him gently that he would someday find someone else, she said that even the homeliest doctors manage to get dates. Rufus was mortified and did not speak to her the rest of the time they both were at State.

From that point on, He threw himself into his studies. He didn’t date anyone in college—he didn’t have the time nor the inclination. He was accepted to the medical school of his choice, which was about a four-hour drive from State.  He would have happily gone to a med school even further away from State—and Gwendolyn and Penn—but this one was the best. And then he met Ellowyne.

Still unable to sleep, Rufus looked at Ellowyne, who was sleeping soundly. The moonlight danced on her flawless skin and he gently brushed her cheek. He thought about the first time they met and he remembered their conversation verbatim. He met her at The Hub, a popular coffee house near the campus. It was crowded and she tried in vain to find an empty table. Finally she saw a man about her age who was engrossed in a thick, important looking text and she asked him if she could share his table. Without even looking at her, he muttered, “Sure. I‘m leaving soon anyway.” and she put her hot cocoa and backpack down.

Eventually, Rufus looked at his tablemate. She was reading and taking notes on several scholarly journals, Feminist Review and Women’s Studies Quarterly. His interest piqued, he asked, “Are you in gender studies?”

“Good observation,” she replied curtly. Little did Rufus know that Ellowyne expected him to respond the same way nearly every other man did about her academic aspirations. Some belittled her interest and called her names like ‘feminazi’ or worse. Others told her she was too pretty to be a feminist and others assumed she had to be stupid because of her pretty face and blonde hair. She even tried to go without makeup and wear thick black horn rims so she’d discourage unwanted male attention but was told she was cute in a hipster way. She absolutely expected Rufus to make an inane remark like most of the men she met.

Instead, he said, “You know, the field of gender studies is almost more important today than in the past. It sounds like a great field of study and I wish I knew more.” Then he looked at her. smiled, and extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Rufus Rutter.”

Ellowyne shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you. So, Rufus Rutter, what do you study? Are you a neuroscience student?”

“I started out with a neuroscience major in undergrad but I didn’t like the grunt work. We were expected to put rats or mice in stressful situations, kill them and the control group to see if there were differences in the brains between the two groups. I’m too much of a wuss to kill any animal so I switched my major to pre-med and minored in neuroscience. I’m a first year med student, hoping to be a neurosurgeon or neurologist. And you?”

“I’m Ellowyne Wilde, first year PhD student in gender studies, hoping to teach at the college level.”

He was dumbfounded. Wilde? WILDE? That was Gwendolyn’s last name! Was Ellowyne a sister, a cousin, or something? Trying his best to sound casual and uninterested he said, “I did my undergrad at State and I, um, knew a young woman named Gwendolyn Wilde. Any relation?”

Ellowyne shook her head. “I don’t have any sisters and none of my cousins went to State. My family is pretty small. It’s only my father, grandmother, little brother, and me. They live out in San Francisco. It’s a great place to live and I’d like to move back when I finish my program. But for now, I’m here because it’s got a kick-ass gender studies program.”

Rufus was relieved. No relation. He could relax and enjoy this conversation. He asked, “Have you decided on your topic for study?”

“Not yet. There are so many amazing fields out there. One of the topics I’ve mulling over is looking at heterosexual love through a feminist lens”.

“From the biological perspective, falling in love is associated with areas in the brain that cause the release of dopamine. Drugs and chocolate also stimulate activation of the brain’s ‘pleasure center’.”

Ellowyne took a sip of her cocoa. “Chocolate? Really?”

“Absolutely. And studies suggest that skin-to-skin contact with someone you love increases oxytocin, which brings about a deeper sense of love. So I guess we can say that love is nothing more than hormones.”

Ellowyne laughed. “Interesting! You know, I think I’d like to know you better, Rufus Rutter.”

They put away their books and talked until closing time. They exchanged phone numbers and became Facebook friends. He walked her to her car and was struck by an almost irresistible urge to kiss her. But he didn’t, at least not the first time they met. Soon they were meeting several times a week, texting each other daily, and thinking about each other constantly. He remembered their first kiss, the first time they said “I love you” and the first time they made love. That was when he gave her a silver necklace with the chemical symbol of oxytocin, which she wore almost every day. Eventually they moved in together. Sometimes they discussed marriage, but decided to not get engaged while they were both still in school.

