Going, Going, Gone!

Rating K+ for some language and a hint of an adult relationship. It is based on the Ellowyne canon.

The atmosphere in the small lecture hall crackled with anticipation at the 20th Annual Bachelor Auction, a benefit for the Paws ‘N Claws animal shelter. Attached to the main shelter building was a small theater used for lectures, documentaries, and fundraising. Neema was the first to arrive and saved half a row of seats near the front for her friends. She played on her phone until Prudence and Lizette arrived. Ellowyne was the next to come, and Amber traipsed into the theater last. When she saw all her friends, she bellowed out her favorite greeting. 

“Heifers!” she shouted. The women were delighted and they giggled and mooed. Neema seemed a little reticent to join the response but she went along with it. 

“We must seem like a strange bunch,” Prudence whispered to her. “But trust me, you will never meet a more supportive, caring, and affirming group of friends. I’ve known Ellowyne and Rufus since middle school, and we met Amber and Lizette in high school. We got to know Penn in college. He’s a couple of years older than we are. He served in the Army in Afghanistan and now he’s a Registered Nurse in the ER.” 

Neema inquired, “He sounds interesting. I haven’t had the chance to get to know him yet. By the way, where ARE the guys?”

Just then, Rufus bounded down from backstage. “Hey, Neema! Glad you could join us! I was giving Penn some encouragement before the auction. He thinks he’ll get a higher final bid than I did last year. We’ll see about that!”

“Are you up for auction, Rufus?” she asked. 

“Not this year,” he answered, smiling at Ellowyne. “The guys to be auctioned are supposed to be eligible bachelors, and I’m not single anymore.”

“And we’re going to keep it that way,” Ellowyne said. Neema noticed that Ellowyne was positively glowing when she gazed at Rufus and gave him a kiss on his cheek. 

Amber piped up. “Rufus has been up twice. The first time he was auctioned, I won. He took me to the Cartoon Art Museum, and we ate at In-N-Out.”

Rufus pretended to take umbrage with her comment. “Hey! You enjoyed the Wonder Woman and Supergirl exhibits AND you stole most of my animal-style fries.”

“Truth be told, ladies,” Amber explained. “I had a pleasant afternoon with one of the most eligible bachelor volunteers at Paws ‘N Claws. I bid against three other women—I’m sure you can guess who they were. The date was certainly worth $900.”

Neema noticed Ellowyne rolling her eyes. Was there some sort of history between Amber and Rufus?

Ellowyne remarked, “Last year, shortly before Rufus and I started dating, we all pooled our resources to make a big fat bid for him that would surely win.”

“We had serious competition for him,” Prudence added. “I think there were a couple of aggressive society matrons who wanted him to be their toy boy. Or is it a boy toy?”

“We paid $350 each for the four of us. It was for a great cause,” Lizette added.

Rufus said dramatically, “They say that every man has his price. Mine was $1400. I feel so cheap!” Then he grinned slyly. “But I got to take four gorgeous, amazing women on a date! And I got a goodnight kiss from each one!”

“He took us all to the Wharf and then to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience,” Prudence said. “It’s a great place for a date!”

Lizette asked her friends, “Should we pool our resources again in an attempt to win Penn?”

“Well, I’m not bidding,” Rufus said. “He might be my best friend, but I hang out with him whenever I want. Might watch sports or to a pub for bar food and craft beer. Usually he ‘forgets’ his wallet and I get stuck paying.”

The women laughed. However, no one answered Neema’s question about pooling their money to bid on Penn.

Just then, the lights in the theater dimmed and the women—except for Ellowyne—made sure they had their numbered bid cards ready. The audience, whose enthusiasm was already palpable, was shaken and stirred into an alcohol-free frenzy.  The first handsome gentleman titillated the crowd. He was a chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant, and his name was Freddy Wilde. Neema asked Ellowyne, “Any relation?” Ellowyne shook her head. Prudence placed a bid but someone outbid her, and Freddy went for an even $1000.

The next several bachelors were equally attractive. One was a fireman who wore tactical pants, a tight t-shirt, his hat, and a smile. He went for $1200. Another was a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer who wore his form-fitting uniform. He bore a striking resemblance to a young Erik Estrada, so much that his colleagues and even the emcee called him Ponch. The bidding for him was intense. The winning bidder was a woman of a certain age with a spiked, tiger-striped bob haircut and a bad spray tan. Amber bid $900 but was outbid., and Ponch went for $1500. Amber quipped that the woman probably watched CHiPs when it first aired in the 1970s. Then she said, “Maybe I’ll have to speed more often. I wouldn’t mind getting a ticket from him.” She paused. “I would have bid higher but I’m saving my money for Penn.”

