Saturday, July 15, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter G

The List:
-Great Moon Rising
-Gorge, gulch, graveyard
-Gate, Giant Squid, General, gills, gossamer, gauntlets, garnets, garland

The Result:

"Gondu's Gamble"
The sunbeams cast rippled patterns over the seabed, broken by dark shadows darting to and fro. The kingdom of Undersea was awash with activity: the King's Army would be setting forth on a mission to conquer the monsters that had been plaguing the merfolk.

"General Gondu!" A messenger swam through the long, narrow maze of passages that served as the army garrison. "Has anyone seen the General?"

A bulky guard eyed the lithe swimmer only just over half his own size. "The General is in his quarters," he drew the name out slowly, his gills flapping in barely-concealed irritation. The soldier drew two thick bone-knives from their sheaths on his back to check their blades. "He's kind of hard to miss, if you know what I'm saying."

The scrawny young messenger popped his throat gills in terror, but scurried on his way.
"General Gondu!"
"Get outta the way!"
The messenger had to dart and twist to avoid being pushed back by an entire unit swimming toward the exit behind him. Twisting and curling his tail fluke out from among the savage blades, the messenger sighed with relief as he hovered in the empty tunnel.

"General Gondu, sir?" The messenger inched forward.
"... No, no; that's not it. Why, I'd be delighted, your majesty. For me? Ah, that's quite lovely!"

The messenger followed the droning, aimless voice till he came to the opening in the coral wall, draped across with a curtain of sea grass.
"And now," the voice continued, "shall we discuss that betrothal you mentioned? Your daughter is quite—"
"General Gondu?"

The messenger darted back against the far wall as the tall, grey-skinned merman lunged toward him. Bulging green eyes glared from amid a tangle of red hair as Gondu sneered at the messenger.
"How dare you sneak up on me like that?" He thundered. "Do you want to be taken for a spy? Don't you know that I could have you exiled? My mother's a gossamer, she could rot the scales right off your—"
"General Gondu, sir!"
"Do not interrupt me! I am a General in the King's Army and I will not be disrespected by meaningless little—"
"The King is ready to depart, sir!"
The messenger delivered his notice and made for the nearest exit.

Gondu ruffled his neck-gills in disgust. "Guppy," he snarled, withdrawing into his room.
He emerged a few moments later, wearing a pair of golden gauntlets set with glittering garnets, his hair interwoven with a green seaweed garland. He paused to observe his reflection in a shiny slab of obsidian, flexing his long limbs and straightening his tail.
A chorus of voices outside the garrison distracted him from his musings. Gondu slipped out an opening and joined the school of soldiers swimming overhead.
The merman beside him snorted. "Took you long enough!"
"Shut your gob," Gondu jabbed him in the side, sending the merman into the current of several other soldiers.
The merman just ahead, a long, swift soldier with white hair chopped short, turned back to glance over Gondu's accessories.
"You're ridiculous, Gondu, you know that?"
"Hey!" Gondu stiffened but did not slack his pace. "Remember, Gryff, you're a captain and I'm a General. You should show me more respect!"

Gryff shrugged. "You really think a couple of trinkets and seaweed in your hair is going to protect you from these monsters?"
Gondu rolled his eyes and held up his hands. "They're not just trinkets, Gryff. Remember the event that just happened?"
"The Giant Squid attack?"
"No, you gutless grouper! The Great Moon Rising!"
"So? Rumor has it that this is he last one we will be celebrating in a long while."
Gondu frowned. "Who says that? Never mind, that's beside the point. My point is—you know how my mother is a gossamer, right?"
Gryff gave a careless pop of his gills. "So?"
"So I got these from her." Gondu held up his hands to admire the gauntlets.
"Your mother gave you useless pieces of treasure that offer you no protection and make you look like a cucumber."
"They are ENCHANTED!" Gondu practically screamed.

