Love During Lockdown 5

Lizette was beside herself with worry about Prudence. She had difficulty sleeping and found herself feeling morose. Sometimes it seemed that she no longer enjoyed Lawrence’s company, so she decided to broach the subject the next time they were together at the sanctuary.

She didn’t need to bring up the problems she and Lawrence were having. He noticed these changes, too, and he was concerned about Lizette’s tepid mood and how it might impact their relationship. Before she could say anything to him, he queried, “Lizette? Are you okay? Are we okay?”

“It isn’t you. It’s me,” she remarked, much to his chagrin. Lawrence had several relationships in the past and recognized this phrase to be the death knell to many would-be romances. “I’m just so anxious about Prudence and how sad she must feel. I’ve told you that she doesn’t want to join us in any Zoom meetings or video chats. She has isolated herself, physically and emotionally. She doesn’t do that! Prudence is always the liveliest of our friends and she’s always there to cheer us up, whatever the problem. I feel guilty. I’ve put so much of myself into being with you that I’m not there for her.”

“Lizette,” Lawrence responded. “You shouldn’t feel guilty for having a boyfriend. I’m sure there are times when she’s had someone and you haven’t.”

“Not really,” Lizette replied. “I mean, she’s dated Penn a few times. But then again, so have I. A couple of times, Penn has taken both of us out and called it a double date. I guess you’d called it friend dating, since none of us had romantic illusions. Now he’s seeing Amber but I’m not sure either of them realizes how serious they are.”

Lawrence asked, “So neither you nor Prudence dated anyone somewhat seriously while you’ve been friends?” 


He rubbed his chin over his mask. “What about when you had feelings for Rufus? Did that affect any of your friendships?”

“Not really. If anything, I envied Ellowyne but she’s such a wonderful friend that I couldn’t begrudge her being happy with the guy I liked. And she’s far better for him than I could ever be.”

“But that didn’t change your friendship with Prudence,” Lawrence pointed out. “Now, hasn’t Pru done things without you? Things that might decrease the amount of time she spent on you?”

“Well, she’s involved with sports. I don’t think of that as taking her time away from me.”

“But don’t you see, Liz, that it’s okay for friends to do things or have relationships in which other friends participate?” 

Lizette’s eyes teared up. “I’m sorry, Lawrence. I guess I need some time for myself. Let’s take a break.”

Lawrence was dumbfounded. He knew how close Lizette and Prudence were, but it saddened him to think that she should feel guilty for being in a relationship with him. 

The next day, when Lizette arrived for her shift at the bird sanctuary, she discovered that Lawrence changed his hours and they would not work together again. 

To be continued…

A Work in Progress 4

Amber woke uncharacteristically early after another sleepless night. The past few weeks–months really–felt unsettled and awkward as she was trying to deal with the various challenges her friends faced. First, Rufus’ parents died. She tried to empathize—something that didn’t always come easy to her—but it was such an unimaginable loss that Amber couldn’t wrap her head around it. She sent flowers and made an “anonymous” donation to the hospital in their memories. But was it enough? Was it meaningful? Second, Penn sounded exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out by his experiences taking care of COVID patients. She wanted to see him, to hold him, and to reassure him that he was doing a wonderful job and would be okay. But, obviously, she couldn’t. And she didn’t know if things would be okay. COVID changed everyone’s lives and no one knew if a return to pre-pandemic would ever be possible.

Then Prudence was having problems. It wasn’t like her to rebuff her friends. In fact, Pru was often the one to suggest enjoyable activities and reacted enthusiastically if someone else had a great idea. She rarely turned down an opportunity to have fun. And she never shied away from conversation, whether in person or online. She was lighthearted, hilarious, affable, and thoughtful. Pru was quick to laugh and slow to rage. 

But the pandemic changed her. Gone was the effusive, enthusiastic Pru. In her place was a sullen woman who was socially diffident and withdrawn.

Amber didn’t feel as close to Prudence as she was to their other friends. They liked each other, but Pru got along with Ellowyne and Rufus the best. Then again, they had gone through middle school and high school together and relished being a quirky trio who banded together in their idiosyncrasies. Amber wasn’t their friend back then. She was part of the conventional, cool kid crowd. Interestingly, Amber had no contact with her so-called friends from the academy. But once she realized how horribly she’d been treating Ellowyne, Rufus, and Pru, she vowed to change. Eventually they, Lizette, and Penn welcomed her into their social circle.

