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The Eggplant and Superman

Ms. EggplantShelby thought she was oh so original. Why would anyone else in her right mind show up at a Halloween costume party dressed as an eggplant? Yet, there she stood, long of leg, slender of arm, wearing an exact, exact duplicate of Shelby’s costume. In her mind, the second Shelby saw the other purple veggie, she dubbed the dubious duplicate Evil Eggplant.

One of Evil’s delicate hands held a glass of red wine, which she sipped through a straw while she stroked the arm of the man in front of her with the other. The costume was not designed for food consumption, as Shelby had learned when she tried to eat a chip with guacamole shortly after her arrival. And now, looking about as ridiculous as Shelby felt, there was her twin having a high old time with – unless she was very much mistaken – Shelby’s objective for the evening.

Jared Fields. Her boss in the workplace, the man of her dreams in her night time fantasies. He was dressed as Superman and had the pecs, abs and overall physique to carry it off. No padding on that bod! The fake black-rimmed retro glasses did nothing to conceal his square-jawed good looks. Clark Kent didn’t hold a candle to Jared Fields.

Evil Eggplant had him laughing at something she’d said. Shelby edged closer, hoping to be inconspicuous in the crowd of witches, goblins, ghouls, the undead, superheroes, jack-o-lanterns and miscellaneous other identifiable and unidentifiable Halloween freaks and geeks.

Jared the amateur gardener seemed quite taken with Evil Eggplant, which – of course – had been Shelby’s plan all along. Not for Evil to have him enthralled stealing Shelby’s thunder, but for Shelby’s quirky costume to captivate him with curiosity if nothing else, which she hoped would lead to something else.

With no other plan surfacing in her mind she stepped up beside Evil and accidentally bumped her wide bottom half. The result was Evil grabbing for any stabilizing body or object to keep from falling over. Superman reached for Evil just as Shelby stepped in front of him giving the appearance she was trying to help, and she was, really. Kind of. More or less. Of course she was limited in her ability to assist, given she had the same limitations that afflicted Evil, bottom heavy weight distribution and four-inch lime green high heels.

Damn! Her doppelganger had copied every aspect of her costume right down to heels, matching tights and the glittered stem sitting atop her “head” like a couture hat.

The hat now lay on the floor flattened and skewered by a buxom witch wearing ruby slippers with hooker heels.

Two ghouls and Green Lantern helped Evil up and retrieved the hat. Evil batted it away and turned on Shelby.

“You bitch! You did that on purpose!”

“Did what on purpose?” Shelby asked calmly. Inside a fuse had ignited.

“Bumped me! You did it on purpose!”

“I most certainly did not. I tried to keep you from falling down.” Calm. Calm. Calm.

“Ha! AND you stole my costume idea.”

Shelby fumed but kept her mouth shut. She now knew the identity of the real thief in the room and the knowledge pierced her heart. Caroline Hopper. Her workplace rival and after work best friend. She should have known. They relentlessly competed for everything on the job: promotions, projects, perks, benefits, raises. Was it any surprise her friend would compete for the big prize?

But Jared wasn’t a prize to be won. He was the love of Shelby’s life, or she wanted him to be. Yes, she had a wild and crazy crush on Jared, who wouldn’t? Just look at the man! But it was more than that. She admired his dedication on the job and how he spent his time away from work. They’d stood shoulder to shoulder at soup kitchens, spent frigid hours distributing blankets to the homeless on cold winter nights, and many a Saturday sorting through thrift shop donations culling the good stuff from the crap. Caroline had no time for such nonsense, as she put it. “Lazy bums need to get a job and stop being victims!”

And then there was the time Jared tricked her into going roller skating after volunteering with the women’s shelter and another time he’d convinced her to spend an afternoon working with him in the south side community garden, which turned out to be way more fun than she ever imagined it could be.

Shelby regretted all the times she had confided in her best friend about how much she admired Jared and wished he would think of her as more than an employee or as a good friend with off-the-job mutual interests. Of course she had shared the eggplant costume idea with Caroline.

Instead of responding to her friend’s accusation, Shelby turned and walked away. She could never compete with Caroline, who was more than a match for Jared in looks and business savvy, charm and wit, class and sophistication. Shelby was smart and creative so vying with Caroline on the job was a piece of cake, but in terms of physical attributes, Caroline was in a league of her own. Besides, “winning” wasn’t Shelby’s goal. She wanted Jared’s unconditional love, bells and whistles, hearts and flowers and happy ever after. And at least three kids. And a dog.