Far ahead, the commander swimming next to King Davor turned back to survey the army. "DISORDER IN THE RANKS!" He boomed, his fiery orange tail of hair whipping out from under a helm of scallop shells. His yellow eyes traveled down the long, snaking school till he saw the mass of green and flash of gold.
Gondu caught the furious stare of the commander and stared right back.
Gryff twisted forward. "Great, now you got us in trouble," he muttered.
Gondu folded his arms. "I'm a general. He can't make trouble for me."

The army swam onward until they reached a long, wide crevasse lined with quartz crystals and hard coral branches: the Glittering Gorge, the very edge of Undersea's boundary.

"Gather!" Boomed the commander, and all the mermen pulled in close to hear him. Gondu jostled and floated higher till he was near the top. He hated having someone else's tail in his face, as much as he didn't mind obstructing the view of those behind and below him.

"Generals!" Commander Dyllum instructed, "Our scouts have sighted the predators frequenting a few areas along our borders. Each of you will be posted to those areas, with the task of corralling the creatures and directing them toward the King's division, which will be posted at the geyser under the rise at the down-current edge of Undersea. General Tynnan, you will lead the squadron toward the Great White Shark’s hunting grounds, in the ship graveyard,” He waved his spear, and the General split off with his men.

“General Urgyn,” Dyllum indicated another merman, “Your group will track the Giant Squid currently feeding on the schools in the Tunnel Caves.”
Gondu watched with envy as a second portion of the mermen departed. He had always envisioned himself as the hero who would vanquish either the fearsome shark or the terrifying squid. The fact that those two predators had been assigned to other units meant that he was left with—

“General Gondu!” Again, Dyllum’s eyes bored right through Gondu’s face. “Post your guards here at the Gorge, to await the Giant Oarfish. When it comes, you are to direct it there,” he gestured with his spear up the rise behind them, “toward the geyser.”
Gondu felt his gills tense; he wanted so badly to protest the unfairness of his position. After all, shouldn’t the merman with enchantment to protect him be the one to lead the largest group against the fiercest predator, rather than waiting for some eel’s cousin to come wedge itself among the crystals and coral? But just before the words came out of his mouth, Gondu saw King Davor pass by, leading his men up the very rise. He would show the king just how respectful and dutiful he could be!
“Yes, sir!” Gondu barked, gratified when he saw the king pause, his dark hair swirling in the current.
Dyllum only joined the pod and traveled to the rise without a backward glance.

Gondu turned and stared at the mermen aimlessly hovering behind him.
“You heard the commander!” he barked. “I want all you worthless bottom-feeders to take up positions along this gorge! The Oarfish is coming! Move your tails!”

The shadows deepened as the sun moved along its course. Still, the oarfish did not make an appearance. Gondu watched with growing fury as plenty of other fish coasted by his post—but not the great, impressive predator he wanted. He drifted off in the direction of the Tunnel Caves. How he longed to be there! He could almost hear the shouts of those soldiers as they gave the Giant Squid chase through the arches—
“Hey!” Gondu flinched as a merman called out to him. “Where are you going?”

Gondu turned and gave the insolent perch his most ferocious stare. Bringing himself up straight to his full height, he growled, “Never you mind! Attend to your duties!”

A moving shadow distracted him from his anger. The Squid! He could see flashes of its tentacles as the mermen herded it up toward the rise. Every soldier felt the explosion of the geyser and heard the lusty cheers as the Giant Squid met its hot, sulphuric end. Gondu even heard some of his own men calling out to their barrack-mates—or so he thought.

“Fish ho! I see it! General Gondu, I see it!”

Gondu whirled around just in time to see a dark streak slice through the water. His gills began fluttering faster than they ever had before.
“Oh! Um, okay,” he stammered, thinking hard about how they were ever going to get that creature contained in the gorge; it was headed the wrong way! How was he ever going to gain the recognition he sought?

“Change of plans!” he announced to his squadron. “Follow the oarfish toward the Tunnel Caves!”
“Follow it?” queried one of the soldiers. “But Commander Dyllum instructed us to—“
“I know what are instructions were!” Gondu snapped. “I say we’re changing the plan. We’ll corner the oarfish in…” he swam out a ways, seeking a location just ahead of where the oarfish aimed, “That gulch!” he pointed to a shadowy gap. “We’ll get him in that gulch and finish him off ourselves!”
“But what about—“
“DO NOT QUESTION ME!” Gondu raised both fists, letting the dying sunlight glint off the gold gauntlets. “I AM YOUR GENERAL AND YOU DO AS I SAY!”
He turned and swam toward the gulch.