Rufus gazed at his beloved Ellowyne, who was still asleep. He gently lifted Sybil from her usual perch between their pillows to the space by their feet. He stroked Ellowyne’s cheek and kissed her lightly so not to disturb her. She was indeed a beautiful woman but she wasn’t a trophy to display to other his peers. He loved her for her brilliance much more than her beauty. It’s funny, he thought. We both had issues with the way we look. Rufus was self-conscious about his appearance until Ellowyne told him she loved the way he looked. She was often dismissed because she was pretty but he helped bolster her confidence to ignore anyone who didn’t take her seriously. They believed in each other and were a team. And while he was hopelessly infatuated with Gwen and put her on a pedestal, what he had with Ellowyne was real, healthy, and reciprocated. His mind and soul at rest, he snuggled against her and quickly fell asleep.

Several weeks later, Rufus was done with the clerkship from Hell and he’d start a new one the next Monday. Ellowyne finished her presentation and made progress on her next paper. Both were delighted and relieved to have a weekend off with no school obligations whatsoever. The wedding was a lavish, elegant affair, complete with a string quartet and an opera-quality soloist. The meal was exquisite and the champagne flowed freely. Rufus introduced Ellowyne to Amber, the maid of honor, and the bridesmaids, Prudence and Lizette. Then Gwen and Penn came over to greet them.

Rufus extended his hand to Penn and congratulated the newlyweds. Gwen looked a little uneasy, and she blurted out, “I am so sorry I was mean to you. I said things that were unkind and I hope you can forgive me.”

He hugged her the way a brother would and said, “Hey it’s all okay. I put you on a pedestal and didn’t listen when you tried to tell me my feelings were unrequited. I’m sure that was tough for you.”

Gwen relaxed. “I‘m glad you both came. I invited you to my wedding so I could apologize to you.” She grinned. “Well, that and the gravy boat!” Everyone laughed. “And Rufus, thank you for being gracious.”

“Thank you, Gwen,” he said as he gently kissed her cheek in a most brotherly way. “I wish nothing but happiness in your lives together.”

“And the same to you,” Penn said, shaking Rufus’ hand again.

The evening was enjoyable, with free-flowing champagne, a delicious meal, and dancing well into the night. At the end, Rufus and Ellowyne exchanged pleasantries with his college friends and walked back to their hotel room. Ellowyne said, “I think Penn thought we were married or engaged or something.”

“Yeah, I got that impression too.” Rufus pulled a small box out of his jacket pocket. “Maybe we need to rethink our time table.”

My Brother the Pyromaniac

Rated K+ Suitable for general audience five years and older

“Oh no you don’t! Don’t come near me, Rufus Rutter! I’m not letting you kiss me when you’re eating an Atomic Fireball!”

Ellowyne’s giggles and shrieks were so loud that Freddy could hear them through the closed door of his upstairs bedroom. He rolled his eyes and sighed. It was bad enough when Rufus the Doofus moped around the house, pining for his sister, but once the two of them started actually dating, they became insufferable. They shared private jokes, stole kisses when they thought no one was looking, and had the most disgusting pet names for each other. Ellowyne called Rufus her “Rubear”, while he nicknamed her “Bae”. Freddy was so tempted to tell Rufus what bae really meant, at least in Danish, but for now he decided to keep it to himself and snicker whenever Rufus uttered this term of endearment. Ello’s squad thought that she and Rufus were perfect for each other and called them the Ellefus, a portmanteau of their first names. The whole thing made Freddy gag.

Freddy was thirsty and wanted a soda or an energy drink. But he would need to walk past the Ellefus on his way to the kitchen. He hoped that his sister and the Doofus would not notice him but of course they did.

“Hey, Li’l Bro! Want some?” Rufus pulled a couple of small red jawbreaker from his pocket. “Can you believe your sister is forcing me to choose between her and these?” He tossed the candy at Freddy, who popped one into his mouth. It was hotter than a wastebasket fire and he immediately spit it out.

Freddy moaned, “What’s in this thing?”

“It’s nasty,” Ellowyne answered, wrinkling up her nose. “It’s cinnamon and capsaicin.”

“Don’t listen to her, Li’l Bro. It burns a little at first but after you eat enough of them, they don’t seem so hot.”

“He’s lying, Freddy. It’s always that hot, even when it’s secondhand.”

Freddy was confused. “What do you mean, secondhand?”

Rufus grinned. “It means she’s kissing someone who’s eating a fireball!” With that, he leaned over to Ellowyne, who was giggling, and kissed her on the lips.

