Short Story: Nothing Better to Do

Snow plummeted at odd angles, reducing visibility to near-zero. Even if she’d had a car, Elizabeth Arnold would’ve never driven to or from school in such a blizzard. She’d rather take her chances on frost-bite getting through three layers of clothes, rather than risk totaling what would be the only set of wheels she’d have for a decade. So, she was stuck walking home.

Another day, another pile of shit, she’d say. Today that was at least half-true, given how oil darkened and grit covered the snow was. In Bacatta– and most snow-afflicted areas– snow wasn’t white or even gray most times. It was black, or brown, caked with mud, sand, salt, oil, anything the roads picked up between winters. And it was always ugly.

White snow was reserved for lavish places that could as easily afford to import it as choose to live in it. Those sub-human morons could keep their white snow, Elizabeth decided, even if human snow one ice, one part old beef stew without the carrots. All she cared about at the moment though was putting one foot in front of the other, and hoping the effort wasn’t in vain and that she’d get home more or less whole.

For all she knew, the whole city had disappeared beyond the few feet of continuous sidewalk and piled snow that peered in from either side of her hood. Bacatta could be little more than an endless void of white particulates where humanity sound as if it were hiding, but wasn’t. She guessed the answer to that would remain a mystery for some time to come. The forecast for the next few days was, to utterly no-one’s surprise, snow, snow, and more snow. The walk-home white-out was just the start of it. Seventeen years of living in Michigan, Bacatta in particular, had taught her one thing if nothing else; Winter was long and it came early, like the most teasing and disappointing sex partner ever.

Of course it was going to snow. It always did. A lot. So much so the first white-outs closed up the town with a collective “fuck it” that intended to wait out the coming storm. After a few days, and a few feet of snow, the city dug itself out and started up again.

If it weren’t for her foresight, Liz would’ve been forced to trudge home, freezing all the way. Truth was, she expected to get to school only to be turned away. That they’d managed to hold a few classes was as surprising as it was pointless. Half-days were as much snow days as exercises in futility. Especially for high-school students, whom usually weren’t alert until their third or fourth class, all a half day meant was waking up early for no reason or having a free ditch-day.

But Liz had never been one to ditch. She wasn’t sure why. There was no moral obligation compelling her to attend school. The only explanation she’d been able to manifest was “having nothing better to do.”

That apathy was largely prevalent in her life, regardless of venue. Between school, homework, getting older, more cynical, and the trials of recurrent menstruation, too many emotions had bludgeoned her since childhood had ended. So, rather than get angry like some people, she just sort of switched off.

It wasn’t that she didn’t care about people, or even things, just that a once easy-going organism had evolved into one comfortable wherever it found itself. Or, if not comfortable, then indifferent. School was no different. Neither was snow. Even the half-hour walk that should’ve taken ten minutes didn’t really bother her.

She pushed into the house to find it still empty. No surprise; big sister was usually gone and Mom was always working. Most times she had the house to herself. Apart from the day’s excess mental energy, nothing was all that different.

She headed to the basement. It hadn’t use until Liz had moved into it. Since then, she’d entirely taken it over. Apart from laundry and utility rooms, there was nothing anyone had used or needed otherwise. Having an extra bathroom she wasn’t forced to share was nice too, and she’d done her best to decorate the place.

Noon was lunch time. Always. At school, at home, at any other place she could think to go. No matter what she’d eaten for breakfast, too, or what she was doing, as soon as the clock hit noon, her stomach growled and grumbled for sustenance or recompense– usually in the form of fainting. Funny, even her gut seemed to have a do or die attitude despite her otherwise total indifference.

She slapped together a sandwich from provisions she’d squirreled away in a mini-fridge in her room, then sank into a chair in front of her computer. The screen faded on to a web-browser and her open email account. To one side, a message app flashed an alert. Above it read, “Sam Ellery,” in alternating green and white with black text. Below was “Hey Chickie, U round?”

If Liz had to guess, Sam was eating lunch and praying she’d suss out a way to spend the day with her. Liz’s charteristic indifference struck again;she had no strong feelings, one way or the other. Then again, logic begged the question, “what else did she have to do?”

Nothing. Ab-so-lutely nothing.

The next three or four days would be boring as hell unless she rectified the problem now. Sam was probably thinking ahead as much as she was caught in the moment.It didn’t make her any less on target.

Sup?

Liz scarfed down her sandwich, sucked down some soda, and read the next message.

Shit. U?

Same.

Wanna chill?

Liz shrugged to herself. My place or urs?

Urs. Rents r home. Fightin agn. Mind if I stay 2nite?

Another pointless shrug. If u want.

Coo. C u in 10.

With that, at the very least, the next few days had been secured against boredom. Sam always had a heavy bag of grass and at least a handful of ideas to offer to pass time. Liz had plenty of ideas herself. Seeing as no-one ever entered the basement either, incense could cover the smell of even a few bags of lit grass.

Ten minutes passed quicker than Liz expected. Sam entered without knocking. Even had she, Liz would’ve never heard it. It was just easier this way. She shook snow off herself, dropped a heavy backpack just beyond the closed, basement door, and dug out a separate pair of shoes to change from her snowy ones.

Liz watched with something like envy; Sam was always stunning, even in spite of a little pudge around the love-handles. Perhaps it was just her confidence– her small build made the pudge more noticeable but she seemed ever the force of nature. Her larger cups and the petite hourglass they hung on couldn’t hurt, Liz knew.

Liz was the opposite in almost every way; a hair taller than average, lumpy in all the wrong places, flat in most others. If it weren’t for the aloof personality she’d cultivated, she’d have probably been a neurotic mess of insecurities. Weed helped too.

Sam settled onto the small couch beside Liz, pack beside her feet. She broke out a bag of grass and a few cigars and rolling papers, set them on a book atop the coffee table.

“What’chu been up to?”

“Had lunch. Now this,” she said, focused on the TV.

“Wha’s it?”

She shrugged, “Some movie. Started just before you came in. Dunno know what about yet.”

Sam poured weed onto the book, put one half onto another book, and handed it over with the cigars and a knife. “Roll the blunts. I’ve got more weed if you need it. I’ll do the joints.”

The pair worked autonomously, eyes focused intently on the screen ahead. The idiot box had claimed two more victims for their foreseeable future. By the time the pair were done rolling their respective smokeables, they were on the edge of their seats.

The movie, it turned out, was about two young girls, both friendless and alone with great responsibility riding on them. All that usual mumbo-jumbo about strength and companionship and how greatness was a measure of someone’s birthstone or something.

As they sparked their first round of grass, the pair derided the movie. It wasn’t for lack of enjoyment, but rather to mask the awkwardness of the increasingly misplaced sexual tension between the two, female leads. The weed descended and the awkwardness disintegrated into its own, self-derision with giddy glee. Everything was suddenly hilarious. Especially when the two women ended the movie with a cliched, triumphant-victory kiss.

The pair fell about in stitches, their second joint burning down in the ashtray.

