Chapter 2: Rufus

Rufus squirmed in his seat while his friends speculated about Amber’s secret. He knew what it was but he would never break a confidence, not even Amber’s. He thought back to a conversation the two of them had a couple of months ago.

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, I do have a favor to ask.”

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

“No, please. Don’t go.”

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

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

He drank some of his coffee. “Go on.”

“Promise you won’t tell?”

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

“I promise. Go on, Amber.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1: A Nice, Quiet Coffee Date (NOT!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Outrageously?” Ellowyne asked.

“Atrociously?” Prudence queried.

“Inappropriately?” Rufus quipped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amber’s Secret

This story is grounded in the official canon but it deviates wildly as Ellowyne and her squad try to figure out what Amber’s secret might be. One of these secrets is true, at least in my version of Amber. Can you guess which one it is? The rating is T because of some adult themes.

Ending 5: A Fine Bromance

Although Ellowyne had just met Penn, it was clear to Rufus that she was interested. She never looked at him the way she looked at Penn. Blinking back the hot tears welling up in his eyes, Rufus plugged in his smart phone and sat in his car, feeling too numb to drive home. He tortured himself by listening to love songs that reminded him of Ellowyne like Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love. Breakup songs like Love HurtsLove Stinks, and Lonesome Loser gave voice to his feelings of loss and despair. When he heard a familiar tune by Cee Lo Green, he sang along. “I see you driving ‘round town with the girl I love and I’m like ‘Fu—‘“

Rufus stopped singing and turned off his smart phone. “Man up,” he said to his reflection in the rear view mirror. .“If Penn can make Ellowyne happy, then good for him. For both of them. It’s ridiculous to sit out here and sulk.”

When Rufus walked into Ellowyne’s house, the other partygoers, including Penn, greeted him warmly. Rufus poured a glass of punch and made a toast. “To friendship! After all, friendship is magic!”

Penn’s eyes widened in astonishment. “Are you a brony?”

“Yeah. A bunch of us in my cohort started watching it at the math and stats building as a way to ratchet down our stress,” Rufus answered.

Penn chuckled. “We did that, too! I had to take a course on linear equations and it just about killed me and the rest of the class. After class, all of us were so brain dead we needed something to relieve our stress. And the day of the course final, we all wore My Little Pony t-shirts, watched a couple of episodes, and then we did a bar crawl!

Everyone laughed except Rufus, who was dumbstruck. “By any chance, do you go to Berkeley? I think I’ve seen you on in the student lounge at Evans Hall. We’ve got sofas, snacks, and My Little Pony 24/7.”

“The Geek Cave!” Penn smiled broadly. “I’m getting my master’s in social work. About six months of classwork and my thesis left to do.”

“Awesome! I’m in my third year. Double major—mechanical engineering and math and stats for engineering.”

“You must be some kind of brainiac! I wish I had known you before taking that stats class.”

Wide-eyed, Prudence whispered to Ello and Lizette. “I think we’re witnessing the birth of a bromance!”

And Prudence was right. The guys exchanged cell phone numbers, Instagram user names, and added each other as Facebook friends. Soon they were hanging out regularly, studying together, playing video games, and watching whatever sporting events as long as they were in season. Rufus helped Penn understand nonlinear equations to help with his thesis. In return, Penn introduced Rufus to craft beer, poutine, and bibimbap, and gave him the confidence to finally tell Ellowyne how he felt about her. Of course Penn thought that Ello was attractive but he wasn’t going to poach his best friend’s crush. In time, Rufus introduced Penn to the girl he eventually married, one of the girls in his engineering program. And of course Rufus married Ellowyne when he finished graduate school, with Penn as Best Man.

Ending 4: Penn

Although Ellowyne had just met Penn, it was clear to Rufus that she was interested. She never looked at him the way she looked at Penn. Blinking back the hot tears welling up in his eyes, Rufus plugged in his smart phone and sat in his car, feeling too numb to drive home. He tortured himself by listening to love songs that reminded him of Ellowyne like Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love. Breakup songs like Love HurtsLove Stinks, and Lonesome Loser gave voice to his feelings of loss and despair. When he heard a familiar tune by Cee Lo Green, he sang along. “I see you driving ‘round town with the girl I love and I’m like ‘Fu—‘“

The sound of tapping on his car window interrupted Rufus’ private sing-along. It was Ellowyne. “Hey, what are you doing out here?”

