Guests at the Wedding

This is my favorite story so far. Completely non-canon. Rating: K+ 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 she 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 plenty of dates.’ God that hurt!”

“That was rude and mean. I think you’re handsome. I love the way you look. In scrubs. In jeans. And when you’re buck naked. 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 

Rating: K

“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 was 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. Pun intended.

And the Bride Had Ennui

Rating K+ for coarse language and minor adult situations

“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.

Festivus! For the Rest of Us!

Rating: K This story is an homage to Jerry Seinfeld. It dances a little with the official canon, but it’s mostly my head canon.

“Neema, you simply must come,” Ellowyne implored. “Though we haven’t known you that long, you’re already part of our group. Please come!”

“You’re going to have a great time,” Rufus added. “We’ve been doing this every year for a long time.”

Neema scowled. “But I’ve never gone to a Festivus celebration. What happens at them?”

Rufus replied, “Well, there’s food. Always meatloaf, traditionally served on a bed of lettuce. Mashed potatoes, risotto, peas, and, since Amber’s hosting the festivities, paella, shrimp, and lobster! And champagne!”

“Honey, don’t forget the desserts,” Ellowyne said.

“Oh yeah, there’s chocolate babka, pineapple gelati, pecan pie, and a white Pepperidge Farm cake, with chocolate frosting and M & M’s on top,” Rufus said. “There’s also Jell-O with bananas in it.” 

Neema raised one eyebrow in an expression of skepticism. “Is there anything else that happens at a Festivus celebration?”

Ellowyne hemmed and hawed. “Well, there are a couple of activities. But nothing too outrageous. Please come with us. It will be fun!”

Neema grabbed her coat and went off with Ellowyne and Rufus, settling in the back seat of his old red Subaru, which was held together with bumper stickers, duct tape, and prayer. 

In a short time, they arrived at the Stanhope’s mansion. Amber was delighted to  see her friends, especially Neema. “I’m so glad you could come, Neema! You’re going to have a great time!”

When she, Ellowyne, and Rufus entered the dining room, Neema noticed a plain rod in the corner. It seemed downright weird, but she didn’t ask anyone about why it was there.

Soon, Prudence, Lizette, and Penn arrived, so Amber offered some appetizers to her guests. Egg rolls. Mini-calzones. Cubes diced from a large block of cheese, served with thinly-sliced deli meat on crackers or pieces of marble rye. It wasn’t long before the Festivus feast was ready. 

Once everyone was seated, Penn gently hit his spoon against his glass of champagne. “Everybody, today we celebrate Festivus, a celebration for the rest of us! But first, let’s toast our gracious hostess, Amber.”

Collectively, the friends clinked their glasses and said, “To Amber!”

Members of the wait staff  started serving the food around the table. Amber smiled and said, “Now, I can’t take any credit for the food. Marisol did most of the cooking with the help of other staff. I made the Jell-O and defrosted the Pepperidge cake.” Then she and the rest of her friends, except Neema, laughed.   

Ellowyne, who was sitting next to Neema, whispered, “Marisol is the Stanhope family’s cook. Her food is amazing.”

Neema cautiously eyed the meatloaf, peas, and mashed potatoes. Since she, too, came from a wealthy family, she hadn’t eaten that kind of food in years. Still, as pedestrian as it was, it certainly smelled good! And she bravely tried a bite, which was delicious.

The wait staff came around with paella, shrimp, and poached lobster. Neema was getting full but enjoyed the food so much she had to have just a little bit more. When the waitstaff came to clear the table, Amber stood up to make an announcement. “And now we will have the airing of the grievances.”

Excuse me? Grievances? Neema was confused.

Penn was first. “Rufus, my grievance toward you is that sometimes you realize you don’t have your wallet and I have to pay for your beer.”

Rufus laughed heartedly. “Well, let’s go out for a beer next week and I’ll pay.”

Prudence stood up and lifted her glass of champagne. She said, “It’s a Festivus miracle!” 

Neema was totally confused.

Then Pru looked at Ellowyne and said, “I have a grievance toward you! I love you but you can be a ditz. Like when you were late when I introduced you to Neema!”

“Okay, you have a point,” Ellowyne admitted. “I know I can be flaky at times. I’m trying! My New Year’s resolution is to be on time for things.”

Pru laughed. “You said that this year.” 

Ellowyne scrunched her nose and brows and laughed.