The closer he got, the more he began to recognize that it perhaps wasn’t the most strategic location, as far as being able to control the charging oarfish—but at the same time, the troop on the rise would have an excellent vantage point to see what should promise to be a stupendous battle—even if it was just an oarfish.

“INCOMING!” a solder at the back screamed, and Gondu whirled around just in time to see the oarfish charging directly for him! Easily twice as long as Gondu himself, the predator’s eyes seemed to follow the glint of the golden gauntlets, and Gondu rushed away with an unbecoming shriek. Too late he noticed the length of garland stretching beyond his hair, right into the oarfish’s path.

Every tendon in his body seemed to snap as the oarfish took the garland in its mouth and twisted in the opposite direction of Gondu’s flight. The soldiers in his command all swam like scared angelfish, well out of reach of the oarfish’s sinuous tail.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Gondu screamed, as the oarfish dragged him like a length of rope from a shipwreck. “SOMEBODY STOP THIS MONSTER!”

Finally, a few of the spear-bearers drew close enough to distract the oarfish, who released its grip on Gondu’s garland—but the garland itself remained tangled in its jagged teeth. Gondu wrenched himself away, and one of the spears scored a hit, drawing a red cloud of blood from the fish’s side, but the oarfish lashed out immediately, chomping at the merman’s tail fluke.
Gondu fought to put as much distance between himself and the oarfish as possible. He was just supposed to direct his portion of the troops, wasn’t he? He didn’t necessarily need to be part of the fighting.
“Dear mother, protect me now,” he whispered to the gauntlets.
“LOOK OUT!” a merman screamed, and Gondu found himself once again the target of a very angry oarfish.
Gondu held up his gauntlets. “NOOO!” he wailed.
The snout of the oarfish caught him square in the chest and sent him reeling and tumbling backward as the fish merely glided right over him. When Gondu finally regained his balance, the gauntlets were gone. He had no more protection—and no weapon.

“SHARK!” one of his men screamed, and Gondu saw the clear trail of blood left by the oarfish—and the Great White Shark, just in the act of coming up the rise, surrounded by General Tynnan and his soldiers… coasted right across the dark current.
The General had to bark out quick orders as the shark immediately descended into a blood frenzy. Now every available mer-soldier fought to take the Great White Shark down, while it swam after the wounded Giant Oarfish. Gondu, meanwhile, cowered in a cave; there wasn’t much else he could think of to do. He trembled in the shadows like a little guppy, while King Davor himself came off the rise to finish off the shark, once it had slain the oarfish that should have been Gondu’s responsibility.

Gondu watched the whole scene and drifted his own path back to the garrison of Undersea. He knew what his fate would be.


“General Gondu,” King Davor announced in the royal court on the following day, “in light of your disobedience, your disregard of direct orders, your foolishness that placed so many valiant soldiers in needless peril, and your willful disregard of your post—you are hereby dismissed from my army!”

“NOOOO!!” a creaking voice wailed from just in front of the coral walls. An ancient merwoman—more of a withered sea-hag than merely an elder—glided forward, her pale-grey hands reaching like the feeders of a sponge. “Your Majesty, I beg you! Forgive my son, he is but a boy!”
Gondu cringed at his mother’s simpering response. If Davor wasn’t going to pay him any attention, why did he need to keep working so hard and getting into dangerous situations, anyway?
His mother continued, “Please, take my son back—his military stipend is the only thing sustaining me in my old age!”
King Davor folded his arms, and the Royal Medallion glinted on his chest. “I have passed judgment,” he said firmly. “Present yourself to the Council if you seek assistance, but your son will no longer have a place in my army. He is a coward and a buffoon—“

You take that back!” The hag rasped, shaking a gnarled finger at the king. “Do you not know how dangerous it is to gainsay a gossamer as powerful as I am? I know you think you’re so special because your little daughter got the last fairy’s Gift—well, faugh I say to that! I have a Gift, myself! And with that Gift I curse your daughter! May her Gift bring you nothing but grief! May your Grace tumble into an early grave! May you never know a moment’s goodwill—“
“REMOVE THIS WITCH AND HER UNGRATEFUL SPAWN FROM MY COURT IMMEDIATELY!” King Davor thundered, and a host of guards dragged the keening gossamer out of sight, with Gondu following limply behind.