Liz laughed through tears, “Jesus, that was the worst kiss I’ve ever seen.”

Sam giggled with screeching breaths, fighting to open her mouth and stick out her tongue, flick it around with exaggerated movements.

Liz gasped for air, “You look… like a cow!”

Sam managed to lock herself into a rhythm of the movements. Between it and the tearful laughter, she found it nearly impossible to stop. It only fueled the already maniacal fires of laughter.

By the end of it, both girls feared for their lives from airless lungs and watery eyes. The laughter settled enough for breath to return as credits faded to commercials began, separating the end of one movie from the start of another.

“I mean, really,” Liz said, laughs still bubbling out here and there. “Who kisses like that?”

Sam’s laughs were lighter, arguably more under control now, “I honestly don’t know.”

“Oh jeeze, what the hell were they thinking?” She forced laughter away with a wide grin.

“I know. Such a lame ass ending.”

“And such a bad kiss.”

Sam chuckled with a roll of her eyes, “Not like you could’a done better.”

“Oh I so could,” Liz balked with a smarmy smile.

“Prove it,” Sam challenged with a raised eyebrow.

What? You want me to kiss you?” She asked, her eyes gigantic.

“Put your money where my mouth is,” Sam giggled. “I bet you’re all wet and sloppy.”

Liz’s mouth hung open, “I dunno’ which is worse, your insult or that you wanna’ kiss me!”

“Oh c’mon.” She hissed playfully, “Wussss”

Their eyes met for a moment: the simple challenge in Sam’s, and the deranged question of sanity in Liz’s. Sam’s raised brow said putting her money where her mouth was– or rather, where Sam’s mouth was– was the only way out of the challenge without a forfeit. Whether from Sam’s confidence that she was, in fact, a terrible kisser, or something else entirely, Liz couldn’t back down. She stiffened her face, finally not indifferent toward something; and that was that she wasn’t about to back down.

She grabbed Sam’s face almost sarcastically, hesitated, then stuck her tongue in with fast movements. The sarcasm suddenly slipped away. Her body flared with heat. It slowed her tongue, Sam’s with it. Almost a full minute passed before the girls parted.

Sam’s eyes nearly closed, her voice soft, “That was really good.”

Liz nearly panted, “Agreed.”

Before either one realized it, Sam was straddling Liz, their hands roving and tongues dancing. For the first time, Liz’s indifference was nowhere to be found. In fact, the only thing she could find was a certain, undeniable lust to continue running the bases.

Likewise, Sam didn’t want her to her stop. One thing was already leading to another, and being teenagers with home plate never far off, she didn’t see a reason for it not to keep leading there. By the end of the night, a lot of things were in limbo but one thing was certain; even if they’d had nothing better to do before, their few snow days were now full, and they’d be anything but boring.

Sam rolled over and kissed Liz’s neck. Then, as if to confirm their shared thoughts, Liz giggled and pulled the blanket over their heads.

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Short Story: Brace-Face

She looked at herself in the mirror, stretching her mouth and lips to better show her teeth. The gleam of wires and metal was far from visually pleasing. Aesthetically, she hated them. One day she might say differently of the whole thing– one day when her teeth were pearly white and perfectly straight. For now, she curled her lips closed and frowned.

Danielle had never been one to speak out of turn, or fuss over things. Mostly, she sat in her room, or in one of her various classes, and let life swirl by in silence. She didn’t have friends to speak of, or to. It kept her quiet most of the time. Maybe, she thought, she could hide her mouthful of metal until graduation. It was a couple years away, sure, but she’d managed the preceding ten without much peer-interaction. Then again, she wasn’t about to add a blotchy, red face to the mix by holding her breath.

She brushed out her long, bushy hair. Yet another of Genetics’ slights was to give her the thickest, curliest hair a girl could have without being of some exotic origin. Each day, she’d stand in front of her bathroom mirror, vainly fighting it. Whether morning, afternoon, or night, they battle raged until Dani gave up and wrestled it into a bushy ponytail.

“More like squirrel-tail,” she always muttered. As always, thinking of how akin her hair was to having a long-haired cat rooted into her scalp– but less cute and twice as angry.

And now, there was the metal. A literal ton of it. Okay, maybe not literal, literal, but there was a lot. She might have cried, had she built any type of social standing that was to take a hit. Otherwise, it was just par for the course of a life as dishwater-dull as stagnant. She did her best to settle into her nightly homework, added to by the missed assignments from the day’s be-metaling. The only time she rose was to answer her mother’s call for dinner. It was only afterward that she realized just how bad it felt to have someone drill, glue, and wire her mouth together. To say nothing of having to pick, brush, and clean them for the first time.

By the end of it, she was haggard, emotionally and physically. With the last finishing touches on her homework, she collapsed into bed. The night passed in a patchwork of introspective bad dreams until she found herself lucid and aware she was dreaming, and completely helpless to stop them.

In the same, befuddled manner of all dreams, enough reality melded with hallucinatory strangeness to form a believable dream-world. Dani found herself at a school not quite the same as usual. Never-ending hallways took eternities to cross, super-imposing vast barren dunes atop them. Peers with transmogrifying faces drifted here and there or accompanied her for unknown reasons, refusing to listen to her cries of help. Others wandered about without faces. More still kept up an unending chorus of “brace-face, brace-face” that followed her as if ethereal whispers on an ever-blowing wind.

The dream-school was the very definition of eerie strangeness. After a while, even dream Dani found the chanting more tacky than hurtful. For hours and hours, the hallways carried her across their deserts, her would-be friends came and went, strangers stared from black-holes in their heads, and the wind chanted incessantly.

When the sun decided to grace her window and rip her from sleep, she returned from dreamland with gratitude. She praised the sun, albeit silently. Dreamland had become more twisted and sordid over time, in ways she couldn’t describe nor recall, but that left her feeling uneasy. The monotony of her years-old morning routine was just what she needed. It remained largely unchanged, though slightly more dismal now from aching teeth and a metal-bruised ego. Fighting her hair into its hairy-cat state helped her feel a little more normal. Her best “don’t look at me” clothes formed a hopeful shroud that allowed her to make for school without collapsing in embarassment.

Bacatta High-School was a place filled with paradoxes at every turn. Certain class rooms were dark, dank dungeons, windowless and cold. Beside them were warm meadows, windowed along one side with vibrant warmth. A time-vortex or dimensional rift would be perfectly at home there, and admittedly, not surprising. In her words, “You know, a regular high-school.”

She entered school to the drone-procession of students too-asleep for the morning hour. At least there she was invisible. Good. No one would notice her new metal-mouth. Not even if they tried to. She kept her head bowed, flowed with the rivers of students toward class. There, she floated in place like them, but half-submerged to remain invisible. It seemed to be going well until midway through Algebra, when she was forced to speak aloud.

Mrs. Harmon eyed the room, “Who can tell me the value of x, if x equals seven, plus two, divided by three. Hmm, let’s see… Danielle?”

