First love can be so poignant…or painful. Which will it be for Helena?
With her mom’s help, Helena spent the weekend baking and decorating cookies for Valentine’s Day. She’d set aside one special cookie for her next-door neighbor, Erik. It had taken her a half-hour to decorate that particular one. She’d piped white icing around the edges of the large, heart-shaped cookie and then filled the inside with a checkerboard of colored icing. Helena had finished it off by piping XOXO in the center. It was the prettiest cookie Helena had ever made. She could hardly wait to give it to Erik when he got home from school on Valentine’s Day.
Erik happened to be the most gorgeous boy in the seventh grade. He was unusually tall and well muscled for a kid his age, with grey eyes and blonde wavy hair, but that wasn’t important to Helena. She had known Erik since they were both toddlers. They used to run naked through the sprinklers back then, oblivious to the differences between boys and girls. When they got a little older, she and Erik would pitch a tent and camp out in the backyard. It was so much fun to lie there at night, just the two of them. They would tell ghost stories and talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up. When they started school, Helena couldn’t help but notice girls would act goofy whenever Erik was around. They all wanted to marry him for some reason. The boys couldn’t decide whether or not to hang out with Erik or pound him into the ground. Erik’s involvement in sports had the dual benefit of keeping girls at bay and winning him acceptance by his peers.
Although Helena was often pushed aside by girls who wanted to be with Erik, she wasn’t jealous. Helena knew that silly girls would come and go, but best friends were forever. Besides, Erik was frequently embarrassed by all the attention, which made Helena all the more sympathetic and loyal. Eventually, though, the girls learned to cope with Erik’s glamour, and the incidents calmed down.
Until this year.
It wasn’t as if Helena was immune from the effects of the hormones that were unleashing themselves on her body, but there seemed to be a collective insanity running through the seventh grade. A maelstrom of gossip swirled amongst the students…who was interested in whom, which kids were already a couple, who’d split up or who’d gotten back together. Very few kids were actually allowed to date, but facts didn’t seem to get in the way of the rumors. In this atmosphere, Valentine’s Day was shaping up to be the Holy Grail of holidays. Preparations had been underway for weeks as the girls decided what kinds of Valentines they were going to pass out, and to whom. The boys were largely and deliberately oblivious.
On the appointed morning, Helena stood on the sidewalk outside Erik’s house and waited for him to emerge. Walking to school together had become routine. Helena had her backpack slung over one shoulder, and in her hand she held a plastic container of the cookies she’d carefully prepared. To commemorate the occasion, she’d tied a red ribbon on the end of her braid, and worn red socks with her white tennis shoes. Helena had also thrown a red hoodie over her jeans.
Erik bounded out of his house, backpack flying. There was not a shred of anything red on his person, nor was he carrying anything that remotely resembled a Valentine. “Sorry I’m late.” He looked Helena up and down. “What’s with all the red?”
“Duh, it’s Valentine’s Day, don’t you remember?” Helena retorted.
It was as if she’d reminded Erik of an overdue library book. “Oh,” he replied.
Read more at Read Short Fiction
What will actor Brynn Ludden do for a little extra charisma?
As Brynn Ludden lay there, feigning Romeo’s poison-induced demise, Juliet dispatched herself with a dagger. He could hear the sniffles and occasional sobs from the audience. He loved it when they cried. Nevertheless, he was relieved he was dead for the last time that season. He was heartily sick of the charismatic Ace Fallon. As Mercutio, the kid had stolen the spotlight in this production of Romeo and Juliet. Brynn wasn’t used to being upstaged.
It had been a good final performance. Brynn knew it would be since he’d stashed his lucky penny in the toe of his left boot. Before he could bask in the glory of his last bow, however, he had to endure the avalanche of hysteria that inevitably greeted Ace’s curtain call. Sure enough, when Ace bounded center stage, it was as if Elvis had come to New York City. It was enough to make him wish Romeo’s poison vial had been filled with closing-night cyanide.
What made it more frustrating was that Brynn couldn’t figure out why Ace was generating so much excitement. Brynn was better looking than him; even Ace had admitted as much during one of their drunken pub crawls. They were about the same age. Furthermore, Brynn had been classically trained as an actor, whereas Ace had skipped higher education altogether. But since the play opened, Ace had attracted more interest, publicity, and girls than Brynn had. It was galling.
Deep down, of course, he knew Ace had pure, God-given, glorious acting talent that burst through whenever he performed. Brynn had suspected as much shortly after having met him. Following rehearsal one afternoon, several actors had gone out to a bar to unwind. Ace had entertained everyone with spot-on soliloquies for each major character in the play. His Juliet was better than Felicia’s, to her dismay. And that was after he’d downed three beers and a couple tequila shots. Brynn had hated him for that.