So Amber didn’t have as much in common with Prudence, but she vowed to change that. She liked to give things to her friends. That was a way she showed that she cared. But were those gestures appreciated? She texted Ellowyne to ask.

Ellowyne was sewing face masks when Amber texted her. “I can take a break,” she messaged. “What’s up?”

“I have something to ask you and I want you to be honest,” Amber replied. “You know that I like to give things to people I care about. Like when I sent flowers to Rufus and made that donation to the hospital…”

“So it WAS you,” Ellowyne exclaimed. “Rufus and I thought so. And it was a truly welcome gesture. We appreciated it so very much.”

Horrified, Amber realized what she texted. “Ellowyne, please. Never tell anyone, especially Rufus, that I was the one to make that donation. I don’t want to be that person who gives only to impress others.”

“Don’t worry, Amber. You aren’t that kind of person anymore.”

“You know what? It’s fun to give anonymously. It makes me so happy to know I’m doing good with the resources I have. Even my parents have gotten into making anonymous donations. We have money and enjoy giving it to good causes.”

Ellowyne texted thumbs up. “By the way,” she texted. “What did you want?”

“I think I have my answer,” Amber replied. “I don’t want to go all Golden Girls on you, but thank you for being my friend.”

After the conversation with Ellowyne was over, Amber went straight to her computer to look for something that would be a good gift for Prudence. She thought about flowers. However, they were temporary and Amber wanted to give her something that would last longer than a week. She strolled into her family’s sun room, where they kept many plants. An orchid? No, too high-maintenance. A cactus? Too prickly. She did a search for succulents and stumbled across a site that featured terrariums. Perfect! One would require Prudence to do give it some care, not too much, not too little. Amber was about to order a ready-made terrarium online but she realized that creating one herself would give her a creative outlet and hopefully make it more meaningful for Pru. 

Amber found a website for instructions and a list of supplies. Her family’s gardener, Akito, always bought plants and other necessities at a garden center, which offered curbside pick-up during the pandemic. She found the perfect plants: maidenhair fern, pilea silver sparkle, friendship plant, frosty fern spike moss, and a pink polka-dot plant to add some whimsey. She needed a big glass jar with a cork lid, pebbles for drainage, substrate, activated charcoal, and some springtails. Amber crinkled her nose in disgust, realizing she needed to add some insects to her creation, but she wanted to ensure that the terrarium would thrive. Springtails ate mold, the  bane of enclosed plants, so they went on her list of supplies. Lastly, she wanted to add some sort of decorative object, maybe some crystals that might be meaningful to Prudence. She remembered that Pru said that clear quartz was an especially strong healing stone, so she picked out an obelisk that would fit perfectly in the jar. She picked out an opened amethyst geode because of it was supposed to be calming, balancing, and a way to ease stress. Then she chose several tumbled moonstones, but she wasn’t sure why. She asked Akito for feedback, and he agreed with her choices. He questioned Amber about the project because he was afraid that she would delegate the creation of the terrarium to him, but she assured him that this was her project. She placed an online order and waited to hear from the garden center when it would be ready. 

The supplies were ready later that morning. When Amber got behind the wheel of her candy apple red BMW convertible, she realized it had been months when she last drove anywhere. The streets were ominously empty. She didn’t miss fighting traffic but the deserted roads unnerved her. Finally she got to the garden center. As per instructions, she texted them to bring out her items. Amber was quite shocked when she saw all of the things she needed! Her car had only two seats, but the garden center employee put everything but the jar and the plants in the trunk. Plants went on the floor and the well-wrapped jar on the passenger seat. She gave the worker a generous tip and went on her way.