Danielle was a deer in the headlights, hit by the car before realizing it. She was expected to answer. Her brain had already worked out the problem, but the few eyes that turned her way froze her in place. Mrs. Harmon leered with expectancy. Never in a million years could it help. It made things much worse than she ever expected.

She grimaced, did her best to hide her teeth, and saw herself flipping up and over the car, headlights already long gone. As she end-over-ended through the air, she revealed her unintentional lisp.

“Exsss equalsss three?”

“Correct. Excellent,” Mrs. Harmon said, moving on, completely unaware of the slaughter she’d caused.

Dani shrank in her seat. It was even worse than she’d expected. She’d probably sprayed the girl in front of her with a fountain of saliva. She didn’t seem to notice, but Dani did. A hand suddenly tapped Dani’s shoulder. She nearly fainted. Her eyes met another girl holding a folded scrap of paper. She gestured for Dani to take it.

Me? She mouthed. The girl nodded. Dani opened the note.

Girly scrawl formed the words “New braces?

Danielle’s face almost fell off. She’d known. Things must be even more terrible than she realized. She glanced at the girl, whom nonchalantly divided her attention between Mrs. Harmon and Danielle, then scribbled a reply:

Yea, why?

The note changed hands, was read, scribbled on, then returned.

It helps to have water. Or get some wax to put on the back.

Danielle’s eyes were a portrait of confusion. She scribbled back; Thanx. Is it really that bad?

The girl took the note, read it, then shook her head at Danielle.

I know the feeling. Mine was sooo bad at first. BTW, I’m Sara.

The bell for class-end rang. Dani read the note, then stood next to Sara. “Danielle. Mosst people call me Dani.”

Sara flashed a metal smile. “Cool. I’ve gotta’ head ‘cross the building, but you wanna’ sit together at lunch?”

Dani followed her from the room, carefully evading any esses. “Okay.”

“I’ll meet you in the commons later,” Sara said with another metal smile.

She turned for the long passage across the school and waved good-bye. Dani waved back, managing a smile of her own; maybe being a brace-face wouldn’t be as bad as she’d thought.

Short Story: Red 5, Standing By

Red Five, Standing By

Red 5 comics sat on the corner of Asimov Avenue and Lily Drive in the southern part of Bacatta’s “downtown” area that stretched more than five miles. Nestled beside “Oddities knick-knacks,” and the sprawl of the rest of downtown Bacatta, it was one the main attractions for the nerd and geek community. Its only, minor competition was that of Gamer’s Galaxy a block southeast. Luckily Red 5’s proprietor, Winifred “Red” Asner, had no real competition. G-G sold only the few, odd comics that would fit in the last half of a game-book shelf, hardly comparable to the plethora of colorful covers that spanned the walls, shelves, and egg-crate aisles of Red’s store.

Like the others on downtown’s south-side, Red 5’s size had been fixed when the city’s reconstruction was planned over a decade ago– long before its owner had ever laid down her wares. At times, between six and nine shops shared these city blocks, and only a fortunate few had procured the coveted corner spot. Red had been quick enough to snatch up corner store before someone else got it. Others were less-fortunate, buried in the center of roads so that even pedestrians paid them less attention. Knowing that, Red kept the shop as quaint, stocked, and inviting as was humanly possible.

Presently she stood before the register on the small counter at the shop’s rear, centered between the four aisles of tables with egg-crates mouth-up on them. Every comic book from the heroic Avengers to the cunning and mischievous Zorro was stocked and alphabetized through-out the crates, while thick, hard and soft-bound compendiums filled the right walls, separated by category and shelved in common book-cases.

The compendiums stretched all the way to the store’s back wall, where the most precious first and signed editions hung in a locked, glass display case behind the counter. Though a few sold, to Red, they were more show pieces than sale items, and their prices reflected that. Conversely, the left wall was covered by hanging racks in slotted peg-boards, “New Issues” emboldened above them in large, black letters. The melange of hues below was speckled neutral around the random of hot and cold colors.

The din of the after-school rush rose and fell as bodies weaved through the store, or thumbed the merchandise. Every few moments, the bell rang as someone came or went, more than a few without purchases. Those lined up to pay were greeted by Red’s bushy, curly, red-hair and thin-rimmed glasses. She wore the standard dress of a lifetime nerd; a screen-printed T-shirt with slacks and flats a decade out of style. She shifted back and forth rhythmically, conducted a symphony on the register with one hand, and bagged merchandise to keep time with the other.

The typically nerdy kids with bad skin, braces, or oily hair– or any combination therein– were interspersed with their more hygienic, elder counterparts in a line that made its way down the middle aisle. At its rear, a smug kid in a blazer stood beside his gum-popping brunette as she wore a perpetual disgust above her crossed arms. They couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, but the kid had “spoiled brat” etched permanently into his forehead, as though tattooed their at birth.

The line shuffled forward to Red’s left-handed symphony, and the punctual whole-rests after dings as the drawer slid open. A cascade of change clamored over the audible flit of bills counted out. Plastic rustled, gave way to light tamps on carpet that preceded yet chime of the door’s bell.

Even before the smug kid and his disgust compatriot made it to the register, Red smelled trouble. It clung to the air like B-O at a Comic-con, thickened the air she drew through her nose and mouth with a pungent putrescence. She’d been attuned to it for years, once its long time victim and its occasional visitor. Its attraction to her was more than part of the reason she’d continued to live alone at thirty, and otherwise interacted very little with the world outside work. While it was lonely, it was better than the humiliation and drama of being rejected past her twenties. She was single, plain-looking, and her bushy, auburn hair was mostly usually wild, unflattering.

In short, she wasn’t in the mood to be harassed, but the spoiled brat didn’t seem to notice nor care. He merely stepped to the front of the line, sans merchandise, and slapped a business card onto the counter. Red eyed it from afar. The minute text inclined something about investment banking with Bacatta First National bank. It was BS, and Red knew it– probably Daddy’s card he used to get what he wanted.

She furrowed her brow, “Can I help you?”

The brat glanced sideways through the place like he owned it, “Yeah, I’m with BFN. Noticed your contract’s up at the end’a the month, wanted to by the place out.”

She slid the card across the counter, looked past him to the next customer, “Sorry, not for sale.”

He filled her vision by leaning forward with two, greasy hands on the counter. His blue sports blazer hung open over his t-shirt and above his blue jeans with a wannabe-Hollywood style.

He leaned forward, whispered, “Look, we can talk civilly about this, or I can get my attorneys involved. Believe me when I say, you don’t want that.”

She lift the card with a finger nail, slipped it in between her fingers, and leaned forward to slip it into his front blazer pocket, “Not. For. Sale.”

He straightened with a twitch to the corners of his mouth and eye, puffed out his chest. He gave a hearty laugh, “What, you think these dweebs’ll keep you in business forever?” His projected speech drew the collective ire of the “dweebs” around the store. “Hell, I’m offerin’ you a good deal. I buy out your contract right now for my girl’s new pad, you get a little extra, and we don’t have to take this any further.”