“I have a grievance toward you, Ellowyne,” Rufus said. ”You’re just too amazing. You’re beautiful and sweet and kind…”

“Ugh,” Prudence said. My grievance is that you and Ellowyne are way too kissy face. You have pet names for each other, and, well, you are THE annoying couple.”

Rufus and Ellowyne stood up, embraced, and exchanged long, sloppy kisses. Amber commanded, “Get a room!” which made everyone laugh. 

Lizette shouted, “Look at them, how happy they are. It’s a Festivus miracle!”

After everyone but Neema aired some silly grievance against each other, Amber announced that it was time to demonstrate feats of strength. “Penn, I choose you, and you can choose your opponent.” He immediately looked at Rufus.

“Nope. Nope squared. Nope cubed,” Rufus said. “I learned my lesson last year. In high school, I was in the chess and math clubs. You were a football player and a wrestler. Plus, you were in the Army. No way it’s a fair fight.”

“Well, Penn,” Amber said. “Choose another opponent or you will win by default.”

“I’ll do it,” Prudence replied. “I’m on sports teams. Rugby, women’s hockey, even roller derby sometimes. I can take you on, buddy.”

The friends formed a circle surrounding Prudence and Penn. He chose a classic wrestling match, just like he did back in high school. Lizette whispered to Neema, “Prudence was on our high school wrestling team. The first girl to do it. She was the divisional champion in her weight class senior year. Penn’s going to have a tough fight.” 

Lizette was so right. Prudence knew the best way to take Penn down, and she pinned him within minutes. When he was down, she kissed his lips, more than once. 

Penn was a gracious loser and smiled at Pru. “You know, I had to take a personal day to attend this party,” he said. “But, other than suffering defeat, I’m so glad I did!”

Prudence called out, “Penn got the day off to be with us. It’s a Festivus miracle!”

Neema whispered to Lizette, “What’s this Festivus miracle business?”

Lizette said, “Whenever something ordinary happens, someone calls out, ‘It’s a Festivus miracle’. It’s part of the silliness associated with the celebration.”

Neema then spied the pole in the corner of the room. “So what’s that?”

Amber overheard her and said, “The Festivus pole is kind of an anti-Christmas tree, no adornments, no fuss. It’s supposed to be aluminum but I actually already had this pole—”

Ellowyne piped up, “It’s her stripper pole!”

Everyone but Neema laughed. Amber blushed a little and said, “Oh, hush, Ellowyne. You know I use it for exercise. And it works!”

Stripper poles, Festivus miracles, meatloaf, grievances, and feats of strength. Neema shook her head. What a weird bunch of people! Did she really want to be friends with them?

They went down to the Stanhope’s basement to watch TV. The waitstaff brought the desserts along with coffee or soft drinks. When everyone had settled into the comfortable, reclining seats, Amber put a disk into the blu-ray player and showed her friends the Seinfeld episode in which the characters celebrated Festivus. 

“Oh, now I get it,” Neema exclaimed. I’ve never heard of Festivus or Seinfeld, for that matter of fact. To be honest, I thought that all of you were just—um—weird.”

“We are weird,” Rufus replied. “We have our quirks and eccentricities. But we support each other. It’s okay to be who we are.”

“And if we’re weird, well, so be it,” Ellowyne said. 

“I think I speak for all of us that we’d love to have you as a friend,” Amber said. The others concurred. 

Neema sat back in her chair, waiting for the next episode of Seinfeld to start. These people might seem very strange and odd, but their friendship seemed worthwhile.

It’s a Wonderful, Wilde Life

This is my first Ellowyne story. I wrote it shortly after I began collecting Ellowyne and her friends. We were getting ready to move, but the story flowed, even though I didn’t have much time. It is meant as an homage to the beloved film, It’s a Wonderful Life, but the subtext is that I was moving forward from one collectable doll I adored to another one that promised to be even more enjoyable, with fewer of the hassles, than the previous one. 

There are a few parts in this story that might be disturbing to younger readers, especially Chapter 8. My rating for this is K+, but adults should use their judgment in determining if the story is appropriate for their children. 

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy! 

Chapter 1: Christmas Eve

The redheaded, freckle-faced teenager knocked timidly on her supervisor’s door. She feared that this could be her last opportunity and that if she failed yet again, she would be demoted. All she wanted to do was to finally earn her wings!

Her supervisor greeted her curtly. “Miss Hadley, I have serious reservations about sending you on this assignment, but I have no other option. The person you are to guide is a teenage girl and, while I’ve wracked my brain to come up with an alternative, the only logical choice is to send another teenager to help her.”