Davor relaxed and glanced to the throne next to him. His wife, Queen Yssandra, stretched out a hand toward him, and he took it. In the other arm, she cradled their infant daughter, a tiny thing who was all black tail and purple hair.
“Do not worry, my love,” Davor murmured to Yssandra. “I vow that I will let nothing ever happen to you or to our child. Dayina will never be allowed in the kingdom again. All will be well.”


Did you enjoy this story? "Gondu's Gamble" is a tie-in tale to my fantasy novella, "Princess of Undersea", available on Amazon!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reader's Review: "I'm Still Alive" by Kelly Blanchard

Synopsis from Amazon:

Sorcerer Prince Lorrek returns home to find chaos. It is feared Princess Mordora has released an ancient, embittered magic user from his prison. He must be stopped before he regains his strength and reduces all mankind to dust. At the same time, visitors from another world have come. They claim the World Orbs and handblades of Cuskelom are theirs, and they want them back, or there will be war. Lorrek must resolve both issues without ushering in another age of war and conflict.


My Review: 

Three books in, and this series CONTINUES to astonish me! After the intense emotional roller coaster of the last one... I suppose I should have been expecting more... but I was not prepared for how much more Blanchard was ready to deliver! 
If you've made it this far in the series, get ready to see more of the different kingdoms, learn more of the ancient legacy, and discover a slew of new, deadlier conflicts to face! More of everything: more giggles at Vixen's sassy quips, more gut-wrenching at the effortless power of a mysterious new villain, more sympathy as Lorrek expends more and more of himself to try and keep all his friends (and family... to say nothing of the whole freaking world!) from falling apart at the seams, more heart-stopping clashes between enemies, more lush, thrilling scenery as the characters actually travel to locations that before had only been mentioned in reference, more jaw-dropping reveals as characters you thought you knew turn out to have VERY intriguing secrets! 

I love it. The development felt very well-thought (well, except for one thing... I still can't figure out why [SPOILER] had to happen, though the narrative explains it well enough, but MY WORD!!!) and totally irresistible, and the expansions weren't just "adding for addition's sake", but each new concept served a very real purpose in the plot and character arcs. I loved the number of times the title came into play, (not going to delineate, because SPOILERS, but yeah!) creating a consistent theme throughout the book.
I am continuously fascinated by the new developments and the world-building exercised in this series, and I positively cannot wait for the next book!

Without a hesitation or a doubt, I give this a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and add to it an Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED endorsement. If you're looking for an excellent mashup of science fiction and fantasy, of magic used in tandem with technology in a plausible manner, of characters that leap off the page in real color and inspire real emotions, and expertly-drawn, action-packed scenes that will take your breath away--you do not want to miss a single word of the Chronicles of Lorrek!

Further Reading: (Fantasy/Sci-fi/Great Characters/Fantastic World-building/Great Storytelling)

The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
        -I Still Have A Soul
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path  
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
-Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways 
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -Dream Stalker 
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
   -Who Can You Trust?
The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4--A to Z Challenge" Letter F

The List:
-Fernando, Fiona, Freddy, Felix
-Farthen Festival, Fortnight
-fight, fire, flame, fear, family, florins, fate

The Result:

"The Flames of Farthen's Eve"
The folks at Farley's always said he had a gift. That's what they would call it.
"You're so talented, Fern!" They would gush. "The fire is like clay in your hands, you can make it do anything!"
A bitter smirk curled his lips as he sent a few stray flames skittering toward an unassuming corner, where they would fester until he gave the word. He would make the fire do things tonight, things these people had never seen before, things they wouldn't be prepared to stop.