Red grit her teeth, crossed her arms with a sneer. Her spine went rigid, “These dweebs are my customers and friends. You think you can just walk in here with your Daddy’s clout and harass me? I think the BPD’d have something to say about that.”

He snorted, glanced around at the oiled faces of the kids in the store. He threw out his arms to beckon a fight. A few of the adults shook their heads in disgrace.

“You think a guy like me’s gotta’ worry ’bout cops?”

A deep, heavy man’s voice intoned from the left, “No, but I think a guy like you’s about to get thrown out on your ass.”

Red’s face went blank, her jacked slacked slightly. The brat turned, readied a smug grin. It sank as his eyes met the hulking figure of Cameron Burr, owner of Gamer’s Galaxy, world-wide internet celebrity, and local brick-shithouse. He took two, wide steps toward the brat, dwarfed he and his girlfriend in width, and nearly a foot in height.

At one time, Cam had been a heavy-set guy with a failing business. Then, some of his friends got together to create an internet-video network– like a television station– that revolved around Gamer’s and their interests. One of the shows, called “Tank Training,” had been Cam’s attempt at a reality fitness show. Among other things, Cameron had lost the majority of his fat, compressed the rest into thick bulges of muscles. The show’s format then changed as he began training others, but it had left him looking like a pro-boxer with more confidence.

Red’s dull expression tracked him toward the brat, but it disintegrated as Cam met her eyes.

“This asshole botherin’ you, Winny?” He asked, with a nickname she hadn’t heard since Junior-High.

Red wet her dry mouth. To see Cam in her store was like a celebrity sighting and rival confrontation rolled into one. More than that though, he seemed more than ready to defend her, risk a possible fight. Even if he pummeled the dumb bastard into the ground– which he most certainly could– Daddy’s lawyers would have a field day. Then again, Cam had always been the gentle giant, and now had piles of money from his internet network to stand on. Perhaps there wasn’t as much risk as she thought.

She stammered a reply, “Cc-am? Y-yeah. Little brat just walked in here–”
“That’s slander,” the kid spat.

Cameron crossed his massive arms, “Why don’t you turn your little ass around, and get outta’ the store before this dweeb shows you the door.”
The kid glanced around with a smug sneer. The kids and adults alike had begun to whisper to one another. Clearly they knew something he didn’t. Even his “girl” seemed afraid.

She leaned into whisper with her high, valley-girl nasal-ness, “Mark, that’s Cam Burr, the guy from the web.”

A slow, terrified realization crept across his face as his confidence fell away and his chest deflated. A shit-eating grin spread across Cam’s mouth. His head titled with a lift of his brow as he spoke, “You recognize me now, don’t you?.”

Red saw her chance, took it. She flanked the bratty punk with a harsh tongue, “You think everyone in here’s just a loser ’cause they’re not rich pricks like you. Then you see someone you know isn’t, and you’re instantly terrified they’ll rat you out for the asshole you are. You’re pathetic kid. Now get the hell outta’ my store before I have Cam toss you through it.”

The kid’s mouth hung open like a stoned catfish. He met Cam’s eyes beneath brows that jumped with an eager smile. A voice sounded behind him, caused him to whip backward. One of the “dweebs” had shouted “Would you kindly fuck off!” Others began to spout curses and swears to decry the kid’s continued presence. He swiveled to see eyes and faces directed at him as a chant rose through the store. Up-thrust fists kept the beat.

“Prick. Go home. Prick. Go home. Prick. Go Home.”

The kid was thrown for a loop; a spoiled brat to put a moldy apple to shame. His “girl” began to drag him away as he rubbernecked his way out, completely dumbfounded. The terror in her face feared the of oily nerds getting too near, her humiliation tenfold the red on her cheeks.

Red called the door’s bell rang, “Let it hit your ass on the way out!”

Cam gave a roaring chuckle as the brat passed from the store. His dumb expression was still plastered over his punk-face when it disappeared around the left-corner windows. The people roared with a cheer that brought a timid smile to Red’s face. Cam braced a hand against the counter to lean as the crowd settled, returned to their former moseys.

“Thanks,” Red said through her shy smile.

Cam tossed a dismissive hand sideways, “Eh, fuck ‘im. No one messes with Winni Asner.”

She chuckled, “It’s Red now.”

Cam’s smile was charmed by hers, “I know, but you’ll always be Winni to me.”

Her face reddened slightly, “That’s fine.”

Cam caught it, his face glowed, “Don’t worry ’bout guys like that. Long as you pay your rent, you got nothin’ to worry ’bout. And if you ever need anything… you know… business-wise, don’t hesitate to stop by the shop.”

Red saw a curious gleam in his face, thrilled by the rush of adrenaline from the confrontation. “S-sure,” she stammered. “I… uh– I could use some, actually.”

Cam straightened with a wily eye, expertly contained a tickle of glee beneath his aloof exterior, “Why don’t you stop by the shop tonight then? Say… 8:15? Max and Riley’ll cuttin’ out ’bout then. And we can… you know, talk.”

Red’s cheeks and ears suddenly matched her hair, “Uh.. s-sure. Talk. About business.”

“Right,” Cam said with a single nod.

She half-laughed, half-inhaled a breath, “S-so I’ll s-see you then.”

He smiled, readied to turn away, “I’m lookin’ forward to it.”

Her heart jumped as he turned away with a smile, stepped outside to where he thought he was out of view, then thrust a fist in victory. She giggled with a exhilarated breath as the next customer took their place in front of the counter, ranted and raved about her expert dispatch of the brat. Through-out the next hour, each of the people in the store that had seen the confrontation gradually stepped up to say their piece or thank her. As the last of them trickled out, her day returned to normality.

Night gradually overtook the store outside as Red’s adrenaline waned, gave way to anxiety at the meeting ahead. What neither Red nor Cam could have anticipated was its eventual outcome. That cryptic “meeting” clearly became a date as she thought more on it.

Red’s anxiety peaked as she pushed open the door to Gamer’s Galaxy. Despite it being just around the corner from her shop, the place was mythical to her. Its hardwood floors, aisles of board games, and stocked walls of rule-books, card games, and video-games had been immortalized in countless internet vids. The terror of a celebrity meeting skyrocted as she met her other, fellow Bacatta alumni Riley and Max; two, beautiful, female lovers she’d known nearly as long as Cam. Like him, they were world-famous for their vids, doubly so even for their extreme popularity. Even so, they greeted her as old friends as they pointed her to the backroom and readied to leave.

Red’s notion of a date was asserted as she stepped into the small, back-room where the large, gaming table sat with its leaf in. Atop its deep, glossed mahogany finish were a pair of place settings and a handful of bags from Emma’s Diner next door. A plethora of scents wafted from them to fill the back-room with mouth watering

Cam stood up from the laptop on a card table in an alcove at the room’s left, “Winni! S-sorry, I was just finishing up some last-minute stuff.” He shut the laptop, stepped toward the table, “I know it’s not much, but Emma’s place is our mainstay. I-I wasn’t sure what you’d want, so I bought the place out. I-I figured we’d both be hungry after a full day of work.”