“Um, I was just getting my sweatshirt. Let’s go back inside.”

Rufus wanted to dislike Penn but he found him to be smart and funny. He also thought Penn looked familiar but he couldn’t remember where he might have seen him. They exchanged phone numbers and Instagram user names and added each other as friends on Facebook. Penn asked Rufus if they could get together to have coffee or some craft beer. Rufus agreed and they made plans to go meet the next day. It would be the first time in years in which he could hang out with someone other than his engineering school buddies.

The next day, Rufus met Penn at the latter’s favorite dive bar for burgers and craft brew. Penn ordered some poutine, a Canadian concoction made with fries, gravy, and squeaky cheese curds. Rufus thought they sounded strange and was surprised at how delicious they were.

But that wasn’t the only surprise of the day. As the guys devoured their food, Penn leaned across the table and told Rufus he thought he was quite attractive. Rufus was startled and nearly choked on his craft beer. “Uh—I’m straight.”

Penn was crestfallen. “I saw you this summer at Pride.”

“That’s where I’ve seen you,” Rufus said. “I march every year with PFLAG. I have two moms.”

“Oh, damn. I’m sorry. I’ve made such an ass of myself.”

“Hey To tell you the truth, I’m flattered. I’d like to be friends.”

“Sure. I’d like that. Hey, do you think Ellowyne, Pru, and Lizette would be okay knowing I’m gay?”

“Of course they would. But you might want to get to know them a bit better than telling them straight away.”

“Straight away?” Penn laughed so hard that beer almost came out of his nose. The two new friends agreed to get together for Korean food in a couple of days.

As Rufus got into his car, he got a text from Ellowyne “How was your man date?”

“Gr8!,” he texted back. And it WAS a great day. Not only did Rufus make a new friend, he also found out that his chief rival for Ellowyne’s affections simply wasn’t interested in her. He smirked at his reflection in the rear view mirror. “And you were so worried,” he said smugly to himself.

Ending 3: Prudence

Although Ellowyne had just met Penn, it was clear to Rufus that she was interested. She never looked at him the way she looked at Penn. Blinking back the hot tears welling up in his eyes, Rufus plugged in his smartphone and sat in his car, feeling too numb to drive home. He tortured himself by listening to love songs that reminded him of Ellowyne like Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love. Breakup songs like Love HurtsLove Stinks and Lonesome Loser gave voice to his feelings of loss and despair. When he heard a familiar tune by Cee Lo Green, he sang along. “I see you driving ‘round town with the girl I love and I’m like ‘Fu—‘“

The sound of tapping on his car window interrupted Rufus’ private sing-along. It was Prudence. “Hey, why did you leave the party?”

“It got kinda weird watching Ellowyne flirt with Penn.”

“I thought so. You were giving off a dull yellow aura, which means you’re jealous. I can give you some green apatite or green aventurine to help you .”

“Hey Pru,” Rufus said. “I appreciate your help but I need to be alone right now.”

“But if we get your chakras in balance—“

“Thank you, Pru but really, no.”

Pru, the last of their friends to leave the party, got into her Mini-Coop and drove away. She was only a few blocks away when she realized she left her phone at Ellowyne’s house. She noticed that Rufus’ car was still there but Rufus wasn’t in it. Quietly she opened the door and retrieved her phone. To her utter shock, she heard Ellowyne and Rufus fighting in the kitchen.

“What the hell, Ellowyne? I was standing right there!”

“God, you are so jealous”, Ellowyne retorted. “I would never have agreed to this if I knew how jealous you are.”

“I’ve told you that you can date other guys. I just don’t like you blatantly throwing yourself at someone when I’m around.”

“You can date other women…”

“When do I have time for that?”

“Oh my God, Rufus. Are you going to blather on about how engineering is such a tough major while my English lit major isn’t?”

“We’ve had this fight before. I’m sorry I said anything.”

Prudence stood by Ellowyne’s front door, torn between slipping quietly through the front door and staying to hear the argument. She decided to continue eavesdropping.

Rufus spoke first. “I’m not sure about our relationship. It’s worked for me but lately it’s been more difficult than ever. You know that I love you…”

“And I love you, too, but as a friend…”

“Don’t patronize me. You’ve strung me along. I hoped our little arrangement would bring us together as a real couple.”

“But we agreed to not get emotionally involved”.