The teenager and her supervisor sat on overstuffed chairs to look at a monitor. The supervisor continued, “This is Ellowyne Wilde. She is eighteen and is in her last year at Briermier Academy. She lives with her father, brother, and her globe-traveling grandmother in the grandmother’s Victorian style house in San Francisco. Her mother died when Elllowyne was very young. I believe you’ve met her—”

“Oh, yes. Beatrice Wilde,” Midge replied. “She’s a beautiful, gracious lady and an enormously talented artist. Her family must have been devastated when she passed.”

“Indeed they were. Ellowyne’s father threw himself into his work, and her little brother Freddy started to act out as a teenager. He has an unfortunate—and dangerous—obsession with starting fires. But tonight he is not your concern. You are to help Ellowyne. When her mother died, she withdrew into herself and developed chronic ennui—that has persisted throughout her life.”

“Ennui—-that’s just boredom, right?”

“To an extent, Miss Hadley. It is an exquisite type of boredom, often found in the world-weary, the jaded, and, of course, adolescents. As a teenager, you know that young people often get bored with life. They become dissatisfied, depressed, and melodramatic, partly because they’re growing out of childhood and learning to become adults. But for Ellowyne, her ennui is disabling. She can’t enjoy living in San Francisco, which, as you know, is one of the most interesting places on Earth. Ellowyne’s Weltschmerz keeps her from participating in life, which makes her more discontented than ever. Occasionally she tries to break out of her mood but she’s often too fatigued and overwhelmed to do so. Tonight, Ellowyne’s ennui leads her to think that everyone would be better off without her—and you must convince her not only to survive but to truly live and engage with the world again.”

“Wow, that’s quite the challenge. Please tell me, does she have any friends?”

“She does. Her friends are a loyal bunch, willing to stick with her in spite of her world-weariness. Some, however, are more patient than others.

“First is her friend Prudence Moody. Despite the impression one might get from her last name, Prudence is a deliriously happy, lively young woman and she is extraordinarily patient with her friend. She’s as enthusiastic about life as Ellowyne is dispassionate. As you can see, she has rather eclectic tastes, especially in clothes. Pru is kind-hearted and volunteers at an animal shelter, walking dogs and playing with cats. She likes to dance and do karaoke, and some say that she has an undeveloped sixth sense and can occasionally tell what’s going to happen in the future. Be careful so she doesn’t sense your presence.

“Next is Lizette Dionne. She recently moved from New Orleans with her parents and was rather unhappy here until she met Ellowyne and her other friends. Lizette is quieter than Prudence and perhaps more studious. She has a keen grasp of human psychology and doesn’t always share with others what she has observed about them. She understands that Ellowyne’s feelings are complicated and, while she believes only Ellowyne can get herself out of her seemingly endless ennui, she will do her best to help her.            

“And this is Amber Stanhope. Amber is what young people today call a ‘frenemy’. She socializes with Ellowyne but considers her to be a rival. Sometimes Amber comes off as rather mean-spirited but she’s merely hiding her insecurities. Deep down, she would like to be just like Ellowyne and desperately wants her friendship. Amber is the least patient with Ellowyne’s chronic ennui and frequently tells her to ‘snap out of it’, which only makes Ellowyne angry and defensive. Oddly enough, all four girls share a birthday, which should bring them closer together; Ellowyne, Pru, and Lizette often celebrate together but exclude Amber because of her occasionally outrageous behavior. One thing Amber does is—I’m not sure how to put this delicately—she tends to be aggressive with Ellowyne’s friend, Rufus Rutter, who is not interested in her romantically. He is terribly annoyed at and embarrassed by her behavior.”“Is that Rufus?” Midge interrupted. “He looks quirky but he is kind of cute.”

The supervisor nodded. “Rufus is a scholarship student at the Academy and works part-time as a handyman in Ellowyne’s grandmother’s house to save money for college. He’s sensitive and kind and has an acute, self-deprecating sense of humor—but at times he’s painfully shy. And of course he’s been in love with Ellowyne since seventh grade but cannot muster the courage to tell her how he feels. Ellowyne is wrapped up in her misery and has no idea. Prudence and Lizette know his secret and plot ways to bring him and Ellowyne together but so far, to no avail. Rufus is incredibly patient and has been willing to wait for Ellowyne all these years, but I suspect that his heart is slowly breaking with her indifference and I suspect that his patience could eventually fade. It’s a pity because he is the love of her life and her misery will be multiplied without him.”

“He reminds me of my Allan,” Midge sighed.