Red’s anxiety dissolved at Cam’s own, stammering terror. A wide smile crossed her face, plumped her cheeks.

What took place in that small stock-room, was the furthest Red had ever known from a business meeting. They drank, smoked, talked well into the night; until dawn drew their respective open-hours frightfully near. Even so, neither cared. They split for work only to return the next night, then again, and again before the dates blossomed into more.

Before either of them knew it, they were celebrating an anniversary, Red’s patronage nearly doubled from the consequences of that fateful day she’d slain the snot-nosed brat’s ego. The confrontation became a legendary tale that spread through the “dweebs” of Bacatta, tripled her earnings, and created a safe place for the nerds and geeks. They finally had a place of peace, where they didn’t have to fear those rich pricks she’d spoken of. As Red 5 continued to grow, it appeared more and more apparent that– for the dweebs at least– Red 5 would always be there to welcome them, shield them. Forever more, they knew, Red 5 was standing by.

Short Story: The Plain and The Pretty

The Plain and the Pretty

Sarah Morgan was a mostly normal girl. She brushed her teeth, combed her hair, and went to school. Day-in and day-out, she would sit in class at Bacatta High-School as dusty teachers lectured on about things as ancient or oxidized as themselves. These were things that would never affect her, that she’d never need in a million years. Despite the obvious trivialities that dribbled from their word-holes, sluiced across the other, assembled brains in class, Sarah took notes. Always. She dutifully copied every word of each subject, every single lecture, each day.

She would’ve stopped, but had no reason to. For that matter, she didn’t care to. It made her look busy and kept her hands at work. She scrawled pages with lightning speed, her eyes always down-turned at the back of every class, but her ears honed on each syllabic resonance and every phonetic clamor against her eardrum.

The only times Sarah wasn’t writing were lunch and dinner. Otherwise, when not recording lectures, it was creating magical fairy-lands, or dark, mysterious dungeons. All along the walls of her bedroom were stacks and stacks of notebooks, loose-leaf sheets of paper, even torn napkins. Each one was categorized, placed in a specific stack.

Where some teenage girls’ walls were splattered with friendly-faced photographs, budded artistic drawings, or the occasional half-nude pop-star, Sarah’s were empty. They were also impossible to find for all the towers of notebooks along them. And where most teenager’s rooms– whether girl or boy– were impassable from weeks-old piles of clothing, papers, and the general left-overs sloth-like youth, Sarah’s was impassable from used pens and nail-like pencil-stubs that created a fine layer of unstable floor above the carpet.

To enter Sarah’s room without agile feet was to take one’s own life in their hands– a fact that her mother and father loved to remark on. Whatever, it kept them out of the room, left her to work in peace. All she wanted to do was write, even skipped frequent meals when a particularly interesting passage flowed like a sieve from her thinker onto her pages.

While she wasn’t plain looking, Sarah didn’t have the bombshell-looks of the cheerleaders, or the brain-gasm smarts of the nerd-girls, or even the dexterous phalanges and sexual curiosities of the band and orchestra girls. In fact, whatever clique one could think to name, she wasn’t in. She was merely a hitch-hiker on the road of life, presently stuck on the far-side of the fast-lane that was high-school.

No-one bothered her, not even to pick on her. For that at least, she was grateful. She liked being alone, even if it was boring sometimes. So it was with extreme irritation to her inner-muse when, one day, she slammed notebook-first into someone in the hallway. Her notebook crumpled, fell. A pair of loud thumps signaled the collision of Sarah’s front-half with another’s. A catastrophic cascade of books tumbled to the floor. Opposite swears drowned the back-step and crouch of both Sarah and her new-found acquaintance.

The girl’s hands slipped beneath her pile of books and papers on the floor, while Sarah’s gathered the loose pages she’d added to certain, earlier sections of the notebook. Sarah’s eyes only captured her fellow victim of circumstance for a moment, but it was clear she was one of the “pretty girls;” a part of the clique that relied on genetics rather than talents– or anything else for that matter– to fit in. They held power over the boys, the prettiest of them alphas that dominated the other girls. Whether Alpha or not, this girl was certainly close to leading the pack.

“Sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

Sarah muttered something similar– more of a grumble than an apology. Even so, the message came across well enough that the girl continued with piercing, blue eyes. “I just moved here. Name’s Allison– most people just call me Ali.”

“Sarah,” she mumbled with less than a cave-man’s intelligence.

Allison gathered the last of her books, stood up, “Well, Sarah, sorry again. Maybe I’ll see you ’round.”

Sarah “mmm’ed” in reply, slid the last of her pages into her notebook, and continued on her way. The clack of Allison’s heels were distinct all the way down the hall, even over the din of lunch-time students in the halls. When the bell screamed through-out the school, it finally drowned the heels’ last reverberations, and ushered in a rise to the din as the students headed for class.

For the rest of the day, Sarah thought little of the collision, returned to her notebooks to record the geography lecture. The topic was long, as arduous as the formation of the lands that dictated the first part of the word. The teacher’s tongue and throat droned while his plump hands drug chalk across the board at an Earthly, slow pace. Sarah’s hands worked too fast for him. She had to drag out her other notebook just to keep moving. The jump between subjects and books made her eyes ache and her head spin, but even so, she managed to make it through the class.

The rest of the day was easy, mathematics formulas and theorems, and biology notes kept her busy. Both teachers were young, agile with their words, wasted no time between them. When the last of the two classes came to an end, Sarah had just enough time to stuff her notebooks in her backpack before the door uncluttered from the dismissal bell. By the time the mass of bodies formed the shapely, single-file line, she was up, headed for the hall.

She slipped out in the dissipation of students in divergent streams, floated out to the far-side of the hall to head for the stair-well. She dodged the few locker-clingers that blocked her path, her feet quick to juke sideways and back in-step without a missed beat. Near the end of the hall, a clamor sounded behind her like a band-geek’s tuba had just fallen and shattered on the tile floors. She smelled “fight” before the word was ever uttered. Her neck craned backward as her feet continued forward.

Indeed, a pair of the testosterone-fueled, genius-carriers of the Y-chromosome had begun to trounce one another. With what little Sarah could see, it was like one of those hockey-fights– sans the usual, impressive act of balancing on ice-skates while they pummel one another. It ended as quickly as it began, the two boy-children torn apart by a pair of teachers over shouts. Sarah rolled her eyes. The next moment came in actions that seemed to slow time. She lifted a foot, began to rotate her head back to her forward-path. As her eyes caught the view ahead, a locker door was flung open. Her foot came down just as the door’s edge bisected the bridge of her nose.

She was smacked by the door, fell to her ass. The locker-door made a thwanggg with the sound of cheap metal. Sarah was certain her tail-bone was broken– or maybe that was just the feeling of her fractured pride. The locker-door flung closed as Allison’s face appeared, her piercing-blue eyes wide as saucers.