Freddy made a face, got a bottle of water, and went back to his room. He thought again about the hot red candy and the burning sensation it left in his mouth. He and Ellowyne subsisted on a rather bland diet at home since neither Father nor Grandmother Emily liked hot, spicy food. Ellowyne had been exposed to more diverse fare by going out with her friends and, of course, Rufus. Freddy also knew that his sister’s protests about the fireball kisses were just for show. Why, he watched Ello scarf an entire plate of nachos with jalapeños more than once, even when the Doofus wasn’t around! Freddy gingerly opened another fireball and put it in his mouth. His lips and throat burned, yet he swore he would not spit it out. But the candy proved too much for him. He spit out the fireball and took a drink of water, which made it even worse. Why would someone voluntarily eat something so hot, much less enjoy it?

Freddy got his answer a few days later when Ellowyne’s entire entourage came over. He usually ignored their banter but when he heard them talk about food, he decided to listen. Rufus, Penn, and Prudence were talking trash about each other and it became clear that they were engaged to do some kind of eating competition later that day. Intrigued, Freddy ventured downstairs, sat on the second lowest step, and listened.

Penn saw him first and called out to him. “Hey, Fred! Wanna watch me beat these so-called chileheads to a pulp?”

Rufus chuckled. “Yeah, right. You’re the one going down in defeat, Penn. And Pru, too!”

“As if!” Prudence shook her head. “Don’t listen to these two, Freddy. I’m going to prove that I can take down the hot stuff better than either of them. They’re so full of themselves…”

“And soon all of them will be full of blazing hot chicken wings!” Lizette exclaimed.

So Freddy joined his sister and her friends to witness the great hot wings contest. Lizette and Amber rode with Penn while Freddy and Pru rode in the back seat of Rufus’ red Subaru. It was kind of nice to sit next to Prudence because he had a slight crush on her.

The ride was over sooner than Freddy would have liked. When they walked into the restaurant, they were given a special table so that every patron in the place could watch the competition. Pru, and Rufus were seated together and were given glasses of beer, soda, and milk.

“Why the milk?” Freddy asked. “I’ve never seen any of you drink milk. Hot chocolate, maybe, but milk?”

“Well, Fred, the fat in milk counteracts the burn from capsaicin—that’s the stuff that causes the burning feeling.” Prudence said.

“Like in Atomic Fireballs?”

“Exactly,” Pru answered. “And that’s why water doesn’t work. There’s  nothing in water to diffuse the capsaicin. Sugar helps sometimes and a few people like beer but milk is the best thing to drink.”

Freddy saw the server approach their table. “Oh, look, here come the wings!”

Three plates, each containing six wings coated with a devil’s potion of habañeros, Scotch bonnets, and the dreaded Carolina Reaper, the hottest chile in the world, were brought to the table. The goal was to get through six wings without drinking anything in ten minutes or less. The victors would receive t-shirts declaring they won the challenge, their photos on the Wall of Winners, and a gift card for another visit. The losers would also get t-shirts but they were emblazoned with a cartoon chicken and the words, “Dumb Cluck”. Their photos would also be put on display on the Wall of Wimps.

Freddy watched intently as the three tried to eat their wings. Pru’s eyes watered, Rufus’ face was flushed, and beads of sweat formed on Penn’s forehead—all before any of them finished their first hot wings. Amber nudged Freddy and whispered, “I heard that the kitchen staff has to wear gas masks when preparing the sauce for those wings.”

Penn finished one wing and put the second one down on his plate. He guzzled his milk and said, “I’m out. I can’t handle another wing.”

Rufus, who had also finished one wing, looked over at Penn and decided to admit defeat. “I thought I could do this but I can’t. Wall of Wimps, here I come.”

Prudence bested her rivals by eating two whole wings but she dropped out of the competition as well. “I’m done. But at least I finished two wings, unlike the two of you!’

“Just curious. Why do you torture yourself like this? It seems kinda silly to me,” Freddy said.

Rufus wiped the milk mustache from his face. “Do you know what endorphins are, Li’l Bro?” Rufus asked.

“Yeah, I heard about them in school,” Freddy answered. “Pain increases the body’s endorphins and makes a person feel—well—-high.”

“Exactly,” Penn said. “Have you ever heard about runner’s high? It’s the same thing. Eating hot food triggers the production of endorphins the same way running does. It can be painful to eat these things but the high is so good. It beats using a substance to get a buzz!”

“And it beats running,” Rufus added. Everyone laughed because they all knew Rufus preferred sedentary activities like playing video games or fixing things over athletic pursuits.