He couldn’t even console himself with the knowledge that Ace was a jerk. On the contrary, Ace always had something supportive to say to his fellow cast-mates. He’d even gone so far as to downplay his popularity, and the fact that he’d been scouted by one of the best talent agents in the business. Ace was so humble and endearing that Brynn had the occasional impulse to pick up a fencing foil and skewer him to save Tybalt the trouble.
About three weeks after the play closed, Brynn woke with a hangover and a feeling of impending doom. He wasn’t sure why—until he remembered he had an audition and it was Friday the 13th.
Brynn would ordinarily never venture out on Friday the 13th, but this audition was important. He’d pleaded with his agent to get the date changed, but he hadn’t been successful. He was reading for the romantic lead in a small, independent film being helmed by a Very Famous Director. Plus, a certain hot actress was attached to the project. That was one opportunity Brynn didn’t want to miss.
After he’d taken a shower and eaten breakfast, he dressed in the lucky jeans and shirt he always wore to auditions. When Brynn reached for his penny loafers, disaster struck. He’d worn them the night before to the opening of a new bar downtown, and his lucky penny was missing.
It had taken Brynn a long time to find that penny. He’d picked up pennies for months before he’d found one from the year of his birth. Its loss wouldn’t have been so calamitous if he hadn’t already thrown out his rabbit’s foot. A former girlfriend was a PETA member and had threatened to put him on some blacklist if he didn’t. This was a horribly bad omen; Brynn could not go to the audition without all his lucky cylinders firing. He would have to get another talisman quickly…
Read more at Residential Aliens – Speculative Fiction from the Seven Stars
Sophie finally finds a way to become Awesome and Important. Unfortunately, it comes at a high price.
In the Land of Opportunity, Sophie Wilkins lived in a shining seaside city called Important. Many of the residents of Important were simply Awesome, even by their own high standards. Not every resident could truly be accepted as Awesome, however. To be recognized as Awesome required a clear sense of Self-Importance, which was difficult to get and maintain. The criteria were necessarily vague (to keep out the riff-raff), but many citizens sought Self-Importance through physical perfection. This need to be Awesome was an emptiness Sophie could not seem to assuage, however much she tried. Nevertheless, she fed the hunger often and well, on a continuing basis.
Today, Sophie was meeting her best friend Winnie at an Important restaurant. Sophie was looking forward to the outing, since she’d found in Winnie a kindred spirit, another inadequate being in search of relevance. Sophie arrived a little early in order to soak in the Awesome ambiance. The restaurant was chic, sophisticated and fashionable—in short, everything that Sophie was not. Sophie realized that she was a mere mortal, one who dared trespass on the sacred feeding grounds of the Important elite. It wasn’t money that she lacked, oh no. Sophie had plenty of that from Daddy. There was something more obvious that set her apart from her chosen crowd. It was an absolutely unshakeable sense of Self-Importance that had always been elusive. Sophie knew if she could only lose the extra weight that haunted her, she would finally feel superior. And in that way, she would begin to gain some acceptance in this town of wraiths.
While she waited for Winnie at a table next to the restrooms, Sophie sopped up the olive oil on her bread plate with the scrumptious rosemary bread that the waiter had left. Olive oil was supposed to be very beneficial, health wise. With that in mind, Sophie poured out another large pool of flavorful oil from the pretty, hand-painted bottle in the center of the table. It was a good thing her friend Winnie was running late so Sophie could ask the waiter to bring more breadsticks. That way, Winnie wouldn’t realize that Sophie had polished off the whole basket all by herself.
Sophie watched as a designer-clad sylph undulated in her direction. She was the kind of Awesome goddess, Sophie reflected, whom probably always fit in anywhere she went. Sophie hated her instantly, so it came as somewhat of a shock when the golden-haired beauty slid into the chair across the table from her. Sophie was so surprised she almost forgot to wipe her shiny fingers on the white tablecloth.
“Winnie!” Sophie shrieked, oblivious to the somewhat hostile stares of the über-fab that surrounded them. “What have you done to yourself? You’ve dropped a ton!”
Winnie giggled, but pretended not to have heard. She perused her menu with exaggerated interest, wishing to increase Sophie’s curiosity by suspense.
“How did you lose so much weight? Did you get your stomach stapled?” Sophie hissed in a stage whisper that no one could miss, if they’d been at all interested in what someone like Sophie had to say. But Winnie only shook her head.
“A spa?” Sophie asked.
“Have you been in jail?!” Sophie demanded.
Winnie finally laid her menu aside. “Sophie, I’ve turned over a new leaf. It was horribly expensive but I hired a personal fitness trainer!”
Sophie deflated like a blowfish. “I was hoping you’d found a new pill,” she said. “Fitness trainers are too much work. I think I’ll pass.”
Read more at Luna Station Quarterly – A magazine devoted to speculative fiction.