A hand covered Allison’s slacked jaw, “Oh. My. God.” Sarah half-expected the pretty girl to laugh at the plain-girl’s misfortune, was doubly stunned when Allison extended a hand to pull her up. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry!”

Sarah took her hand, “S’ok.”

“Sarah, right? Are you alright?” She asked as her hand pulled a jacket from her locker.

Sarah’s wits returned slowly, “Uh, yeah. Allison, the new girl.” Allison nodded. “I remember– Ali, that’s what you said earlier.”

“Yeah, are you sure you’re alright? I totally wasn’t paying attention,” She asked while she fished an arm out of the jacket, stuck her arms into it.

Sarah shrugged, the interaction already belabored past her comfort-zone. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, “Yeah. Nothin’s broken. Was my fault anyhow.”

Sarah wanted to make a move away, but it was clear Ali’s guilt was beyond that of the other pretty girls. Her turned head and eye-contact made it all the more clear she wasn’t going to let Sarah go until they’d exchanged some pleasantries– at least there was some sign of life in that pack of wannabe-plastic people that called themselves rulers.

“Well, still, I’m sorry.” She fished out her backpack, shut the locker. Sarah sensed the dreaded walk-and-talk that people did as Ali started forward, “Those fights happen a lot here?”

Sarah had trouble matching the pace of Ali’s “don’t-quit” legs, but moved in-step beside her to the stairs, start down them. “Uh, I dunno’. I never see ’em, just usually hear ’em– and usually at lunch.”

Ali grimaced, “So they happen a lot then?”

Sarah shrugged, “Once or twice a week.”

Ali rolled her eyes with a huff as they rounded the first foyer, “God guys’re retarded. It’s like… they don’t even have half the brains they were given. Just drooling, slobbering, ogres with B-O and ape-brains.”

Sarah laughed. Genuinely. It surprised her too. It even started with one of those throaty-snort sounds people made when they were genuinely amused. It made Ali’s piercing-blues brighten, her lightly tanned face almost glowed as he cheeks dimpled.

Sarah nodded, “Yeah, they’re cave-people with less hair.”

“At least most’a the time,” Ali joked.

They giggled laughed all the way down to the main-floor, were at the hallway for the front doors before they could speak again. The doors ahead gleamed like a holy beacon– and indeed to some they were– as the autumn sun splayed late-afternoon rays across the floor before them. The buses had already begun to depart, the crowd of bodies thinned to only the last, few hangers-on that waited for rides from parents.

“Shiiit!” Sarah groaned as she watched her bus lumber away.

“What’s wrong?” Ali asked with a glance.

She threw her head back, her shoulders slumped, “Bus’s gone.”

Ali patted her back, “Ah, don’t worry. I can give you a lift.”

They stepped from the less-populated entrance, “It’s cool. I’ve walked before. No biggie.”

Ali sighed, “Oh come on, Sarah. I smacked you with that door. It’s the least I can do.”

Sarah contained the squirmy discomfort that wriggled within her. In truth, she didn’t much mind walking if the alternative was more intimate time with another person. Before she could protest further, Ali wrapped both her arms around Sarah’s right bicep.

Come onnn, my car’s right around the corner.”

Sarah sighed, “Okay, okay.”

Ali half-drug her the length of the red and white brick school, her gait double that of Sarah’s. They rounded the corner to the insanity of the Junior-Senior class parking-lot. All manner of cars from all makes and years filled the horizon; from old, rust-bucket clinkers whose mufflers were only such in a theoretical sense, to brand-new, shiny BMWs and Mercedes bought with the greasy cash of wealthier mommies and daddies.

Ali drug Sarah clear across the parking-lot, all along the way the two were forced to dodge the erratic, imbecilic drivers they called peers. Ali even heated up, flipped one guy off after he shouted, “Nice ass, baby. Now, move it!” She finally stopped at the rear-end of a relatively new soft-top convertible, Camaro. The car said enough to tell Sarah that Ali had some money– or her parents did anyhow. While she doubted it was BMW or Mercedes money, for a plain-girl forced to ride the bus everyday, Ali was leaps and bounds beyond her own fiscal benefactors.

“Wow. Nice car,” Sarah said with admittedly more awe than she’d have liked.

Ali slipped into the driver’s seat, and the engine roared to life, “Yeah, it gets me where I need to go. Sucks in the winter though– too much power and not enough weight.”

Sarah buckled her belt, “Better than the bus, I bet.”

“Oh definitely,” she agreed as she backed out, followed the aisles to the line of cars that waited for the turn onto Orwell Avenue. “So where we headed?”

Sarah was still enamored with the plush interior. It smelled of something like dream-sicles tasted; creamy and orange with just a hint of cold.

“Sarah?”

“Huh? Oh, right. Up Orwell to Marigold, then a right on Beech,” Sarah said oblivious to her driver’s ignorance.

“Gonna’ need a play-by-play,” Ali replied through the right from the school onto Orwell.

“Just keep going forward. It’ll be on the left.”

The shopping mall gleamed in Ali’s rear-view mirror behind and to the side of other student drivers. Ahead to the left, Orwell branched off in city-blocks that gridded the northern section of town in a long rows of quaint boutiques, shops, and various, other establishments too small for the sky-scraping madness further North on the horizon.

All along Orwell Avenue, traffic made its start-stop procession through the three-way stop-lights that made up the bulk of the South-side of “downtown.” The cozy, beige brick and mortar shops that were sandwiched side-by-side, ended abruptly with the Y-fork of Orwell and Armistice. Sarah kept Ali on track past the police-department that hid the first sections of the southern neighborhoods. Then, well-manicured lawns rose and fell with the hilly topology of the middle-class side of town. The more expensive houses were even further South, undoubtedly where Ali lived.

The hilly rise of the police-station fell to Lotus Drive. After a few houses, Hyacinth passed with its sloped, Northern incline, and Marigold peered out at its re-leveled height to match Orwell. Ali’s left turn was greeted by a block of cookie-cutter houses one either side. The Camaro slowed to a stop at Willow and Marigold, kicked up into second before the next intersection and the turn on to Beech from the three-way stop. At the left, the river that ran from Grove Park to the center of town, was visible between the side yards of Elm Street’s houses. It marked the property lines of the homes on either side, twisted and turned beneath the small bridges on Orwell and Asimov– two of the main Avenues through town– to deposit in a pond far ahead.

Sarah pointed to a tall white house, its lawn as well-manicured as the rest on this side of town, save for the few weeds that grew through the cracked, cement driveway. As usual, it was empty in the early afternoon. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be home for another few hours.

Sarah readied to slip out of the car– in truth, readied to bolt like a deer in the headlights– and glanced to Ali, “Thanks for the ride.”

Ali smiled with perfect, white teeth that met one another at crisp angles, were obviously the product of expensive orthodontics; yet another testament to the pretty-versus-plain girl contrast between them.