After the aborted competition, everyone at the table ordered wings and things that weren’t quite so pungent. Freddy got the mildest wings on the menu but even they burned his mouth. He started to cough and Prudence gave him her glass of milk. Freddy didn’t mind drinking from her glass! Alas, Pru rode back to Ellowyne’s in Penn’s car. Freddy was disappointed and, to entertain himself, he looked up capsaicin on his phone. He read about the Scoville scale and learned that the noxious sauce that felled Pru, Penn, and Rufus was hotter than some forms of pepper spray.

His interest piqued, Freddy decided to learn more about hot sauces and spicy food. His obsession with building wastepaper baskets and setting fire to random bedroom slippers ebbed as he nurtured his new passion—building culinary fires in his mouth. Sometimes he’d talk Rufus and Penn into letting him come on some of their man dates, especially if the were going to a restaurant or food truck that served peppery, piquant cuisine. Freddy quickly graduated from pico de gallo to roasted habañero salsa at Mexican restaurants and from mild green papaya salad to Crying Tiger at Thai places. He even bested Pru, Penn, and Rufus in a hot wing-eating contest, winning him the t-shirt as well as a placement of his picture on the Wall of Winners. He planted a small garden of various chiles, holy basil, and Mexican oregano. He watched cooking shows on television and YouTube and practiced cooking hot dishes for Ellowyne and all her friends. Even Father and Grandmother Emily were nudged out of their bland food comfort zone. They were thrilled that the only fires Freddy made anymore were on the big gas stove!

When Freddy graduated from high school, he went to a prestigious culinary institute and apprenticed at a Michelin-rated restaurant. He on one of his favorite TV food completion shows. With his winnings and financial backing from friends, family, and a celebrity chef, Freddy started his own place, Pyromaniac’s, which quickly became one of the HOTTEST eateries in San Francisco.

The Lonesome Loser: Prologue

Rating: M because of course language and non-explicit adult themes

This story is based on the official Ellowyne canon in which Ello, Pru, Lizette, and Amber share the same birthday, October 31. Ellowyne hosted a party to which Amber was not invited. A new friend named Penn joined the party. He is mentoring Freddy, who had a dangerous preoccupation with setting fires. Ellowyne’s grandmother insisted that Penn stay for the party and she gave Rufus and him masks to wear. They barely donned their masks when Amber crashed the party. She was dressed in a risqué version of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, complete with a short blue gingham jumper, a low-cut blouse, and sparkly red stiletto heels. Amber then grabbed one of the masked men and kissed him aggressively, thinking he was Rufus. When Penn removed his mask, Amber slapped him for taking advantage of her. She then stormed out the front door of Ellowyne’s house and walked right into a slightly squishy pumpkin. She kicked the pumpkin aside and everyone at the party laughed at the spectacle Amber made of herself.



After Amber left the party humiliated and disgraced, Ellowyne, Lizette, and Pru turned their attention to this new guy. As they girls gushed over Penn, Rufus quietly slipped out of the house. He got into his decrepit red Subaru, a car held together by dozens of bumper stickers, sheer faith, and Rufus’ knack for fixing almost anything that was broken. Anything, that is, but his own breaking heart.

He looked into the rearview mirror and started berating himself. “God, you’re such a dumbass. Ellowyne was never yours. You were too shy, too scared, and too stupid to tell her how you felt and now she’s crushing on some guy she’s just met. He’s gonna fall in love with her—who wouldn’t? She’s beautiful, intelligent, and sweet. They’re gonna end up together.”

Rufus sat in the darkness of his car and thought carefully what to do next. Putting his key in the ignition, he asked himself, “Wait a minute. What’s so special about this guy Penn anyway?” Then looked into the rear view mirror again and frowned. “He’s handsome. He’s already done with college and has a great job, probably a great apartment, too. He’s everything I’m not. How could I ever compete?”

Find out what Rufus does when he’s confronted with the reality that Ellowyne may have found another guy! Please feel free to say in the comments section which ending you prefer.


The Lonesome Loser: Ending One

Although Ellowyne had just met Penn, it was clear to Rufus that she was interested. She never looked at him the way she looked at Penn. Blinking back the hot tears welling up in his eyes, Rufus got in his car, plugged in his phone and headed home. From the time he left the party to the time he pulled into his driveway, Rufus tortured himself by listening to love songs that reminded him of Ellowyne, from Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love. Breakup songs like Love Hurts, Love Stinks and Lonesome Loser gave voice to his feelings of loss and despair. When he heard a familiar tune by Cee Lo Green, he sang along. “I see you driving ‘round town with the girl I love and I’m like ‘Fu—‘“

The sound of tapping on his car window interrupted Rufus’ private sing-along. It was his mother, Mary Sue. “We saw you sitting in your car so long. Honey, are you okay?”