By the time she had said her thank yous and goodbyes to her hosts (as her mother taught her to do come what may), and had reached the elevator, she desperately wanted to rip off the stupid costume so she could dry the tears streaming down her face. The most important competition of her life and she was just walking away? But it wasn’t a competition, was it? If she had to fight for some guy, did she even want him for goodness sake!?

“Absolutely!” she said aloud. She whirled around just as the elevator arrived and walked right into Superman’s “S” and his strong open arms. He backed her into the elevator and as the doors closed, whispered, “You know, Shelby, eggplant is one of my least favorite vegetables, but I’ve always been kinda crazy about what’s inside this one.”

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Image: clipart.com with a bit of creative intervention

Short Fiction

The Music of Life

RoseI hate to dance. Period. That’s it. Today is my sister’s wedding day. She’s three years younger than I, which means I’m the spinster sister, although I’m a mere twenty-six. What does one have to do with the other? Nothing really, but it does contribute to me hiding out in the house while the bride and groom, and everyone else, twirls with abandon on the outdoor dance floor my father paid an arm and a leg to have installed just for the occasion.

My sister’s wedding.

I won’t be missed. Everyone knows I don’t like to dance. I’ve tried it, don’t get me wrong, even had dance lessons. My instructor kindly told my mother I was hopeless. If I was told to go right, I went left; if I was told to twirl, I stumbled; if I was told to dip, I dropped.

Let it be said, this put quite a damper on my social life.

A dancer I am not.

I wandered into the kitchen and dodged the caterers as I put together a small plate of food and filled a champagne flute with OJ. So much more elegant than just any old juice glass.

Flute and plate in hand, I plopped into an armchair in my dad’s home office. It was as far from the music as I could get and still be inside, away from notice.

I had helped select the menu for the dinner, so I had no problem plowing through the food on my plate. I should have gotten more, but dared not make a foray into the kitchen for another run. It would be just like my mother to be in there making sure the caterers knew what they were doing.

The froth of my dress, yes, it’s one of those too, too much in every way dresses brides force their bridesmaids to wear so we look ridiculous while she looks amazing. Fortunately for me mauve complimented my fair skin and chestnut hair. The sweetheart neckline and fitted bodice was okay. The mutton sleeves I could do without, as well as the miles and miles of silk and tulle worked into the skirt. We all looked like pudgy Swan Lake ballerinas on speed, even those of us with a slim figure.

I love you Sis, but some of your friends don’t need extra bulk around their butts and thighs. Just saying.

I jumped when the door opened. The most handsome man I have ever seen in my life stood there grinning at me.

“There you are! Joe told me to look for you in the most unlikely spot.”

“Joe?” I queried stupidly taking in the specimen before me with palpitating heart. Yeah, I know, treacly word, but my, oh my, my heart was stampeding like a herd of wild ponies.

“Yeah, Joe, your new brother-in-law. About my height, dreamy green eyes…”

He palmed the air when I raised my eyebrows at the dreamy green eyes comment. “That’s Pam’s description, not mine!”

Pam is my sister and Joe does have dreamy green eyes.

“So, come on. They’re wearing out the dance floor. Pam told me to come get you.” He put his hand out and expected me to take it. It’s the hardest thing I ever did to look at him like he was certifiable. I tucked my hands under my butt like a little kid to avoid temptation that might lead to something like dancing.

“Who are you?”

Let me see. How many witty opening gambits are there for meeting a hunk and half? Surely anything would be better than, who are you.

He gave a hokey sweeping bow, “Jake Morrison, at your service.” He straightened and that grin was back. “Joe’s friend. We grew up together.”

I did not remember Joe mentioning a Jake Morrison, and as one who poured over the guest list with razor like precision because it kept growing like weeds after a rainstorm, I knew Jake Morrison’s name was not there.

“I’m here as a surprise. I’ve been out of the country, but I had to be here for the most important day in Joey’s life.”

One, only Pam called Joe Joey, and two, had this man just read my mind?

“OOOOkay.”

“So, how about it. Let’s join the party.”