Once she was home, she took the supplies into the ceramic-tiled sun room. She spread out newspapers, pulled up the instructions for creating a terrarium on her laptop, and made sure she could get Akito in case she needed his advice. The smooth, tan pebbles were warm in her hands. She carefully put them on the bottom of the jar and covered them with the charcoal, which made her fingers black. She didn’t like to get dirty but somehow, she didn’t mind it while making her terrarium. Next, she added the substrate, which was made of coconut hulls, aquarium dirt, and earthworm castings.  Earthworm castings? She searched online and learned that they were actually earthworm poop! Eeeuuuwww! But she thought about Lizette, who always teased her about her “weasel poop” coffee, and she went back to work. Then she put in the plants, starting with the tallest one first. She had to be careful because plants for terrariums can be tricky and she only had enough of them for this one project. She could go back to the garden center but, in spite of being a beginner, she wanted to do absolutely everything right the first time. She went outside to find Akito, and asked him what he thought about the placing of the plants. He was surprised when Amber invited him to stretch out on the comfortable wicker chair and gave him a tall, frosty glass of homemade lemonade. He liked her work so far and agreed with Amber’s choice of plants. He suggested the placement of the plants, starting with the tallest one. Akito grinned when he saw Amber poke holes in the substrate. To think that the girl the staff called “Princess’ behind her back would relish the task of digging in dirt! Amber added the moss and thought she was almost done, but then she remembered her springtails. She opened the container of insects and tapped the bottom to get them out and into the jar. There were a few stragglers, so she put her finger into the container and flicked them into the jar. Finally, she placed the crystal and tumbled stones in prominent but not intrusive spots. She closed the jar with the cork and was done!

Akito was pleasantly surprised by Amber’s terrarium. It wasn’t store-shelf perfect like the premade ones sold at the garden center, but it was charming, personal, and thoughtful. In comparison, the terrariums from the garden center seemed cold and soulless. Akito, like all of the servants in the Stanhope home, was told to never, ever criticize any of them, especially Amber. But his praise was genuine, and his heart softened toward Amber. Perhaps she was changing, growing, becoming an empathetic human being. He made sure Amber didn’t see him shedding a single tear.

Amber finished the terrarium in the mid-afternoon, and she was so excited she wanted to take her gift to Prudence immediately. Akito helped secure it in her car, and off she went. 

She felt a little nervous when she got to Prudence’s home. Would she be home? Would she read a text? Would she answer the door? Amber put on her face mask, one made by Ellowyne, and rang the doorbell.

Prudence had slipped on a face mask before answering the door. Her parents once chastised her for not opening the door when a package arrived. That package had been taken by porch pirates. Prudence was quite surprised to see Amber holding a terrarium.

Amber was aghast at Prudence’s appearance. Her eyes were downcast. Her face, which usually glowed even if she wasn’t wearing makeup, looked dull. Her hair was stringy and unkempt, and she was dressed in shorts and a torn, stained t-shirt. She looked puffy, and Amber thought she might have gained some weight. Still, Amber put aside her initial feelings, handed her the terrarium, and said,  “This is for you, Prudence.”

Prudence seemed unenthusiastic about the gift. “What do I do with this?”

Amber gave her a pamphlet about caring for terrariums, but realized that Pru probably wasn’t talking about maintaining the plants. “I just wanted you to have this. I was thinking about you and somehow decided you needed these plants.”

Prudence sighed. “I hope I can take care of it.” She started to close the door but Amber stopped her. 

“I made it myself,” Amber stated. “It’s not much and it’s not as flawless as one you can get from flower and garden shops. But I made it, with love, for you.” She turned toward her car but Prudence called to her before she left.

“Thank you, Amber.”

To be continued…

Nature Abhors a Vacuum 5

As the pandemic continued to dominate everyday life, Prudence sank further into the abyss known as the Internet. She spent so much time online that she skimped on self-care measures and interactions with her family and friends. She had gotten into YouTube stories based on situations gleaned from Reddit. Pru had been a bit disillusioned when she discovered that some YouTube channels wrote their own outrageous stories. How many stories could there really be about nasty mothers-in-law who insulted young wives, sisters and friends eloping with fiancés the same day as the wedding, and mom friends expecting that someone else will pay for their high-priced meals and vacations? 

Eventually, Prudence figured out that the most unbelievable stories were fake, so she stopped watching those videos and went instead to videos based on Reddit posts. She soon ventured into Reddit, where she read stories about a mixed bag of topics, from the revenge of jilted lovers to the histories of obscure comic book heroes. Although she had heard that Reddit users could be brutal, she made an account, read anecdotes, and made a few comments. 

One afternoon, Ellowyne sent her an invitation to FaceTime. Prudence ignored it because she was immersed in a discussion of open relationships. Later, she disregarded Lizette’s request to FaceTime, and paid no heed to a text message from Amber. Frustrated and concerned, Ellowyne texted everyone in her circle to join a Snapchat meeting and try to convince Prudence to participate. 