The market square ahead of him hummed and clattered with activity. Most merchants had their booths already secured, prepared for the Farthen Festival beginning tomorrow. Normally, the celebration lasted a whole fortnight. Fern smiled to himself. With any luck, these folks wouldn't even see it begin.

As he made his way through the alleys, he reflected on how this town remained the most familiar to him, out of all the cities he'd performed in. Yet this town, out of all other towns, held that special magic that returned him to a small boy of eight years old, running down the narrow, twisting streets, down alleys barely wide enough for him.
He didn't have a prayer of fitting in them now, but the fire could. He let the small, glowing bundles roll like living embers into the spaces.

The quick slap of feet caused him to turn, a splay of flames in his palm.
The big round eyes in the tiny face before him held the glint of reflected fire.
"Pretty flowers!" The tiny person gushed, her mouth gaping in awe.
Fern clenched his fist, squelching the gleam and the fire.
The little girl wilted without the light, and she scurried away back to the square without another sound.
Fern stood rooted to the spot. It wasn't the first time a big-eyed little tyke had been drawn to the flame like a moth to a candle. Most children huddled behind their terrified, resentful parents, trying to withdraw themselves as far away from the flame as they could.

Not Fiona. Nothing he could do ever fazed Fiona.
Fern hesitated the merest fraction of a moment, tiny wisps of flame in hand. He knew exactly what she would say, what she would do, if she were there. He could just picture her, standing in the street just behind him. Watching.

He would turn, and meet her gaze.
"What are you doing, Nando?"

Only she understood his name. Everyone else could only manage as far as "Fern", and besides, Freddy Farley told him that nobody used names like "Fernando" anymore.
Except Fiona.

The flame puckered and hissed, the heat of it nipping at the quick of his nail. Fernando dropped it and sent it on his way.
Fiona wouldn't stop him. She probably believed the news he was dead. He remembered spreading that rumor himself, just to keep her from searching.

Almost the same way she fought to keep him from searching.

She would try to outsmart him at every turn. Her persistence made him regret ever confiding in her.
"Please, Nando!" She would beg from the mouth of his tent, the minute he opened his eyes. "I want to help you find your family!"
"No, Fiona!" He would growl. "Your place is here with Farley and the others."
She would fold her arms and stamp her foot. "You know good and well that they're just as much my family as yours!" She would chide him. "Maybe our families were friends."
"No!" Fernando would push past her to go warm up for the day's fire-juggling. "You're not going with me! I have to find my father alone."

Find him? More like face him. Fernando smiled a little bit more as he sent his little "sentries" into a blind corner. He'd had so many questions when someone finally told him that the misplaced memories in his head truly belonged to his life as the son of Felix Fidelius, the chief of Fetherwynde. A chance meeting with his old nurse, Fannie, brought his past to light, and she painted such a forlorn picture of the whole family that Fernando had all but jumped at the chance to break away from Farley's troupe. According to Fannie, the friendly, jovial Freddy had all but stolen Fernando off the street the last time they performed in Fetherwynde, so the next time they neared the town, Fernando vowed to return to his family and never to leave them again. Fifteen years he had remained with the troupe, watching, tracking, imagining the look on both his parents' faces (for surely they both still lived!) when their lost and long-forgotten son came running up, a fully-grown man. Then one night, he seized his chance.

He had almost finished. In a few minutes, he could begin.

The road to Fetherwynde wasn't altogether long or treacherous. He arrived in due course, and found the house of the Chief Magistrate. Striding inside, he made straight for the only room in the house from which he heard voices, and presented himself to his father with the words, “I’ve come home!”

The smile on his face disappeared as the memory soured in his head. His father had stared at him, actually gaped, more fear on his face than elation. The young man at Felix’s right hand had actually deigned to sneer at him, “Who the blazes do you think you are?”
Fernando had been forthwith removed from the house, and by skulking around and listening close, the chilling truth had unfolded: he hadn’t been lost that day. Felix had sold him to Freddy Farley for the grand sum of fifty thousand florins, because even then, Fernando had begun displaying the hallmarks of a born firemage, and the pompous magistrate was afraid of the stigma such an unnatural occurrence would bring to the Fidelius name. Fernando had disappeared from the streets of Fetherwynde for the second time—but it wasn’t an accident, and he wasn’t really gone. Five days later, here he stood, on the edge of the city, eyes focused intently on the spires of the Fidelius family home.