Just then, Penn walked onto the stage. Dressed in spandex-blend scrubs that perfectly matched his dark blue eyes and a stethoscope around his neck, he exuded sex appeal and confidence. The emcee introduced him by asking, “Who would like to play doctor with this nurse?” The audience roared. 

Neema put in a $400 bid for Penn, and was promptly bested by the cougar who won Ponch. Amber made a bid of $600. At that point, Neema decided to let Amber and the other woman duke it out in a bidding war. She was a fierce, aggressive sniper on eBay and planned to hold off bidding until the very end. Eventually the sugar mama who won Ponch gave up. But just when Amber was congratulating herself on winning a date with Penn, Neema struck. 

The next few minutes were like a ping pong game. Amber put in a bid for $1000, and Neema bid $1100. Amber bid $1200 but Neema countered to $1300. The two women grappled with each other, increasing their bids by $100 each until Amber offered $2200 and Neema $2300. Amber usually got what she wanted and it was hard for her to give up graciously. Still, she knew that Neema had deep pockets and would continue to outbid her. The auctioneer looked first at Neema and then at Amber and said, “Going once, going twice, gone to Number 86!” And the frenzy was over.

Prudence, Lizette, and a rather glum Amber started bidding on some other bachelors. Prudence had the winning bid for a cute Reiki practitioner, and Lizette won a date with a nerdy marine biologist. Amber bid half-heartly on a guy who designed video games. He was cute enough, kind of geeky, and totally not her type. Maybe he’d  take her to the Cartoon Art Museum. Two years ago, she enjoyed her date there with Rufus, from Wonder Woman to animal fries. But they were friends, nothing more, nothing less. This date was going to be abysmal.

At the end of the auction, the eligible bachelors went over to their respective highest bidders. Ellowyne noticed that the sugar mama won two dates, one with Ponch and another with a handsome paramedic. She whispered to Rufus that the cougar might have one crazy evening in mind, and he chuckled. Then he spied Amber looking glum and disinterested when her date started talking video games. Amber caught Rufus’ eye and mouthed the words “Help me!” so he moseyed over to Amber and her date and began asking about the merits and drawbacks of different gaming platforms. 

Ellowyne then spotted Neema with Penn. He was a garrulous guy and had little trouble engaging with people he didn’t know, but Neema seemed uncomfortable and didn’t have much to say to him. Ellowyne told Penn about what turned into a great gaming debate, and, once he heard someone talk about Nintendo Switch, he excused himself to join the other guys.

“Neema, what’s wrong?” Ellowyne asked. 

Neema sniffled and a tear crept out of her eye. “I guess I did something wrong by bidding so high on Penn. I know last year you all got together to bid for Rufus, and I asked if we were doing that for Penn. But no one said a word.” She pulled a tissue out of her purse and blew her nose. “I guess I shouldn’t have outbid Amber. I don’t know if there’s something going on between her and Penn, but I guess there is and I blundered where I shouldn’t have. I just thought it would be a great way to help the shelter and a nice way to get to know Penn since he is in our group of friends.”

Ellowyne thought for a moment if she should tell Neema about Penn’s dating habits. When he first joined the group, he hit on each one of the women. First, he tried to date Ellowyne, but he backed off when he found out how Rufus had been in love with her since middle school. Penn dated Prudence for a little while. They bonded over a mutual love of sports but eventually decided to be friends. Then he dated Lizette. She was so shy and didn’t date very much, and it took some time for her to open up to him. But eventually they decided to be friends as well. And then there was Amber. Sometimes they would go out several times a month but then they ratcheted it down to hanging out just a couple of times. Ellowyne also heard from their friends that Amber and Penn had a friends-with-benefits relationship. One time she asked Rufus to find out from Penn if he and Amber were more than “just friends”. Rufus refused to do that, saying that gentlemen never tell and the best friends of such men would never, ever break a confidence. She decided against telling Neema anything about Penn’s dating history. Ellowyne knew Neema would find out eventually.

“Oh, Honey,” Ellowyne said, as she gave Neema a big hug. “It’s okay. You didn’t know that we all were going to chip in for Penn. I guess we just assumed that we’d do the same thing this time. And Amber, well, she knows she thinks she’s entitled. None of us could stand her until we found out she had participated in children’s pageants. So she can be very competitive, especially for male attention. But you didn’t know that. She’ll be okay. Just give her some time.”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Amber startled Ellowyne and Neema when she joined their conversation. “Ellowyne is right. I’m the entitled only child of wealthy parents. They got me involved in pageants, and I learned I didn’t like losing. Sometimes I’m a bitch. Ellowyne and our other friends keep me grounded. I am sorry for being less than gracious. I hope you have a wonderful time with Penn!”