The music I hadn’t been able to hear, at least not very well, seemed to drift into the room. His hand hovered in front of me, palm up. Not clear exactly why I did it, I took his hand and let him help me up. I actually made it to my feet without falling on my face. As if it were meant to be, he brought me close, into a dancer’s embrace, my right hand in his left, his arm gently around my waist, and for reasons beyond my understanding, I placed my left hand on his shoulder (and a mighty fine shoulder it was) to steady myself.

“You are as beautiful as Joe said.”

I gulped. Nobody called me beautiful. Ever. Pam, well, she’s just a knockout. I’ve never minded. I’m okay, I mean my looks, don’t get me wrong, but beautiful?

He twirled me in time with the distant music, and I didn’t trip. Now that made my lips turn up in surprise, and maybe a touch of happy.

“And you have a lovely smile.”

I blushed.

“I hear you’re quite the artist, too.”

Painting, my guilty pleasure.

“How do you know about that?”

“Pam, she brags on you all the time.”

See, the thing is, my sister is my biggest fan, so I wasn’t surprised by his comment. However, my dabbling was just that, and I told him so as we dipped and swayed around Dad’s office, which seemed to have taken on dimensions I’d never realized before. Of course, when you know how to dance, and how to lead, it doesn’t really take that much space, I thought.

“What type of artist are you?”

“I just told you, I’m not an artist. It’s a hobby, that’s all.”

“You don’t think much of yourself, do you?”

Now I took offense at that statement. It’s just that I know my limitations.

“If you have limitations, you put them on yourself.”

Did I say that out loud? No, I did not.

“Let go, Anna, dance to the music of life.”

“I don’t dance.”

He grinned. “You are dancing,” he said, and spun me around, then caught me in a feather light embrace.

A slight frown marred his countenance. Abruptly he let me go and stepped back.

“Excuse me, I have to take this.” He pulled a cellphone from the pocket of his suit coat.

“Hello?”

I fidgeted and wished we could get back to doing that thing I don’t do: dancing.

“Now!? But I’m at my friend’s wedding.”

He turned away from me and nodded his head to whatever was being said on the other end of this annoying conversation. “Yes, I know you said I shouldn’t, but…” When he was done, he slipped the phone back in his pocket and turned to me, disappointment written all over his handsome face.

“Sorry, I have to go.” He smiled with such warmth and kindness, I smiled in return, even though in my heart I suspected I would never see this man again.

“Remember what I said, Anna, dance to the music of life.”

“I don’t dance!” I yelled as he walked out and closed the door.

I sat back down in the chair and wondered what the heck just happened.

“Here you are!”

I startled awake to find my sister, wedding gown still sparkling, wrinkle free and gorgeous, leaning over me.

“I found her!” she shouted, as if I was at the North Pole.

Alex, one of Joe’s groomsmen poked his head around the door. “Can I come in?”

What was I going to say? No?

“Listen, Anna, no hiding out. I may be the star of this show, but you’re my best supporting bridesmaid. Everyone’s asking where you are.”

“I got this, Pam,” Alex said. “You better get back before Joe starts to wonder if you’ve already come to your senses and left him.”

Pam punched him in the shoulder hard enough to make him wince. My sister, in addition to being runway model beautiful, is a black belt in karate.

She left me with Alex who turned to me with a dazzling grin and put his hand out to help me up from my chair. I surreptitiously pinched myself on my underarm to be sure I wasn’t asleep and dreaming. I mean, really, what are the odds two gorgeous men would be paying attention to me when there were bevvies of beauties out on the lawn just dying for a flirt fest?

I took his hand and stood up gracefully despite my frou-frou flounces of fabric. I must have looked a bit pensive because Alex’s smile disappeared to be replaced by concern.

“You okay?”

I realized he was still holding my hand and it felt darned good. I took it back and smoothed the fabric of my dress.

“Of course. I… I was wondering what happened to Jake.”

The expression on Alex’s face could only be defined as stunned. He visibly shook himself, or maybe shuddered, and smiled a ghost of a smile.

“Jake?”

“Morrison. Jake Morrison. What happened to him? He was…”

“How did you know Jake? Joe and Pam just got together two years ago.”

“I…”

He looked at me with a mixture of bewilderment and distress. “Sorry, it was just such a surprise to hear his name after all this time.”

I knew I didn’t want to hear whatever he had to say and lifted my hand in a useless gesture to stop him.