“No. You agreed, Ellowyne. I didn’t. Do you know what you are? You’re a commitmentphobe. You’re afraid of getting involved.”

“Isn’t what we have good enough for you? We’re friends—“

“That’s the point. We’re FRIENDS with benefits. You’re not being my friend when you flirt with some new guy while I’m standing right there!”

“I think you need to leave, Rufus. This is ridiculous.”

“Fine. But when I go out the front door, our friendship is over.”

Prudence hurried out the door before Rufus could see her. Back in her car, she wasn’t sure what startled her the most: Ellowyne and Rufus being friends with benefits or the intensity of their argument.

No sooner had Pru gotten into her car when she got a text from Ellowyne. “I need to talk to someone. I might have made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Before she could answer, Pru received a text from Rufus. “Hey girl. I just did something stupid and now I think Ellowyne hates me.”

Prudence sighed. She was close friends with both of them and she didn’t want to take sides. Before she drove away, she turned on her car radio. One of her favorite stations played oldies. 

       Clowns to the left of me, jokes to the right

       Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Indeed, Prudence thought. Indeed.

Ending 2: Lizette

Although Ellowyne had just met Penn, it was clear to Rufus that she was interested. She never looked at him the way she looked at Penn. Blinking back the hot tears welling up in his eyes, Rufus plugged in his smartphone and sat in his car, feeling too numb to drive home. He tortured himself by listening to love songs that reminded him of Ellowyne like Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love. Breakup songs like Love HurtsLove Stinks and Lonesome Loser gave voice to his feelings of loss and despair. When he heard a familiar tune by Cee Lo Green, he sang along. “I see you driving ‘round town with the girl I love and I’m like ‘Fu—‘“

The sound of tapping on his car window interrupted Rufus’ private sing-along. It was Lizette. “Hey. What are you doing out here? “ she asked.

Rufus sighed. “Just listening to some tunes. I didn’t want to be in there, not with Ello throwing herself at Penn.”

Lizette nodded. “Yeah, total flirt alert. Hey, are you okay?”

“Not really. It sucks to see Ell throw herself at this douche when I’ve been here for her all along”.

“I dunno.” Lizette said as she climbed into the passenger seat of Rufus’ red Subaru. “Maybe it’s because Penn is a novelty, someone new in her life”.

“Or maybe it’s a matter of familiarity breeds contempt”.

Rufus poured out his heart. He told Lizette how he fell in love with Ello the first time they met back in middle school. He confessed that, over the course of the past several years, he brought her flowers, candy, stuffed animals, and even a vintage snow globe.”

“I remembered that! She obsessed over it, asking herself—and the rest of us—what it meant.” Lizette gently stroked Rufus’ hand. “You know, Ello is not the most observant person. I think she’s a fool for not even noticing the sweet little gestures you’ve made over the years.” Lizette got closer to Rufus, twirled hear hair and looked into Rufus’ eyes. “It’s a shame she friend zoned you all this time. You really have a lot to offer a woman.”

Rufus furrowed his eyebrows. “Are you kidding me?”

“You’re kind, sweet, and funny. You’re a total brainiac. And you have a gentle face and beautiful eyes.”

“Seriously?’

“Yes! Ellowyne is clueless. One day someone, maybe one of her closest friends will figure out wow amazing you really are.

Rufus smiled weakly. “You really think so?”

“I know so.”

“Hey, thanks, Liz. I’m glad we had this talk. I’m not going to give up on Ellowyne.  I have more work to do at her house and maybe I’ll bring her some chocolate truffles.”

Lizette got out of Rufus’ car, shook her head and rolled her eyes. Ellowyne was not the only one who was clueless.

Ending 1: Mom x 2

Although Ellowyne had just met Penn, it was clear to Rufus that she was interested. She never looked at him the way she looked at Penn. Blinking back the hot tears welling up in his eyes, Rufus got in his car, plugged in his phone and headed home. From the time he left the party to the time he pulled into his driveway, Rufus tortured himself by listening to love songs that reminded him of Ellowyne, from Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love. Breakup songs like Love HurtsLove Stinks and Lonesome Loser gave voice to his feelings of loss and despair. When he heard a familiar tune by Cee Lo Green, he sang along. “I see you driving ‘round town with the girl I love and I’m like ‘Fu—‘“

The sound of tapping on his car window interrupted Rufus’ private sing-along. It was his mother, Mary Sue. “We saw you sitting in your car so long. Honey, are you okay?”