The next day, Ellowyne invited her to the Snapchat group but again Prudence didn’t respond. Undeterred, Amber, Lizette, and Rufus tried to get in touch with her but were unsuccessful. Finally, Penn sent her a message and implored her to converse with her friends. He even offered a one-to-one interaction but she paid no heed. Stymied, Ellowyne decided to discuss her concerns about Pru with their friends. “I am so worried about Pru,” she started. “She’s cut off all contact with me. And Rufus.”

Rufus spoke up. “Prudence and I have always been good friends. She was supportive when my folks died, but I can’t figure out why she ignores my texts.”

“I’m afraid I’m part of the problem,” Lizette said, chagrined. “I told her about Lawrence some time ago, and I haven’t heard from her since.”

Ellowyne tried to soothe Lizette. “Prudence isn’t the kind of person who would be jealous of a friend’s happiness.”

Rufus responded, “Yeah, but maybe she’s worried that we don’t have time for her anymore. I mean, I’ve been so preoccupied…”

“Oh, Rufus,” Amber replied. “You’ve had so much going on. I don’t think anyone could begrudge you the time and space you need.” 

Ellowyne stated, “I’ve been so wrapped up in my relationship with this guy that I haven’t given my friends the attention you all deserve.”

“I haven’t kept in touch with Pru, either. These 12-hour shifts that turn into 15 or 18 hours are killing me. Even worse, I don’t get a lot of time off, and I’m always exhausted,” Penn admitted. 

“I think everyone understands why you’re socially out of the loop. “I mean, you’ve been so busy and worn out with work that you haven’t even had time for us,” Amber explained. To her chagrin, she immediately realized she had revealed her secret relationship with Penn. “Oh no. I’m so sorry, Penn. I didn’t mean to tell anyone about us.”

Penn wasn’t thrilled that Amber said anything about their relationship, but he assured her that it was okay and their friends would find out anyway. “One of the reasons we haven’t been forthcoming about…us…is that we didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. Rufus and Ellowyne hadn’t gotten together yet, and when Lizette and Lawrence got involved, we were about to say something to all of you. But then we decided not to because we didn’t want to make Prudence feel left out.”

Ellowyne shook her head and replied, “Maybe Prudence feels left out of life. The pandemic has changed everything. We used to get together all of the time, usually several times a week. We saw each other at college and had lunch together. But the isolation of the pandemic, maybe that’s what is getting Prudence down. She doesn’t see us or her teammates.”

“She probably isn’t as active as she was before COVID. No yoga classes, no Zumba, no Pilates. The rugby season is cancelled so she’s missed out on practices and games,” Lizette suggested.

“With all classes being online, she didn’t have to leave the house to go to campus,” Amber said. “Then again, none of us have.”

“And none of us got to walk for our diploma,” Rufus pointed out. “We got our degrees in the mail, and we understand why we didn’t have a real graduation ceremony. But it sucks. We worked hard and missed out on a truly happy day of our lives.”

Penn stated, “Several of us will have other opportunities to walk for graduation. Amber, you’re headed to law school. Lizette, veterinarian college. Rufus, a PhD in engineering. And Prudence will get a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Ellowyne, you and I are the only slackers not going to graduate school right away.”

Ellowyne smiled. Penn had always said he wanted to get an advanced nursing degree so he could become part of a medevac team. And she made plans for her own further education but hadn’t even discussed them with Rufus.

“The thing is, we have to admit that the pandemic has been terrible for all of us. But we’re strong and will get through it. Prudence is our good friend and we’ll all just need to take time to make sure she knows it,” Ellowyne remarked.

“I think if we try to treat her the way she would treat us, we won’t go wrong,” Amber suggested. 

“She was so caring when my parents died,” Rufus said. “All of you were—and still are. But maybe we need to focus on Prudence, surround her with positivity, and just be there when she needs us.”

“Prudence is going to get through this,” Lizette remarked. “But we need to be patient and let her know that we love her. No matter what.”