“I thought everyone knew. Sorry to be the one to tell you. Jake died in a skiing accident three years ago.”

“But…”

He looked at me and swallowed. “He would be here today, if he could. In some ways…” He glanced around and then back at me. “In some ways, I think he is. Wherever there was music, there was Jake, charming the ladies and spinning them around the dance floor.” Alex drew in a deep breath and blew it out. I sensed he, like I, was on the verge of tears. “His mantra was dance to the music of life.”

He knuckled a tear from my cheek I didn’t know was falling.

“He swore he would dance with the most beautiful girl at the party when Joe got married. He can’t be here, but would you do me the honor of allowing me to fill in for him?”

As we walked into the hallway, I looked back. I swear Jake Morrison was standing there grinning at me. I blinked, and he was gone.

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I hope you enjoy this little bit of romantic fantasy. Be sure and drop by my booth (59) at People’s Faire on Saturday, Aug. 27. I’ll be selling signed copies of my books.

Short Fiction

Hope Springs Eternal (or) Opportunity Knocks

BoutiqueAllie Edwards went to the mall. She didn’t know why. It’s not like she had money to spend. She couldn’t even pay her rent, much less buy something she didn’t need that would, in the end, make her feel guilty as hell.

No job. No prospects. No skills.

One thing she did have in abundance, was hope. Life had been less than fair to Allie, but as her old grandma would say, “Get used to it Miss Allie, life’s not fair, so get over yourself.”

She figured that meant there was no point in having a pity party.

She couldn’t even be mad at Mr. Hernandez for firing her. Business was down, she was the last waitress to be hired and therefore the first to be fired. Plus, in all honesty, she wasn’t too good at the whole waitressing thing. People who ate in restaurants could be downright demanding and mean. And balancing trays loaded with food, and knowing who was supposed to get what? Harder than she ever imagined.

But the job had allowed her to move out of her grandma’s stuffy apartment and into a place of her own. The thought of losing that bit of independence was enough to make her sad, but what could she do but move back with Grams if she didn’t have money coming in?

The mall’s bright interior lifted her mood. The stores with cheerful window displays made her smile. The air conditioning cooled her skin. Tempted by the food court, she almost bought an ice cream cone, but didn’t.

She stood before the window display of Winsome, a shop that catered to women “of all ages,” a bit optimistic in her opinion. You could not be all things to all people, especially when it came to women’s clothes.

“They should rethink who they want to sell to,” she said.

“I beg your pardon?” said an older woman who was also studying the window display.

Allie didn’t know why she spoke out loud, but that was her nature, saying what she thought, speaking when she shouldn’t.

“Sorry, I was thinking out loud. I do that sometimes.”

“Please, go on. What do you not like about the display?”

“Oh, the display is fine, it’s just that ‘women of all ages’ means any woman of any age would be interested in buying any one of those items, and,” she shrugged, “that’s flat out not the case.”

“Please, go on.”

“Well, take that cardigan for instance. The color is nice; most women look good in teal, but the style, well it screams skinny and young. The pants? Can you really see that cut on any woman under twenty-five? I don’t even know what to say about the dress. If it sags on a human female the way it sags on the mannequin, no girl I know would even want to try it on.”

“My, but you do have strong opinions.”

Allie shrugged. “Gram would agree.”

“What do you do, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Allie’s skin flushed. “Nothing right now. I was a waitress for a while, but to be honest, I wasn’t much good at it.”

“Have you ever done sales?”

Allie laughed.

“Why is that funny?”

“Gram says I’m too cheeky to work with the public.”

“Being a waitress is working with the public.”

“Yeah, and remember that part about me not being good at it.”

“How would you like to work for me?”

“Excuse me?”

The woman pulled a small poster from under her arm and showed it to Allie. It read, Help Wanted, Hiring Immediately.

“This is your store?”

The woman nodded.

Allie scrunched her face in confusion. “But I’ve never worked in, well anything like this.”

“My dear, you have shown more savvy than anyone I’ve hired in the past. Let’s call it a trial run. Ninety-day probationary period. What do you say?”

Allie started to tell her why this couldn’t possibly work, but for a change, kept her mouth shut until she built up the courage to say, “Thank you, I would like that. When do I start?”

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I hope you like this bit of short fiction. There will be more :). The image is from clipart.com, the story is mine.