Prologue: March 14, 2020

Everyone was in a festive mood as they celebrated Rufus’ birthday. Prudence, Lizette, Amber, Ellowyne, and Penn took Rufus to Leon’s, his favorite gastropub. They plied him with nachos, poutine, wings, shots of whiskey and Belgian beer. Leon’s staff even served a birthday cake, complete with candles!

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

“Nope. Not telling,” Rufus answered, glancing at Ellowyne. “Otherwise it won’t come true.”

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

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

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

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

“Here’s mine,” Amber said as she handed him a large box that rattled.

Rufus tore open the gift wrap and exclaimed, “No way! You got me the LEGO Batcave?!? That’s been sold out for ages. Wow! Thanks, Amber! But this is too much. You didn’t have to do this.”

“Oh, hush. You’re such a good friend and put up with me,” Amber replied. “Plus you helped me ace my law school entrance exam.”

Ellowyne was surprised to hear that Rufus coached Amber for her LSAT. She knew that the two enjoyed arguing with each other, so maybe that’s what Amber meant. Still, Ellowyne was uneasy, not only because of the close friendship Amber and Rufus shared, but also because she feared her gift wasn’t as cool or exciting as what the others had given him. “It’s a Mars globe. It reminds me of  the snow globe, the first present you gave me, only it’s red dust instead of snow”, she said.

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

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

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

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

A sixty-something woman was sitting with her husband close to the table where the birthday bash was. She applied some red lipstick and kissed Rufus on the lips, too. Then, Penn spotted three student nurses from his school. “Judy, Beth, Nancy! Come celebrate my best bro’s birthday!” They toasted Rufus with their  drinks, and kissed him as well. Three pretty servers watched the display, put down their trays and kissed him, too. 

Then Penn stood up, downed a shot, and said, “Oh, what the hell!?!” He kissed Rufus on the mouth, which made everyone in that section of Leon’s roar with laughter. When the jocularity died down, Penn led all of them in singing Happy Birthday to Rufus.

Prudence clinked her spoon against her glass. “Speech, speech! Give us a speech, Birthday Boy!”

Rufus smiled and stood to talk. “I appreciate all of you more than you can imagine. I am so lucky to have you as friends. Thank you for making my birthday so special. And here’s to you. All of you.” He toasted them with a shot, sat down, and then said, “You know we’re all going to feel miserable tomorrow.”

He had no idea that something miserable that would change all of their lives was just around the corner. 

To be continued…

Ennui in the Age of COVID-19

This story deals with life during the pandemic, looking at some of the very sad consequences that too many people suffered. Someone burns out. Someone thrives. Someone falls in love. Someone discovers a hidden talent. And someone dies. Because of the mature subject matter, language, and adult situations, the rating is T. 

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.

“WHO ARE YOU?”

“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.

Chapter 6: Amber

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

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


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


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


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

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

Suddenly Ellowyne and Midge found themselves outside the theater in Briermier Academy in the spring of 2016. A sign had been posted on the door: Play Tryouts Today. Prudence slouched over, read the sign, scowled, and walked away. Lizette then wandered over, yawned, shook her head as she read the sign, and also walked away. And finally Amber came to the door. Wait a minute—-was that really Amber?
Demurely dressed, with short hair and minimal makeup, Amber walked slowly but confidently into the room. On the stage sat the director and Rufus, who had already been cast as the male lead. Rufus looked skeptically at her, then shrugged his shoulders and whispered something to the director.

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


“Amber Stanhope,” she replied.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 7: Lizette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Popular people are popular for a reason.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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