Lisette furrowed her eyebrows as she was deep in thought. Finally she said, “I have an idea that will make all of us happy. Penn, you keep your date with Neema. And Neema, don’t beat yourself up over this. Have a wonderful time, talking and maybe doing something that will be enjoyable for both of you. Now, Amber, you bid a lot on Penn…”

Rufus interrupted Lizette. “Too much money, in my opinion. You know that he’s never going to let us—to let me—hear the end of it.” And everyone laughed.

Lizette gave Rufus the side eye and continued. “Anyway, Neema, one of us should have told you that we like to pool our money. We had so much fun last year when Rufus took us out, and we kind of figured we’d do the same. But we never let you know. So, I think we should pool our resources and, instead of money, donate  enough volunteer hours so we can “earn” a date with Penn.”

“So you’re suggesting we put in some sweat equity,” Prudence said. “We donate enough hours that would be the equivalent of $2200, which would have been Amber’s bid.”

“That’s a great idea,” Ellowyne squealed. “Rufus and I have helped with pet adoption days and it’s always been enjoyable. We could do that again!”

Neema said effusively, “That does sound like fun. Maybe I need to adopt a cat or dog.”

Prudence whispered to Ellowyne, “Just don’t tell her about Sybil. Your cat needs an exorcism.” 

Amber stated, “So if we’re going to pool our volunteer hours to get to $2200, the three of us would be—yikes—about $700 each.”

Ellowyne and Rufus whispered something to each other, then Ellowyne commented that she and Rufus would be glad to pitch in for Penn as well. “That would decrease the amount owed to $440 each,” Rufus chuckled and quipped, “I can’t believe I’m putting in hours at the shelter to pay to go out with this douche. Don’t forget your wallet this time!”

“This sounds like a lot of fun,” Neema remarked. “Could I possibly get in on this group date? I’ll gladly do whatever is needed at the shelter.”

“What the heck,” Penn said. “I might as well do some volunteer work, too. I mean, I’m the record holder for the most high-priced bachelor in Paws ‘N Claws history, so maybe I can charm people into adopting dogs and cats.” 

Amber noted that, with all seven friends donating time to the shelter, each person would put in the equivalent of $314 for the group date with Penn. “And remember,” she said, smiling at Neema. “It’s all for a good cause!”

Love During Lockdown 2

It wasn’t long before Lizette and Lawrence were FaceTiming or having text dates pretty much every evening. They talked about birds, of course, but also how they ended up in San Francisco. They discussed what they thought about San Francisco as well as his childhood in Pennsylvania and hers in NOLA. They shared wishes and dreams and, despite the pandemic, found themselves growing fonder of each other with every passing day. 

The next time they were scheduled to work together, Lawrence came up with an idea. “I know fast food isn’t exactly elegant, but maybe we could get something to eat. We could eat on a picnic table or even in my car.” 

Lizette was excited to get together with Lawrence. Even though they could only take off their masks to eat, it still promised to be an enjoyable first real date. After work, they got into his car and went to his favorite drive-through, In-N-Out. The line was shorter than usual, since most people were staying at home. They feasted on burgers, shakes, and animal-style fries. And when they finished eating, neither of them donned their face masks immediately, and Lawrence gently kissed Lizette. It was a sweet, tender kiss, and it made her feel special.

Eventually Lawrence and Lizette started seeing each other outside the shelter. They would still go to a drive-through to get food. They dined on burgers or tacos or chicken nuggets and sandwiches. The first time they went to a fast food outlet that specialized in chicken, Lizette looked up from her lunch and asked, “You and I love birds so much. Should we really be eating them?”

Lawrence spewed his lemonade, nearly dousing Lizette. “I never thought about that. Then again, chickens aren’t just any birds. They’re tasty birds! When I was growing up, I loved going to the state fair. I used to talk to the chickens, remind them that they were delicious, and inform them of their prehistoric ancestors.”

Lizette dissolved into laughter. “I just imagine you going to a state fair and calling all the chickens yummy dinosaurs.”

“Don’t forget the ducks and geese,” Lawrence said. “They’re delectable dinosaurs, too.”

They giggled and guffawed and howled and hooted until their sides ached and tears trickled down their faces. 