“Indeed he does. And may I remind you that Allan already has his wings and is waiting patiently for you to get yours?”

“Let’s do this! I’m ready to go.”

Chapter 2: The Party

Ellowyne’s eyes darted nervously as she looked around the parlor, assessing the carefully planned preparations she’d made for the evening’s big Christmas party. She had worked for hours, determined to create the perfect evening and extinguish her ennui, if only for a few hours. The punch bowl was filled with a sparkly, ruby-hued concoction of cranberry juice, ginger ale, orange slices, and fresh mint. Snowflake shaped cookies that had been sprinkled with sugar crystals glistened like snowflakes on one of Grandmother’s china plates, while hunks of buttery shortbread and triple-chocolate brownies were nestled cozily in a nearby basket.

“Stop it! Those are for the party,” shouted Ellowyne as her little brother tried to sneak a piece of homemade fudge.

“What are you going to all this trouble for? It’s just a bunch of icky girls and Rufus the Doofus,” grumbled Freddy as he popped a piece of divinity into his mouth.

Ellowyne rolled her eyes. Little brothers! “Just don’t cause any trouble tonight!”

“Don’t worry. I won’t,” Freddy muttered as he slunk out of the parlor and back upstairs to his room, a stack of gingerbread men and frosted Santas in his hands.

Her brother safely sequestered upstairs, Ellowyne turned her attention to the meticulously wrapped macramé bracelets she made for her friends. She wondered if she was right to make one for Amber; she also hoped she hadn’t made a mistake by inviting her to the party. She then pressed the play button on her cell phone to immerse the parlor in the sounds of Christmas classics performed by Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Ellowyne quickly checked her appearance in the mirror, and, seeing that her hair and makeup were perfect, she opened the door to her first guests.

Prudence and Lizette were the first to arrive. They smelled like hot chocolate and carried shopping bags overflowing with brightly wrapped gifts for their friends. Ellowyne looked uneasily at the bags of gifts—-would her handmade bracelets be nice enough for everyone? Pru and Lizette meandered over to place their presents under the Christmas tree while Ellowyne ladled sparkly red punch into glasses.

Just as Ello took her first sip of punch, the doorbell rang again. Suddenly her throat felt dry as she realized that the guest at the door was either Rufus or Amber, and she gulped down the rest of her glass of punch. With a sense of relief, Ellowyne opened the door to Rufus, who was also laden with gifts. At least he didn’t make her nervous the way hypercritical Amber did, Ello thought to herself. Or did he? As they chatted, Ellowyne noticed her pulse quickening and an odd feeling of jitteriness that she’d never before felt around Rufus. Of course he looked nice —he had gotten a new haircut and was wearing a suit and tie instead of his favorite distressed jeans—-no wait—he wore the jeans instead of suit pants. But there was something else, something different about her old friend that particular evening. What was it?

The two became immersed in conversation and neither Ellowyne nor Rufus noticed Lizette and Prudence whispering and giggling as they hung a sprig of green on a hook in the corner of the frame of the door leading to the parlor.

“Maybe tonight someone will get a Christmas miracle,” Pru murmured.

Lizette shrugged. “He’s been crushing on her since, what, middle school? And he’s never made a move?”

“One of these days, she’s either going to break his heart and get involved with some other guy or he’ll give up and move on. And then her heart will be broken—if she even notices he’s gone.”

The party progressed uneventfully for the next ten or fifteen minutes as Ello and her guests munched on cookies, sipped punch, and admired the beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Rufus turned his attention away from the shortbread and gingersnaps when he spied the mistletoe, and he gently nudged Ellowyne in that direction, hoping beyond hope for just one brief, sweet Christmas kiss. Suddenly, the pine-scented peacefulness was shattered by the sight and sound of Amber bursting through the door.

“Well! Let’s get this lame-o party started!” she shouted. Amber flung off her coat, revealing a low-cut pink cocktail dress that most likely belonged to her mother. And then she saw Ellowyne and Rufus and the green leaves and red berries hanging over the heads. Amber shrieked, “MISTLETOE!” and dove into the two with the speed and precision of an NFL linebacker sacking the quarterback.

