Amber’s Secret

Rating K+, language and suggestive behavior

Based on the Ellowyne canon

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Outrageously?” Ellowyne asked.

“Atrociously?” Prudence queried.

“Inappropriately?” Rufus quipped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rufus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, I do have a favor to ask.”

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

“No, please. Don’t go.”

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

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

He drank some of his coffee. “Go on.”

“Promise you won’t tell?”

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

“I promise. Go on, Amber.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ellowyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Prudence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her friends nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

 

Lizette

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

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

“Amber has that effect on people.”

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

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

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

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

“That sounds annoying. And painful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Liz! What’s up?” Rufus asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So Liz, what’s next?” Pru asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And she’s bored,” Pru interjected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.”

“YOU MIGHT BE IN LOVE WITH HIM?”

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.

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Story:

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.”

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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.”

“Seriously?’

“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.