After that, they would see each other as often as possible. Sometimes they watched birds at Buena Vista Park or Lake Merced. If they got together in the evening, they would sprawl out on Lizette’s parents’ yard or on the roof so they could look at the stars. Lawrence pointed out various constellations such as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, and he said that his late father would take him and his brother outside to gaze at the stars. He promised that, as soon as the COVID restrictions had eased, he would take her to the planetarium. 

Lizette promised to introduce Lawrence to her friends. “We have a couple of coffee houses that we like. Brewed Awakenings, Deja Brew, and Underground Coffee. Great coffee, all of them, and amazing sweets. Cinnamon rolls, muffins, cookies, and scones.” She sighed. “I wish this was normal times and that we could all get together. You would really like my friends.”

“I think I will. They sound awesome. I’m sure they miss you as much as you miss them.” Lawrence paused a moment to gather his thoughts. “Even though it would just be the two of us, we could go to any of these shops and get drive-through.”

“That’s a great idea! Maybe we could stop before we go to the sanctuary,” Lizette suggested.

In a short time, Lizette went from being bored to being almost too busy. She finished her coursework online and ahead of schedule. She had her work at the sanctuary and even volunteered for more hours, especially if Lawrence was going to be there, too. Her free time was spent talking to him, texting him, going to drive-throughs with him, and hanging out in safe environments with him. In fact, she had been so busy that she didn’t have a chance to chat with her beloved friends and didn’t tell them about Lawrence yet. 

To be continued…

A Work in Progress 2

“Ugh! Are we out of toilet paper again? Marisol, have you been shopping recently? I mean, we, of all people shouldn’t have to deal with silly shortages!”

Marisol cringed when she heard Amber hollering. She enjoyed working for Mr. and Mrs. Stanhopes but dealing with Amber was another matter altogether. “Yes, Señorita! Please give me your list and then I will go.”

“Hmmm,” Amber said. “I’ve been craving your clam linguine, so you’ll need to go to the seafood market. Oh, since you’re going there, you can pick up the ingredients for cioppino. Remember that I love extra crab and great big shrimp. Back to the linguine, could you make the pasta from scratch? Do you need semolina flour? And hard flour for sourdough bread? A bread salad sounds so refreshing.”

Marisol rolled her eyes as she hastily wrote down Amber’s demands. The girl would never write out a list, even if she promised. She had no concept of how much time and effort Marisol put into everything she did to please her. But her parents, while wealthy, treated her with appreciation and respect and made no outrageous demands. Amber was getting better, however. She put effort into her friendships with the other girls and the two boys in her social circle. And she was starting to be cognizant of a world outside the mansion gates. So perhaps Amber would eventually learn to treat Marisol kindly.

Disrupting Marisol’s train of thought, Amber bellowed, “Don’t forget the toilet paper! I need the extra soft kind. Four-ply. Ultra-soft, deluxe, extra plush. But not the kind with those obnoxious bears in the commercials. I’d use cheap toilet paper over that!”

“I won’t forget, Señorita! I’ll leave in a few minutes so if there is anything else you want, please let me know.”

“Tamales! Your tamales are so good. And mole. I don’t care what meat you get but I would love to have some of your delicious Mexican food.”

Marisol added masa to her list, along with pork, chicken, some spices, and Mexican chocolate. At least Amber did acknowledge that she liked Marisol’s cooking. Still, Marisol plotted a little passive aggressive revenge because she always got the toilet paper with bears in their commercials and put them, without packages, in all of the bathrooms.  

To be continued…

Love and Loss 2

Ellowyne continued to stay at Rufus’ home after their quarantine expired. They decided she would stay there until his parents returned from their trip to Italy. In time, they settled into a daily routine. When they woke up in the morning, they canoodled, showered, and had breakfast. Then they worked on classwork on their computers, sometimes attending Zoom meetings or participating in online discussion groups. They would break for lunch, then go back to work. Usually, Rufus worked through the afternoon and Ellowyne made use of her box of fabrics by sewing masks to sell online. When finished, they made food and watched videos. Sometimes they played Exploding Kittens or Tacocat.Other times they played chess.  And when they went to bed, they made love and spooned the entire night. 

In their time together, they learned so much about each other. Ellowyne marveled at Rufus’ elaborate LEGO structures, drones, small robots, and Rube Goldberg devices. Her favorite Rube Goldberg machine picked up and shook the Mars globe she gave him for his birthday. (It was his favorite, too.) One of the Rufus’ idiosyncrasies was the way he listened to different music when he was studying. If he was working on math or statistics, he played Led Zeppelin. If he was doing his mechanical engineering course, he listened to Aerosmith. And if he was working on his humanities elective, he played Pink Floyd or Fleetwood Mac.