Rufus would later remark that the resulting chain reaction was something Rube Goldberg himself could not replicate. He staggered backwards while Ellowyne fell into her grandmother’s antique table, knocking over a plate of cookies, much to Sybil’s delight. Rufus, Pru, and Lizette rushed over to help Ellowyne get to her feet but one of them stepped on Sybil’s tail, causing the ferocious feline to yowl, hiss, and leap into the Christmas tree. Ellowyne grabbed Sybil just as the tree started to teeter but in the struggle, she knocked over the punch bowl and soaked all the presents lovingly put underneath the tree. Then, Ello and her friends looked on helplessly as the tree careened into a display case, on top of which sat a piece of pottery made by Ellowyne’s late mother. As Pavarotti warbled O Holy Night, the clay pot crashed to the floor and shattered. Ellowyne looked at the pieces and then began to sob.

“SHUT UP, LUCIANO!” Ellowyne screamed at her phone. Amber timidly crept over the phone and turned off the music.

Rufus tried to help Ellowyne stand up. “I think we can fix this, “he said quietly, looking at the pieces of pottery scattered on the floor.

Unexpectedly, Ellowyne snapped at him. “Stop it, Rufus! You’re always trying to fix everything! You try to fix me, too, and you can’t! No one can!” Rufus was stunned by the outburst and, red-faced and slack-jawed, he quietly retreated into the background near the fallen tree.

However, Rufus was not the only target of Ellowyne’s wrath that night. She glowered at Amber, not that her anger was misplaced. “You! You cause nothing but trouble for me! You’re always so mean and you pretend that you’re better than the rest of us. I don’t know why I even try to be friends with you!”

Amber’s lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with heartfelt tears. She knew what the bowl meant to Ellowyne and, for perhaps the first time in her life, she was genuinely remorseful. “Ellowyne, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t apologize, Amber! You’re a horrible person! I don’t know why I invited you tonight!”

Tears and mascara streaming down her face, Amber meekly sidled over to Rufus, crouched in the midst of Christmas debris.

Lizette spoke up. She wasn’t terribly fond of Amber and thought she could be a pretentious snob, but she truly felt sorry for Amber that night. “Ello, honey, I think you’re being a little tough on Amber…”

“Are you serious, Lizette?” Ellowyne howled. “You’re defending Amber?”

“But, but…oh, never mind,” Lizette sighed as she joined Amber and Rufus who were silently picking up the wreckage.

Prudence’s throat became dry and her stomach, filled with cookies, candy, and punch, began to churn. It was up to her to salvage everyone’s fragile feelings and the rest of the Christmas party. “Look, Ello, you worked so hard on this party and we all had fun. This was a great idea and I think it helped shake you out of your ennui for a little while.”

Ellowyne glared at her with the fierceness of an enraged bull. “I cannot believe you said that, Pru. I thought you were my best friend and now this? You know that I can’t control my ennui! It’s not like I can turn it on or off. I try! I really do! But you don’t get it! You think it’s a choice and it isn’t! If you don’t understand me, you are NOT my friend!”

With that, Ellowyne ran, crying hysterically, into the kitchen and grabbed a can of whipped cream. She stormed up the stairs to her room and slammed the door, leaving behind her bewildered friends and her brother, who cautiously poked his head out his bedroom door and silently and quickly withdrew.

Chapter 3: The Wish

Ellowyne’s tears flowed furiously as she plopped down on the fainting couch in her room. Prudence and Lizette texted her several times and even Amber tried to get in touch. Rufus called but gave up when his calls repeatedly went to voice mail. Ellowyne overhead vague shuffling and mumbling noises downstairs, and, eventually, she heard the sound of footsteps walking out the front door. She ran to the window and saw her four friends get into Rufus’ Subaru, Amber seated in the front next to him. “Well, isn’t that special”, she grumbled to herself in the darkness. “I wouldn’t be surprised if those two got together. They don’t need me around. Lizette doesn’t need me, either. I convinced her to stay in San Francisco and she’d be happier back in New Orleans. And Pru—she needs a friend she can do things with. She doesn’t need a ‘best friend’ who’s always so down and tired and depressed.”

Ellowyne then flung herself back onto the couch. She clutched a teddy bear, a gift from her late mother, and cried. “I’m a burden to my friends and to my family. Everyone would be better off without me. I wish I had never been born.”

Ellowyne was startled to hear a thump in her room. She looked for Sybil but found the cat sleeping on the floor. She rubbed her eyes as a petite teenager, only 11-1/2 inches tall, with red hair and freckles clamored to her feet in the corner. Ellowyne screamed. “Who are you? How did you get in here? I’m calling the police!”