The truth of the matter was that Prudence, for the first time in her life, was clinically depressed and in need of professional help.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum 4

Weeks went by but the pandemic was still in full force. Beaches in California would be open but health officials urged social distancing and wearing masks. Although she loved the outdoors, Pru decided it would be wise to remain inside. School was over and she awaited her diploma in the mail. She and her friends were disappointed that they could not walk for graduation, but the sacrifice was worth not getting exposed to COVID-19.

Prudence’s days at home felt long. Her parents were at work every day, and she filled her hours meditating, practicing yoga, and surfing the Internet. As of late, she spent far more time online and much less practicing self-care. She received the jewelry-making supplies but the packages were unopened as it was too much of an effort to make something, much less wear any new jewelry.

She fell into a stultifying routine of Krispy Kremes and coffee every morning. She didn’t want to meditate or exercise when she had just eaten. So she turned to the Internet, checking out new websites as well as her favorites. Prudence was on YouTube several hours a day, looking at silly stories about badly behaving in-laws, women stealing their friends’ husbands, and “Whatever Happened to Brendan Fraser?” or the latest actor the armchair critics want to bully. She watched music videos and laughed at the crazy fashions performers wore in the 1980s. Sometimes she watched old episodes of TV shows like the original Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. She also watched videos about making videos! 

One morning, just as Pru had finished her doughnut and coffee run, she got a call from Ellowyne. “Hey, girl,” Ellowyne said. “Do you have time to talk?”

“Sure,” Pru answered. “What’s up?”

“Well, no one has heard from you for a few days and we’re wondering how you are. We haven’t seen you at any of our Zoom meetings or FaceTime.”

“You’re doing the breakfast Zoom meetings? Rufus, too?”

“Sometimes he participates. And sometimes he sleeps in! But he’s doing better, making progress with his grief. He also signed up for vaccine trials. He said that he’ll do anything he can to stop the spread of coronavirus.” 

Prudence asked, “Are you still making masks?”

“Actually, I’m selling them as quickly as I make them. I need to send you, Amber, and Lizette some new masks,” Ellowyne replied. “So what are you doing these days?”

Prudence hesitated a bit before answering. She was embarrassed to admit she spent her time watching mindless videos online. So she stretched the truth a little and said she was going to start a blog about having the best life despite the pandemic.

“That sounds great,” Ellowyne exclaimed. “Please send me a link when you publish it! And I’m sure everyone else will want to read it, too. Hey, what do you think about Lawrence? We met him in person when he and Lizette stopped over with food right after Rufus’ folks died. We couldn’t talk much to him—we were all wearing masks and maintaining social distance—but he seems nice.”

Ugh. Prudence was happy for Lizette but her new romance made Pru feel even more alone. Everyone was pairing up: Ellowyne and Rufus. Lizette and Lawrence. What next, Amber and Penn?

Instead of sharing how she felt, Pru said, “I am so happy for everyone.” Tears welled up in her eyes so she decided to end the conversation. “Oh, it’s getting close to noon. I need to let you go. It’s good to talk to you, Ellowyne.”

When the call was over, Prudence turned back to her laptop to watch YouTube.

To be continued…

Love During Lockdown 3

“Hey, Lawrence,” Lizette texted. “Are you doing anything right now?”

“Not a thing,” he answered. “What’s up?”

She paused a little before she answered. “You know that friend of mine? The one whose parents died from COVID? I’m making a grocery run for him and his girlfriend. Want to come?”

“Yeah! It will be good to get out of the house,” Lawrence replied. “Will you pick me up?”

“Not a problem. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Don’t forget your mask or hand sanitizer.”

Lawrence noticed Lizette’s pensiveness when he got into her car. “Bae, are you okay? What’s going on?”

Lizette burst into tears. “COVID didn’t seem real to me until Rufus’ parents died. The deaths that occurred always happened to someone else, not anyone we know. My friend Penn is an ER nurse and he deals with death from COVID all the time. Maybe he’s used to it by now. But I don’t know how anyone could get used to all the death.”

“Death seems like an abstract construct. We can talk about it, dread it, mourn for those who die,” Lawrence said. “But once it becomes personal, it hits hard. Not only are you dealing with an actual loss, but you’re also feeling vulnerable. If your friend’s parents died, how safe are your parents? How safe are you?”

Lawrence pulled Lizette close to him and she cried onto his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m making such a mess on your shirt.”

He wanted to say something to her but this was just not the time. But deep in his heart, he knew he loved her. 

To be continued..

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. Stanhope 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…