Rufus also learned more about Ellowyne. Gone was the sad, anxious girl who was perpetually in the throes of an existential crisis. Rufus thought back to the days when they were in middle school, when he first noticed how unhappy she seemed but how she wore creative clothing. That girl grew up. In a relatively short period of time, Ellowyne shed her chrysalis and emerged a confident, self-actualized woman. Rufus was glad that she still created and wore wearable art, since that was one of the things that initially attracted him all those years ago.

One afternoon, Dr. Bantam called Ellowyne to figure out a way to continue her therapy in spite of the pandemic. Immediately, she noticed how Ellowyne sounded so different. There was a cheerfulness, a buoyancy in her speech,  something Dr. Bantam had never heard from her in the past. Dr. Bantam asked Ellowyne what had changed in her life to make her so happy. 

Ellowyne asked, “Do you remember how I was so unsure about Rufus and what he wanted from me? And you encouraged me to consider him as more than just a friend? Things happened. I realized what a wonderful man he is and I figured out that I was attracted to him. We are now in a serious relationship. I love him and he loves me. We got quarantined together and I’m living with him until his parents get back from Italy.”

Gobsmacked but happy for Ellowyne, Dr. Bantam encouraged her to stay in touch and call her if she needs an appointment or just to talk.

One morning, Ellowyne was in the living room, checking Facebook before her class started. She knew Rufus was working on stats because she could hear Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog coming from his room. The doorbell rang, so Ellowyne, dressed in Rufus’ pajama top and her sweatpants, answered after she out on one of the masks she was wearing. At the door stood a man and a woman, both in masks and business suits, asking for Mr. Rutter. 

“Honey, there are some people who want to talk with you,” she called out. 

“I’ll be right there,” he answered. He was wearing his pajama pants and pulled on a t-shirt and mask before he got to the front door. He furrowed his brows when he saw the visitors, who looked very serious and were carrying several cardboard boxes. What on earth could they want?

The woman asked for Mr. Rutter but Rufus said, “I’m sorry. My father isn’t here. He and my mother went to Italy for an extended vacation.”

“No, no. Sir. We’re from the State Department, and we’re here to see you,” the man said. He and the woman showed their identification badges to Rufus. “We’re sorry, but we’re here to inform you of the passing of both of your parents.”

Rufus looked incredulous and shook his head. “I don’t believe it. My parents were fine when they left.”

The woman said, “They died of coronavirus in Italy.” She handed him two boxes, both of which were marked “cremains”.

“Yeah, right,” Rufus responded. “This sounds like a prank my best friend would do. Penn set you up to do this, didn’t he?”

Ellowyne came up beside Rufus and put her arm around his shoulder. “Honey, I don’t think Penn would do this.”

“Nope. No way. These ashes might have come from somebody’s charcoal grill. Or from burned papers. My parents are fine. And if they died, why wouldn’t the corpses have been sent?”

“Sir, there is too much risk shipping a corpse to any location in the US,” the woman stated. “We don’t know if handling the remains of someone who died of COVID-19 can expose someone to the disease. So they are all cremated when they pass.”

The man gave Rufus a box that contained his parents’ valuables.  He said, “You will find your parents’ jewelry and watches, along with their other personal items in here.”

After they left, Rufus tossed the boxes onto the couch. “Penn sure outdid himself. A box with my parents’ valuables. Yeah, right. He put a lot of effort into this prank.”

Rufus sent a text message to Penn. “Great gag! You must have had this planned for weeks! A little late for April Fools’ Day but it’s still funny!”

Penn, who had a rare opportunity to take a quick break, texted back. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“You set up those people, allegedly from the State Department, to tell me my parents died in Italy.”

A few minutes later, Penn responded, “I’m sorry. I didn’t have anything to do with this. But I don’t think it’s a prank.”

Dumbfounded, Rufus put his phone in his pocket. He asked Ellowyne, “Can you believe it? Penn says he knows nothing of this prank. In fact, he doesn’t think it was a prank at all!” He noticed Ellowyne’s somber expression. “You don’t think it’s true, do you?”

Ellowyne didn’t answer him right away. She reached over to touch his cheek. “I hope it’s not true. But I’m here for you whatever happens.

The rest of the day was marked by verbal silence. Rufus was blasting Led Zeppelin so he had to be working on statistics. Later he listened to Aerosmith, so Ellowyne knew he was working on some of his engineering projects. But then, the music stopped. Ellowyne quit sewing masks when Rufus emerged from his room. She asked tentatively, “How are you feeling? Did you get a lot done?”