“Anytime, Sarah,” Ali said. She hesitated as Sarah pulled on the door handle. She was almost to freedom when Ali spoke again, “Hey umm… Can I ask you something real quick?”

Now Sarah was a deer in the headlights. She had the vacant face of terror and confusion, the dumb stare into mysterious, fast-approaching glowey things that even Sarah couldn’t name in the moment. The question formed on Ali’s lips innocuously, much like the graceful automobile that went about its business as unwittingly as that most mentally-stunted of animals.

Ali drove on, completely oblivious, “Do you mind if I hang out here for a while? I mean, I don’t wanna’ be rude or anything but home kinda sucks this time’a day.”

With all the nimble majesty of an airborne deer in mid-collision, Sarah replied, “U-uh, s-sure, I guess.”

She would have said no, knew she should have, but something had compelled her not to. Terror might have been its source, or perhaps mere stupidity. In either case, a mental five-K began for Sarah the engine cut-off and Ali stepped out of the car. Sarah followed, even to the door, where the only indication that something was expected of her was the way Allison stepped aside to let her reach the knob. While she dug for her key, tried to produce it to unlock the door, the five-K turned to hurdles.
Why’d she accept the ride? Why’d Allison offer it? Was this some prank by the other pretty-girls? Was it mere chance, or even fate? Even then, what was the point? Sarah was a loner; a fact she knew and liked-well about herself. What good was companionship to her? What good was her companionship to another? More importantly, what would Allison think when she inevitably twisted her ankle stepping into Sarah’s room? Would her neurotic note-taking and ceaseless word-smithing become a new focus of taunts for the pretty-girls and their gimps? And why’d Allison’s house suck with her undeniable wealth?

All these questions sprinted through her mind in the micro-seconds it took for her to unlock the door and step into the foyer. She held the door politely, half-prepared to slam it shut on Ali’s face, but knew she couldn’t. As much as part of her wanted to kick Allison to the curb, the rest was intrigued at how things would play out– what exactly the answers to those questions would be.

She followed Ali up the stairs as she rubbernecked the white, tastefully decorated walls filled with typical, middle-class photo-frames, knick-knack shelves, various electronics and faux-wood furniture.

“Wow,” Ali said as she stepped aside to let Sarah up the stairs. “This place is nice.”

Sarah snorted, “Nah, it’s just home.”

Allison shrugged, followed her through the dry-walled archway and into the kitchen, “I like it. It’s cozy.”

Sarah set her pack on the table across the kitchen, “Uh… cool I guess. Well, you want somethin’ to drink?”

Sarah went about the tedious process of listing the house’s entire beverage repository before they settled on pop. They sat at the table in an awkward silence while Sarah’s leg made restless shakes underneath it.

Again the perfect teeth appeared as Allison broke the awkwardness with a smile, “I’m guessing you don’t have many friends.”

“Uh…”

She smacked her forehead, “Wow that sounded really insensitive.”

“No, it’s–”
“What I meant to say is; you seem nervous, like you don’t hang out much.”

Sarah opened her mouth to protest, but her mental faculties were tied up in the questions she’d asked. So much so that the lie-production machine in her brain had no room to cater to her already-minute ego.

She closed her mouth with a long sigh, sank back in her chair to open it again, “It wasn’t insensitive. I got what you meant. I’m not really easily offended anyhow. Stuff just sorta’ rolls off’a me.”

Ali chewed a corner of her lip, “You’re sweet, Sarah, but I’m an idiot.”

Sarah shrugged, attempted reassurance, “I can’t tell you for sure since we just met, but you don’t seem like one.”

“See what I mean,” Ali replied with a bigger smile than before. “You’re sweet.”

Again, Sara shrugged, “I dunno’ maybe. But you’re right anyhow. All I do’s hang around by myself. At home and at school.”

She frowned, “That must be lonely.”

Sarah slurped a sip from her can, “Sometimes, but not really. It’s just how I’ve always been. I mean, no one who doesn’t have mental problems wants to be alone all the time. For me, it’s just easier.”

Ali seemed intrigued, “Well, why don’t you make friends?”

“Just too busy, I guess.”

Her intrigue grew, “Busy how?”

Sarah was suddenly timid, quiet. Her mouth squirmed, her forehead hardened, angled closer together. Her face pointed downward at the floor, but Allison leaned to get a better look at it. Sarah was too scared to explain her utterly obsessive-compulsive writing habits. There was too much in her brain that didn’t want to come off like a freak. What little ego and pride she had was too delicate, fragile, to take the risk. All the same, Allison waited.

“Earth to Sarah. Come in Sarah,” Ali joked.

She shook off her petrified trance, “Uh, well, I um… uh… Mostly write.”

Ali’s eyes brightened, “Write? Like stories and stuff?”

Sarah was profoundly terrified– to the point that all the words she knew of to describe fear summed together still didn’t describe its depth.

Her words tumbled out like dice from an upturned cup, “Uh, well sh-yeah. I mean, um… most of the t-time anyhow.”

“Does anyone ever read ’em?”

Sarah shrugged. She knew the answer was no, but the ambiguity of a shrug seemed like it might keep the conversation from turning to its inevitable point. Eventually it would get there, no matter what, but Sarah hoped there would be time before then.

Ali was leaned forward, “Why not? You don’t want ’em to? I could read some if you want.”

Sarah sighed, “Ali, I don’t wanna’ sound like a jerk, but … it’s just not something I really wanna’ share with anyone.”

Allison’s pretty-face had that pinched frown and glisten that pretty-girls get when on the verge of tears from even a minor pin-prick on their feelings. Sara winced. Contrary to her expectations though, Allison blinked, and the gleam became depth-less intrigue.

“Well I get not wanting to be judged, but… d’you mind if I ask why you’re so worried about it?”

It was a fair enough question, and Sarah wasn’t rude enough to say “fuck-off” just quite yet, but even so, she wasn’t sure she had an answer. “It’s just not something I share with anyone. Just something I do ’cause I do it. I don’t really know why I do, but… well it’s like people who hang out with friends. That kinda’ takes the place of that.”

Allison grimaced, “Yeah, I get it, but… do you share anything with anyone? I mean, anything more than the air you breathe?”

Another fair question, granted more invasive than the last, and especially callous for two people who’d just met. But it was more than tame for a pretty-girl. Sarah was once more forced to run through the list of questions that had arisen at the door. She saw a clear pattern emerge from her knowledge of pretty-girl/plain-girl dynamics.

Sarah eeked out a grimace, “You’re gonna’ grill me about this ’til I let you read something aren’t you?”

Ever the more perceptive pretty girl, Ali giggled, “Most definitely.”

Sarah threw her head back, smacked it on the chair, “Blah.” She growled a throaty word that crescendoed in a whine, “Fiiine.” She stood with her shoulders limp, trudged forward, “C’mon.”

Ali followed her from the kitchen out to the right, down the long hallway that opened to the various rooms on either side. She stopped at the door to her room, only one arm limp now, the other with a hand on the knob.