“I don’t know, Mom. I feel like someone has reached into my chest, pulled out my heart, and stomped on it.”

“Ellowyne? “

“Yeah.” Rufus could no longer fight his tears. Mary Sue embraced and consoled her son and together they walked into the house.

Janet, Rufus’ other mom, hugged him, too. She offered up comfort, cocoa, and freshly baked chocolate cookies as they all sat around the kitchen table.

Rufus began to tell them with Ellowyne and how she reacted to Penn. “I feel like an idiot. I’ve never told her how I feel and now she seems to be into this new guy. I can’t compete with him. He’s already out on his own and he’s got a great job. He’s confident and knows the right things to say. ” Rufus shrugged. “And he’s handsome. Of course Ellowyne was attracted to him.”

“First of all, you’ll have a great job when you graduate,” Mary Sue pointed out. “You’ve been accepted at Cal Tech and MIT for grad school and when you finish, you’re going to have a great career as an engineer.”

“You’re smart and you’re funny. And, not being biased since you’re my son, you are one of the kindest people either of us has known,” Janet added.

“And we both think you’re handsome!”

Rufus smiled weakly. “I guess instead of having a face only a mother can love, I have a face that only TWO mothers can love.”

Mary Sue stroked Rufus’ hand. “Sweetie, listen to us. If Ellowyne hasn’t seen what an amazing man that you are, she isn’t worth your time. I know it hurts, but someone is going to figure out what a great guy you are.”

When his moms went to bed, Rufus grabbed his laptop and a few more cookies. He then sat in the chaise lounge in the living room to check his email. One was from MIT. He had been awarded a prestigious fellowship in engineering. He read the email again and he shouted so loudly that he awakened Janet and Mary Sue. “You aren’t going to believe this! I’m getting a full ride at MIT!”

Suddenly, it didn’t matter to Rufus anymore that Ellowyne flirted with Penn. For once, he decided to do what was right for him and not build his life around someone who couldn’t reciprocate his love. Goodbye, Ellowyne. Hello, MIT.

The Lonesome Loser: Ending Two

Although Ellowyne had just met Penn, it was clear to Rufus that she was interested. She never looked at him the way she looked at Penn. Blinking back the hot tears welling up in his eyes, Rufus plugged in his smartphone and sat in his car, feeling too numb to drive home. He tortured himself by listening to love songs that reminded him of Ellowyne like Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love. Breakup songs like Love Hurts, Love Stinks and Lonesome Loser gave voice to his feelings of loss and despair. When he heard a familiar tune by Cee Lo Green, he sang along. “I see you driving ‘round town with the girl I love and I’m like ‘Fu—‘“

The sound of tapping on his car window interrupted Rufus’ private sing-along. It was Lizette. “Hey. What are you doing out here? “ she asked.

Rufus sighed. “Just listening to some tunes. I didn’t want to be in there, not with Ello throwing herself at Penn.”

Lizette nodded. “Yeah, total flirt alert. Hey, are you okay?”

“Not really. It sucks to see Ell throw herself at this douche when I’ve been here for her all along”.

“I dunno.” Lizette said as she climbed into the passenger seat of Rufus’ red Subaru. “Maybe it’s because Penn is a novelty, someone new in her life”.

“Or maybe it’s a matter of familiarity breeds contempt”.

Rufus poured out his heart. He told Lizette how he fell in love with Ello the first time they met back in middle school. He confessed that, over the course of the past several years, he brought her flowers, candy, stuffed animals, and even a vintage snow globe.”

“I remembered that! She obsessed over it, asking herself—and the rest of us—what it meant.” Lizette gently stroked Rufus’ hand. “You know, Ello is not the most observant person. I think she’s a fool for not even noticing the sweet little gestures you’ve made over the years.” Lizette got closer to Rufus, twirled hear hair and looked into Rufus’ eyes. “It’s a shame she friend zoned you all this time. You really have a lot to offer a woman.”


Rufus furrowed his eyebrows. “Are you kidding me?”

“You’re kind, sweet, and funny. You’re a total brainiac. And you have a gentle face and beautiful eyes.”


“Yes! Ellowyne is clueless. One day someone, maybe one of her closest friends will figure out wow amazing you really are.

Rufus smiled weakly. “You really think so?”

“I know so.”

“Hey, thanks, Liz. I’m glad we had this talk. I’m not going to give up on Ellowyne.  I have more work to do at her house and maybe I’ll bring her some chocolate truffles.”

Lizette got out of Rufus’ car, shook her head and rolled her eyes. Ellowyne was not the only one who was clueless.