He answered, “Eh, I got some stuff done but I guess my heart wasn’t in it. What do you think? Are my parents really gone?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you should open the box with your parents’ valuables. You know, to see if it really is their stuff.”

“No. It’s just a ruse. I’m not going to fall for that nonsense. If Penn didn’t do it, somebody did. Maybe one of my classmates. You know how crazy engineers get.”   

Then he deftly changed the subject. “Hey, what would you like for supper tonight? I’m in the mood for Thai.”

Eating was the last thing on Ellowyne’s mind. She remembered how she felt when her mother died when her car was struck by a drunk driver. Ellowyne was only five years old when she lost her mother. For the longest time, she didn’t understand where her mother was or why she wasn’t coming back. From her perspective, death was temporary and reversible. She also thought she could wish her mother back home. At every dusk, she would wait to see the first star so she could make a wish that her mother would return. Alas, all the wishing in the world could not bring Ellowyne’s mother back, and eventually she realized that her mother was really dead. So, although the circumstances were different, she understood Rufus’ shock and denial. She would support him in any way possible. And right now, he needed food.

“Sure,” she said. “I’m not terribly hungry but I would like some Thai fried rice with shrimp and pineapple. Are you getting drunken noodles?”

“Nope! I’m going to have some Crying Tiger.” 

Usually, Ellowyne teased Rufus about the hot, spicy food, which usually made him laugh. She tried to muster up some enthusiasm and hoped he wouldn’t notice how hard she was trying to be normal. “OMG! That stuff’s so spicy it could make a tiger cry! Dried Thai peppers on dried Thai peppers on dried Thai peppers, and a little bit of steak you can drown in the sauce. But I’m not sure if I want to kiss you after you eat. And if you wake up with indigestion in the middle of the night, don’t blame me!”

Rufus grinned and phoned in an order for delivery. He seemed to forget about the visit from the State Department. Ellowyne vowed to be patient with him and not push him to open the boxes.

As they ate, Rufus exclaimed, “I know what happened! It’s a mistake. They misidentified the remains and my parents are fine.” He continued to ignore the boxes, especially the one marked valuables. He decided to watch the blu-ray of some superhero movies. “Michael Keaton was the best Batman. And Jack Nicholson as the Joker is inspired.”

After the first movie, Rufus wanted to watch another. Ellowyne agreed that the movie was good, especially the scenes of the Joker running rampant in an art museum, all set to a soundtrack by Prince. She made popcorn, hot and dripping with butter, and they cuddled together under a soft blanket. Without mentioning the boxes, Ellowyne got ready for bed, as did Rufus, and they spooned most of the night.

In the middle of the night, Ellowyne awoke to an empty bed. She threw on a robe and a pair of slippers and headed toward the living room. There she found Rufus with the contents of the box marked “Valuables” spread out on the coffee table. He had opened their wallets and passports. There was no way someone could fake those documents. He picked up his father’s watch, then his camera. And then he picked up his mother’s engagement and wedding rings. They were family heirlooms, meant to passed from one generation to the next. He remembered something his mother had said,” When you find a woman to marry, I will give these to you. I hope you end up with Ellowyne. I know how much you love her.”

He tried to choke back his tears, but they defied him. By that time, Ellowyne came over to the couch and sat with him. “It isn’t a prank or a mistake. My parents are gone,”he said as he collapsed into Ellowyne’s arms and sobbed. She held him, rubbed his shoulders, and stroked his hair.  

To Be Continued…

A Work in Progress: Amber

“Ugh. It’s too early to get out of bed,” Amber proclaimed. She yawned and stretched and was about to hit the snooze button but Prudence had invited her and Lizette to a Monday morning FaceTime meeting to take the place of their usual routine at their favorite coffee shop. She had to make sure to shower, wash her hair, and put on full-face makeup. Couldn’t let her friends see her looking less than perfect! 

By the time she finished, it was time for the cyber meeting. Pru and Lizette were already online. Pru was eating yogurt topped with granola and sipping green tea, and Lizette had a blueberry muffin and a steaming cup of coffee. “Ladies! Good morning,” Prudence said brightly. 

“Oops! Give me a minute. Marisol wants to know what I’d like for breakfast,” Amber said. A few seconds later, she stated, “I’m having strawberry crepes with homemade whipped cream. And of course some of my favorite coffee.” That particular coffee was made from freshly ground kopi luwak and had a sweet hint of chocolate and caramel. 

Lizette giggled and asked, “Are you drinking that weasel poop coffee again?” 