Midge shrugged her tiny shoulders and smoothed out her flip. “It won’t do you any good, Ellowyne,” she answered. “No one but you can see or hear me.” To prove her point, Midge walked over to Sybil and called out, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty! Wake up, you silly cat!” Ellowyne’s eyes widened in sheer terror as Midge rubbed Sybil’s ample belly and kissed the cantankerous cat on the nose. To Ellowyne’s shock, Sybil didn’t even stir. “Do you need additional proof?” Midge demanded.


“My name is Midge Hadley. I’m your guardian angel.”

“Excuse me? You’re my WHAT?”

“I’m your guardian angel. I’m here to grant your wish.”

“What wish?”

“To have never been born.”

Ellowyne sat back down on the couch. She closed her eyes and thought for a few moments, and then she spritzed some whipped cream into her mouth. “Want some, Angel Midge?”

“Oh, no thank you.”

Ellowyne stopped eating whipped cream and looked thoughtfully at Midge. “Okay, if you’re an angel…”

“Yes, I know. Where are my wings? I’m an Angel Second Class and I haven’t earned them yet. I’ll get them if I help you, Ellowyne. Otherwise I need to continue to wander through eternity alone and wingless.”

Ellowyne spritzed more whipped cream into her mouth and considered Midge’s words. What would have happened to her family and friends had she never been born? What if this was just a dream? What if this was real? She nodded her head. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Ellowyne felt the blinding, searing presence of a light, followed by a kaliedascope of color and sound that left her feeling faint. She began to sweat profusely as the room grew stuffy and she found it difficult to breathe. Then she felt a cool breeze on her cheek and she realized that she was floating above the Earth, sailing across the skies with Midge. They flew over exotic cities, colorful beaches, luscious rain forests, and barren deserts. Then they were back in San Francisco, in Ellowyne’s grandmother’s Victorian home, and in the very spot that should have been Ellowyne’s own bedroom, which now was storage space for dusty antiques and faded memorabilia.

“That’s it,” Midge smiled. “You have never been born.”

“What about my family and friends? Can I see them?”

“You may see some of them. And others you will see their lives through the lens of technology. Keep in mind that none of them will see you because you simply do not exist.

“And prepare for surprises,” Midge added. “The world may be a very different place without you in it.”

Chapter 4: Family

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

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

“Father? Where’s Father?”

“I’m sorry, dear. He was hospitalized soon after your mother died and he is only allowed home on special occasions. He hasn’t been compliant with his new medications so he has to remain in the institution for the holidays.”
Ellowyne looked uneasily around the house. Although Ellowyne hadn’t noticed the condition of the outside, the inside was in a state of disrepair, with cracked ceilings, peeled wallpaper, and drafty windows. Ellowyne reflected on the gorgeous décor, the antiques, and the pristine condition of the house as she remembered it. And then, struck with concern, she asked, “What about Freddy?”

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

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

San Quentin State Penitentiary

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

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

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

Chapter 5: Prudence and Sybil

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

Midge’s blue eyes widened and she gasped. Ellowyne, who heard Midge, gawked in disbelief. Prudence, who had always been known for her eclectic style, looked even—funkier—than when Ellowyne knew her. Ello and Midge then heard someone shout,

“Hey, weirdo!” as Pru was shoved into her locker. Ello was shocked. Several of the teenagers in the hallway made fun of Prudence while others stood by and laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

Ellowyne took the computer and quickly found one of the most popular humor sites on the Internet. Together, she and Midge looked through the pictures until Midge finally found the meme she wanted Ello to see. “Does this look like anyone you know?”
Ellowyne’s eyes widened because she recognized Sybil! She read the caption:

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

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

In a blink, Ello and Midge were transported to 2017, the height of the Psycho Kitty craze. Midge made Ellowyne get online because she had no conception of personal computers. Every website seemed to have a Psycho Kitty meme. Psycho Kitty appeared on political sites, social media, and YouTube. Her face appeared on Psycho Kitty T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, and refrigerator magnets. Children and adult collectors clamored for Psycho Kitty beanbag toys. Psycho Kitty appeared on talk shows, in cat food commercials, and even her own Christmas special. Midge then drew Ello’s attention to an article posted on a news site. The headline read: “Psycho Kitty’s Psycho Owner Won’t Allow Cat to Appear for Charity”.

Puzzled, Ellowyne continued to read the article, which included several accounts of Prudence refusing to allow Sybil to appear at fundraising events for animal shelters. Ellowyne scowled; that doesn’t sound like the Prudence she knew. Why, Pru volunteered at shelters and often tried to convince her friends to adopt just one more cat or dog.

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

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

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

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

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

That was indeed something Ellowyne could easily believe.