“I don’t know, Mom. I feel like someone has reached into my chest, pulled out my heart, and stomped on it.”

“Ellowyne? “

“Yeah.” Rufus could no longer fight his tears. Mary Sue embraced and consoled her son and together they walked into the house.

Janet, Rufus’ other mom, hugged him, too. She offered up comfort, cocoa, and freshly baked chocolate cookies as they all sat around the kitchen table.

Rufus began to tell them with Ellowyne and how she reacted to Penn. “I feel like an idiot. I’ve never told her how I feel and now she seems to be into this new guy. I can’t compete with him. He’s already out on his own and he’s got a great job. He’s confident and knows the right things to say. ” Rufus shrugged. “And he’s handsome. Of course Ellowyne was attracted to him.”

“First of all, you’ll have a great job when you graduate,” Mary Sue pointed out. “You’ve been accepted at Cal Tech and MIT for grad school and when you finish, you’re going to have a great career as an engineer.”

“You’re smart and you’re funny. And, not being biased since you’re my son, you are one of the kindest people either of us has known,” Janet added.

“And we both think you’re handsome!”

Rufus smiled weakly. “I guess instead of having a face only a mother can love, I have a face that only TWO mothers can love.”

Mary Sue stroked Rufus’ hand. “Sweetie, listen to us. If Ellowyne hasn’t seen what an amazing man that you are, she isn’t worth your time. I know it hurts, but someone is going to figure out what a great guy you are.”

When his moms went to bed, Rufus grabbed his laptop and a few more cookies. He then sat in the chaise lounge in the living room to check his email. One was from MIT. He had been awarded a prestigious fellowship in engineering. He read the email again and he shouted so loudly that he awakened Janet and Mary Sue. “You aren’t going to believe this! I’m getting a full ride at MIT!”

Suddenly, it didn’t matter to Rufus anymore that Ellowyne flirted with Penn. For once, he decided to do what was right for him and not build his life around someone who couldn’t reciprocate his love. Goodbye, Ellowyne. Hello, MIT.

The Lonesome Loser: Prologue

After Amber left the party humiliated and disgraced, Ellowyne, Lizette, and Pru turned their attention to this new guy. As they girls gushed over Penn, Rufus quietly slipped out of the house. He got into his decrepit red Subaru, a car held together by dozens of bumper stickers, sheer faith, and Rufus’ knack for fixing almost anything that was broken. Anything, that is, but his own breaking heart.

He looked into the rearview mirror and started berating himself. “God, you’re such a dumbass. Ellowyne was never yours. You were too shy, too scared, and too stupid to tell her how you felt and now she’s crushing on some guy she’s just met. He’s gonna fall in love with her—who wouldn’t? She’s beautiful, intelligent, and sweet. They’re gonna end up together.”

Rufus sat in the darkness of his car and thought carefully what to do next. Putting his key in the ignition, he asked himself, “Wait a minute. What’s so special about this guy Penn anyway?” Then looked into the rear view mirror again and frowned. “He’s handsome. He’s already done with college and has a great job, probably a great apartment, too. He’s everything I’m not. How could I ever compete?”

Find out what Rufus does when he’s confronted with the reality that Ellowyne may have found another guy! Please feel free to say in the comments section which ending you prefer.

The Lonesome Loser

This story is based on the official Ellowyne canon in which Ello, Pru, Lizette, and Amber share the same birthday, October 31. Ellowyne hosted a party to which Amber was not invited. A new friend named Penn joined the party. He is mentoring Freddy, who had a dangerous preoccupation with setting fires. Ellowyne’s grandmother insisted that Penn stay for the party and she gave Rufus and him masks to wear. They barely donned their masks when Amber crashed the party. She was dressed in a risqué version of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, complete with a short blue gingham jumper, a low-cut blouse, and sparkly red stiletto heels. Amber then grabbed one of the masked men and kissed him aggressively, thinking he was Rufus. When Penn removed his mask, Amber slapped him for taking advantage of her. She then stormed out the front door of Ellowyne’s house and walked right into a slightly squishy pumpkin. She kicked the pumpkin aside and everyone at the party laughed at the spectacle Amber made of herself. This story is rated T because it might be difficult for younger collectors. There are some adult situations and coarse language.