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

Prudence shrugged. “I told Penn to call if he can. He starts his orientation at the ER tomorrow, so he might be too busy to join us. I talked with Ellowyne late last night, so she’s probably still sleeping. And Rufus is probably preoccupied.”

“With what? There’s something you’re not telling us,” Lizette said. 

“Okay. But you have to promise not to say anything to Ellowyne or Rufus. They made out last night. Either he’s getting out of the friend zone or they’re going to have an interesting friends with benefits thing,” Pru said. 

Amber gleefully said, “Wooooohooo! Atta boy, Rufus!” 

Prudence went on. “The weird thing is that Ellowyne seems happy! No complaining, no fatigue, and no ennui!”

Amber and Lizette were gobsmacked. Nothing ever seemed to ameliorate Ellowyne’s ennui. Shopping, dining out, going to gardens or the wharf or the zoo—none of it changed her mood. But a good snog with Rufus did what nothing else could do.

The three girls talked and laughed for almost an hour. “Oops, hang on again, ladies. Marisol is going to the grocery store to pick up food and other essential supplies, and she wants to know if there’s anything I might like. Some Ghirardelli chocolate, a couple of pints of ice cream, some strong bread flour, too. Oh, and I’d love to have croissants this week so please get some of that Irish butter and some chocolate to nestle in them.” 

Lizette and Prudence exchanged glances and tried not to burst out laughing. Over the years, Amber had morphed from a rich snob to a much nicer and down-to-earth friend. She was no longer inappropriate with the guys and she stopped trying to compete with the other girls in terms of appearance and dress. Still, Amber had a big personality and she wasn’t always aware that her life was one of tremendous privilege. 

Amber was also as lazy as a housecat. After she and her friends were done conversing, she went out to the pool to read magazines and get a little sun. She read Vogue and Cosmopolitan and, when she was done, she perused the internet for clothes, makeup, and jewelry. Then she decided to take a nice catnap. 

Her slumber was interrupted by a call from Penn. He excitedly told her about starting orientation in the ER and how he was going to practice real nursing. Sometimes he told her stories about being in the Army, and they often vented to each other when school seemed intolerable. He was an admirable soul, kind and smart. He also was pretty easy on the eyes. Nobody in their group of friends knew that Amber and Penn sometimes went out together. Were they dating? Just friends hanging out? Friends with benefits? Amber didn’t know—and didn’t care. What she had with Penn was special, even more so since it was a secret. 

Speaking with Penn put Amber in a pensive mood. She put away the magazines and decided to catch up on reading for some of her classes. She hoped this whole coronavirus thing would be short-lived and things could return to normal. 

To be continued…

The Queen of Second Chances

This story is rated K which makes it appropriate for all ages. It is firmly based on the official canon.

Oooooh! There’s a new character in Ellowyne’s world! Her name is Neema, which means “Born in prosperity” in Swahili. But who is she and how did she get into Ellowyne’s world? Well, there are actually two origin stories for Neema from the Virtual Doll Convention website. One was told with the release of the first new Ellowynes back in 2021. The story for Petal Pusher has Ellowyne getting ready to meet Rufus’ new friend Neema. Interestingly enough, that one is rather similar to the origin story for Lizette, with Rufus meeting her and introducing her to Ellowyne. Neema is an accomplished artist. Anyway, this version had Rufus telling Ellowyne he wanted them to dress for dinner. Hmmm. That sounds to me as if Mr. Rutter’s love for Ms. Wilde is no longer unrequited. (YAY!!) At any rate, Ellowyne gets along well with Neema and even says that Neema is a delight. 

In the other story, which can be read on the VDC website https://www.virtualdollconvention.com/ellowyneandneedma, Prudence meets Neema in an art class. She thinks Neema and Ellowyne could become friends, so she plans to introduce them. Unfortunately, Ellowyne’s thoughts were a bit scattered that day and, not only was she late getting to Dr. Bantam’s office, she was also tardy getting to the café for lunch. In Ellowyne’s own words, she says that although she apologized, the lunch went “downhill from there”. Even worse, Ellowyne ran into Neema at a charity function, and discovered that they were wearing the very same dress! Ellowyne was embarrassed and went into a tailspin, crying and running out of the event. Rufus told her that Neema was going to say something about how they both had great taste. It didn’t help that Rufus said Neema looked beautiful. (Not cool, dude!)

I’m inclined to accept and build upon the second origin story. However, there are a couple of things I would like to change. It’s part of the Ellowyne multiverse, so both of these endings are within the realm of possibilities. My first ending takes place at the charity event, when Ellowyne sees Neema in the very same dress:

Ellowyne saw Neema and her eyes sparkled. Neema smiled broadly and said, “You have great taste! There are only two dresses like this that the amazing artist created. Now, making limited editions of only two dresses might seem a bit eccentric, but the artist insists on keeping one garment for herself.”