“You light on your feet?”

Ali squinted confusion at her, “Huh? Oh. Well, I was in gymnastics for ten-years.”

“You’ll need it,” Sarah warned.

She shoved open the door. It only just cleared the height of the pens scattered at its threshold. In Allison’s view, the door gave way to stacks of notebooks, and the pen-covered floor. Her jaw fell open, her eyes nearly popped from her skull. Sarah stepped in– or rather-tip-toed– across the plastic and metal pens and wooden pencil-stubs. She slid sideways onto her bed as Alison planted one sure foot before the other to close the door behind her. Her eyes swept the room as she made a small circle inside the towers of notebooks and stacks of loose-leaf papers.
She almost came full-circle, but stopped on Sarah atop the bed, “Holy hell! I thought you were joking. But you aren’t. There’s gotta’ be five-tons of paper in here.”

Sarah shrugged, “Maybe. I’d have to do the math.”

Allison had the sudden urge to rush for a stack, begin tearing through it and soaking up the words inside. Instead, she stepped to Sarah’s side, almost slipped and fell, but managed to maneuver an upright sit from the near-fatal mishap.

Her jaw finally shut to wet her mouth, “Sarah, it’s really hard not to want read this stuff when you see it like this.”

Sarah was melancholic, “A lotta’ people’d probably disagree.”
“Yeah, but they’re not here.”

She had a point. “Dig in if you wanna’, I don’ really care.”

The bright-eyed intrigue returned to scan the room, “Wh-where should I start?”

“Doesn’t really matter I guess. You mind if I write?”

There was a slight shrug as Ali stood for a stack across the room. She walked for the stack like an acrobat; her hands flat, arms locked for balance across the strewn floor. She reached for a red-covered notebook, returned to Sarah’s side while she scrawled across a fresh piece of paper. The intermittent pauses between ink-scratches gave rhythm to Ali’s thoughts. In the span of a page and a-half, she was transported to a world where a king had sworn fealty to his subjects only to be back-stabbed by a traitor courtsmen whom viewed him as weak.

More short stories gave way to poems about love and death, beauty and pain. The words flowed with rhythmic rhymes and swelled with alliteration whose pace was ever-more kept by the tempo of Sarah’s pen. Every-few pages, detailed histories of worlds, cities, and people would arise with intriguing dichotomies, secrets, and flaws to put the greatest of literary contemporaries to shame. All of this, in only one notebook.

It could’ve been a fluke, Ali knew. She dove into another. Then another. The pattern held strong. All the while, Sarah’s pen worked. A pause a drum solo saw it tossed at the wall ’til it bounced, fell with the others on the floor, and was replaced with a new one.

Ali finished a fourth notebook, the sun already set in the sky. She looked sideways at Sarah, curiously absorbed in her work, as though the world in her mind was the only one that existed.

“Sarah?” It took a minute before her pen stopped, and her head rose from the page with a dull question on her face. Ali was hesitant, all the more emphatic for it, “I’ve read a lot of books and stories. But this is by far the greatest stuff I’ve ever read.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed in disbelief; partly from her self-consciousness, and partly from distrust that a pretty-girl like Allison would ever read, “You don’t have to flatter me, Ali.”

She was insistent, “Sarah, I’m not.” Sarah’s eyes narrowed skeptically. “I know I’m mostly eye-candy to people– like I haven’t got brains– but I know greatness when I see it. Apart from hanging out with friends, all I do is read– like you write. All these stacks of notebooks? That’s how my room looks, but with other people’s books. And I’m telling you this stuff is awesome!

Sarah was suddenly dumbstruck by her own prejudice, as if Ali had heard her thoughts all along. She was also, admittedly, flattered by the idea that someone found her work so intriguing. At the same time though, she was profoundly embarrassed by the way she’d thought of Ali. Here was a girl not unlike herself, save a hyper-critical label Sarah had applied to them both, defying said label to befriend and show her admiration and interest.

“Uh… I-I’m sorry,” Sarah admitted suddenly. She put her pen and paper aside, sat forward to speak openly to Ali. It was a curious thing to her, she’d never opened up to anyone, let alone a stranger. “I judged you, Ali, I’m sorry. I’m an ass.”

It took her a moment to connect the subtext that had lingered between them all day, “Huh? Oh you mean ’cause of the pretty-girl stuff, right?”

“Uh… I wanna’ make sure we’re on the same page… what d’you mean by that?”

Ali explained, “I know you know. You’re what pretty-girls call a plain-girl, someone who’s not super-model gorgeous, or otherwise wrapped in plastic to their eye-lashes. Truth be told, I’m not really either. I just got lucky genetically. I hate those girls.”

“You hate them? But I thought–”
“That I was one?” Ali asked. Sarah nodded in acknowledgment. Ali chuckled, “I know I look it, but I’m not. It’s one’a those weird coincidences– like the ISS they people confuse for a UFO… it doesn’t quite look like a star, and you know it’s not a plane, so what else could it be? Most people go for UFO ’cause they’re not thinking that the space-station’s there.”

Sarah simplified it for her, “You mean Occam’s Razor, right?”

“Exactly,” Ali replied. She pulled her legs in to sit cross-legged on the bed. “I didn’t keep talking to you at school today ’cause I’m an airhead who’s got boundary issues. I like you. You seem interesting. You probably didn’t even notice it, because you’re always writing, but I have two morning classes with you.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed, “Man, I really got pay more attention.”

Ali laughed, smiled, “Point is, I knew I’d either end up being poached by the vapid pretty girls, or be alone. I saw some one that looked interesting, got curious. I was just lucky that I bumped into you at lunch.”

Sarah rubbed her nose, smiled, “I don’t know if the after-school thing was luck, but I get what you’re saying.”

Ali chuckled again, “I really am sorry about that, by the way.”

Sarah shrugged, adjusted herself to hug her knees, “It’s no big deal.”

Ali grimaced, “Actually, it kinda is. If you hadn’t hit that locker door, we wouldn’t be hanging out right now. And I wouldn’t know how awesome you are. And you wouldn’t have someone to tell you.”

For once, Sarah felt perfectly at-ease without her hands constantly working her pen across a page, “That’s… actually a pretty good point.”

They met each other’s eyes with giddy looks that transferred glee between them, and suddenly fell into a mysterious fit of giggles. The plain and the pretty together at last, both equally enamored with the other; one, for its unquenched thirst for friendship, the other for its insatiable hunger for mental stimulation. It was a freak-accident-caused friendship that they both knew would last ’til death. The first few weeks of hanging out only further proved it as Sarah and Ali returned daily from school to write and read respectively. Long evenings soon turned to long nights and weekend sleep-overs, and the latter pushed the former ever-nearer toward greatness with her unassailable support.

The precarious nature of their meeting alone would have given Rod Serling another one for the black-and-white picture-show. The plain and the pretty, Sarah and Ali, writer and reader, entwined in friendship forever over a simple, innocuous mishap.