Ellowyne asked, “Did you find it online?”

“Yes! On the Wilde Imagination Wearable Art site. Wait a minute. Wilde Imagination. Is that YOU?!?”

Ellowyne blushed but basked in Neema’s compliments. “I’ve been doing this for a few years now. I actually started in college and, when I graduated, it became my full-time job.”

Neema was impressed. Yes, Ellowyne seemed ditsy the first time they met, but anyone that talented had to be worth getting to know. She was so glad to give Ellowyne a second chance.

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

The second version takes place after Ellowyne’s and Neema’s disastrous lunch, which happens the day before the charity event.

That afternoon, Ellowyne stood in front of her refrigerator and noticed a magnet that said, “Yesterday I stood at the edge of disaster. Today I took a giant step forward.” That was exactly the way she felt, and she texted Prudence to ask for Neema’s number. Her stomach was in knots when she called Neema, but she had to apologize for her faux pas. 

“Neema, I am so embarrassed about the way I acted earlier today. Instead of having lunch, I was completely out to lunch, and I am so sorry for being such a ditz. Could I please have a second chance?”

Prudence had told Neema that, while friendship with Ellowyne could often be exasperating, it was well worthwhile. Pru seemed like a thoughtful, reasonable woman, and if she spoke so highly of Ellowyne, Neema decided to give her another chance. They made plans to meet the next day to indulge in some shopping—and some chocolate! Just to be sure that Ellowyne wouldn’t be late, Neema asked her to pick her up a half hour before the shops opened. 

The next day, Ellowyne took Neema to some of her favorite shops. They went to Ellowyne’s favorite makeup store and sampled so many fragrances that they all melded together to create a malodorous mix reminiscent of bug spray! They stopped for lunch, Ellowyne’s treat, and talked for nearly an hour. After that, they went to some of Ellowyne’s favorite shops to get some special outfits for the charity event the next weekend. Neema picked out a pink, one-shouldered gown with a full skirt of feathered material. At the same time, Ellowyne picked the very same thing! When they tried them on, Neema complimented Ellowyne on how she looked while Ellowyne complimented Neema. But only one of them could wear the gown to the event. However…

The afternoon of the event, Ellowyne and Neema treated themselves to professional makeup and hair styling at Ellowyne’s favorite salon. The stylists were a little confused that they wanted the same hair and makeup. How very odd yet avant-garde to request such a thing! 

What was even stranger was that, when Rufus went to pick up Ellowyne for the event, she asked him to please give a ride to her new friend Neema. She didn’t live too far from Ellowyne’s house. He was flummoxed to see Neema dressed in the exact same gown as Ellowyne. Their hair matched, their jewelry was the same, and they even wore the same shoes. Seeing the look of confusion on Rufus’ face, Ellowyne told him that they were twinning, a trend that had become popular recently.

Rufus grinned and asked, “So does this mean I get to escort two beautiful women tonight?” Ellowyne scrunched her nose and made a face at him, and he and Neema laughed. 

“Ellowyne, I’m so lucky to have given you a do-over. You are an amazing, hilarious woman and I think we’ll be great friends.”

“Ah, just call me the queen of second chances!”

Chapter 6: What REALLY Happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course Ellowyne and her coterie agreed that they would be glad to help Amber be a real friend. Ellowyne, Prudence, and Lizette took Amber to a makeup counter for a makeover—or perhaps a “makeunder” to tone down the way she applied cosmetics. The girls also took her shopping and Amber found some cute clothes at a couple of thrift stores. The boys were a little hesitant to embrace Amber as a friend but she earned their trust by no longer trying to force her affections on them. When Amber stopped hitting–and hitting on–Rufus, they discovered that they enjoyed conversing with each other and engaging in friendly verbal sparring.  Penn appreciated the change in Amber’s behavior and noticed how attractive she was without layers of makeup and skanky clothes. One day, everyone went to Amber’s house to look at her pageant crowns and prizes, and watch old tapes of Toddlers and Tiaras and videos taken by her parents that showed many of the things that had been edited out of the program.

And this, dear friends, is exactly what happened.

Chapter 5: Ellowyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4: Lizette

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

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

“Amber has that effect on people.”

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

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

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

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

“That sounds annoying. And painful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Liz! What’s up?” Rufus asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So Liz, what’s next?” Pru asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And she’s bored,” Pru interjected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3: Prudence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her friends nodded in agreement.

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

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

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