“Fumetas,” Fernado whispered.

A flame jumped up on the western side of the palace, followed by another close by. The furious firemage watched in delight as the “flowers” he had planted sprung into full bloom. Alarms rang, crowds began shouting as they ran about his feet like so many frenzied ants. Fernando laughed inside as he fairly floated among the shadows. Happy Farthen’s Eve to you all, he thought.


The reproachful voice stopped him as easily as a wall. The ground beneath his feet became soft, and Fernando doubled back, turning to face the speaker.

“No…” he grunted. “I told you not to follow me!”

Fiona stared at him. “I didn’t,” she answered, turning and twisting her hands. “They sent for me, because of what you have done.”
Fernando felt the ground behind him sink away, forcing him to step closer to her, and farther from freedom. He could see the Federals with their iron chains gathering behind Fiona, waiting for him to tumble feebly into their grasp.
“No!” He let both of his hands ignite, sending the men scurrying away in fear. Only Fiona stood firm. She splayed her fingers, and a fine dust like mist spread out from them, building between herself and the flames till an entire wall of sand smothered the flames. He glared at her, preparing to call up the hottest blaze yet.
Fiona’s chin trembled, and he could see the tears in her wise eyes. “Fernando,” she begged softly, “Please don’t do this! It isn’t you!”
“What isn’t me?” Fernando snapped back, spreading his hands beyond the boundaries of the sand and levitating globes of living flame above his palms. “This isn’t me? Of course it is! You know I’ve never been anything else!”
The soldier cowering behind a tree shouted something at Fiona. She sobbed in earnest now. “People are dying, Fernando! Tell me you are not so cruel, to leave so many innocent lives to such an unjust fate!”
Fernando threw back his head and laughed. “Unjust fate? You want to talk to me about unjust fate? Try being sold like a common steer because your own father couldn’t stand what you were! Try living your whole life thinking that you were one thing, finding out the truth, and then finding out that who you were is exactly the person nobody wanted! You think I don’t know anything about unjust fate?” The ground rumbled as Fidelius Tower collapsed in a well of fire. Who held the power now, Felix?

Fiona lifted her chin and advanced. The ground softened again under her influence, but Fernando baked the ground beneath him with fire to make it hard again.
“You will stop this!” she declared flatly.
“Never!” Fernando replied.
Fiona set her mouth in a grim line. “So be it,” she answered.

The fight between the firemage and the Earthmage didn’t last very long. Fernando immolated his whole body and spread flame over every inch of the area around them, but time and again, Fiona diffused it as easily as she had when Fernando would lose his temper at Freddy in their younger days. At the last, Fernando dared to release a flood of fire directly at Fiona herself. Instead of retreating or even merely staying put, Fiona ran—right into Fernando’s outstretched arms. Flinging her arms around him, she unleashed a torrent of sand around them, snuffing out the flame and tearing Fernando’s skin and clothes with thousands of tiny cuts. When the flame died, so did the whirlwind, and Fernando collapsed, bleeding heavily. The spark had all but gone completely out of him at the strength of Fiona’s attack.

She remained, as the hesitant Federals advanced with their shackles, ready to take the firemage into custody. Fiona cradled his head in her lap, weeping softly.
“I’m sorry, Nando,” she said. “For your childhood, for your father, for your family, for your city… I’m sorry… Forgive them… Forgive me…”

This story was inspired by this image; credit goes to JasonEngle
Also in the Series:

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge"--Letter E

The List:
*Supplied by +Chelsea N. 
-Edward and Elaine
-Envelope and Earrings

The Result:

"The Erstwhile Enthusiast"
This day had to be the most miserable day of her life. Elaine Elliot, heiress to a vast fortune in Texas, cringed and tottered across the quad of Upton University as the rain poured.
"Stupid weatherman!" She growled, feeling the rain soak through her silk blouse and collect in her Louboutin pumps and run down her cheeks and flatten her hair. "Of course it would be the only profession where he can be wrong most of the time and still keep his job!" She charged through the door, ignoring the pained shout that resounded on the other side.
"Stupid freshman!" She muttered. "Get out of my way!"
She looked up, brushing with freshly-manicured fingers at the streams of mascara running down her face. Her eyes caught a pair of blue ones, and the face they belonged to broke into a smile.
Today officially sucked.
“Elaine!” he cried, running to her side.
She shook her head and waved him away as he got close. “Don’t bother, I’m fine.”
“Please, allow me,” he picked up the stack of books scattered on the floor around her.
Elaine sneered when he offered them to her. “Those aren’t mine,” she declared.
The freshman approached, rubbing her arm where it had collided with the door. “Those are mine,” she took the stack out of his hands. “Thanks, Ed.”
Elaine finished straightening herself and prepared to stride expertly into the Commons Area.
“So, um, Elaine,” Ed still followed her like a hopeful puppy. “I wanted to tell—I mean ask, I wanted to ask you—“
Elaine stopped in her tracks and cranked up her “Southern Charm” to full-blast. She faced Ed with a large, sarcastic grin and crooned, “Oh, sugar, you know the answer’s always gonna be no.”
He persisted. “But the thing is that I just—“
“Look,” she kept her voice tender, her drawl deep, although the words came a little terse. “You’re a numbers guy, right?”
Ed flushed and shrugged bashfully. “Yeah, Business Accounting actually—“
She tapped a finger against her dimple. “Hmm, so do you want to know what your chances are with me?”
Ed’s eyes lit up; the poor, socially-inept soul! “Yeah, I would.”
Elaine moved in for the kill. This was her favorite part. “Take the highest number you can think of,” she began.
Ed blinked as he honestly considered her suggestion. “Like, off the top of my head?”
Elaine maintained her mask of happy. “Whatever you like. Sure, go ahead and name any number.”
“Um, okay…” Ed hemmed and hawed for a moment before he blurted, “Twelve hundred to the millionth power!”
Elaine nodded. “Now multiply that number… by zero.” She paused to bask in his crestfallen face. “That’s how much chance you have with me. Now stop following me around.” She stalked through the door and began scanning the benches and tables. He should be here by now… no way she had missed him already…
Outside the Commons, Ed sighed and walked away. Elaine watched him go with a smirk. Once he was gone, she whirled back and resumed searching for the one she would give anything to get noticed by: George Spencer Herbert Elliot IV.
She spotted him, leaning up against a shelf, with his back to her. Elaine felt her heart flutter in her chest; the way his leg bent ever so slightly, and the way his arm stretched, allowing the shirtsleeve to cling tightly to the contours of his bicep… She could almost hear him muttering softly to himself as she crept closer, watching the back of his perfectly-coiffed head ever so intently. How studious he must be! He hadn’t once glanced over his shoulder. Elaine stifled a giggle as she imagined the look of surprise he would wear when he heard her call his name.
“Oh, Georgie!” she sang out, as she leaned against the edge of the bookshelf.

George snapped straight, and a second pair of hands flattened out against the bookshelf he stood against. Elaine felt the fluttering in her chest freeze over when a small, lithe body slipped out from the space and scuttered away, head ducked to avoid Elaine glimpsing her face. When George turned around, it was Elaine who stared at him in shock.
“What is it this time, Ellie?” George groaned affably. He smiled at her, as if she had not just caught him in the act of hobnobbing with another student—a junior, no less!
“Georgie!” Elaine reproached him. “How could you! Why, I ought to—“
“What?” He shrugged. “Kiss me? Turn me over your knee and swat my backside?” He laughed and ambled past her. “Stop acting like a prude, Elle.”
“But,” Elaine spluttered, clacking after him in her heels, “Don’t you even care about the family’s reputation?”
George wagged his head. “Oh, it’s The Family, is it? Look at me, I’m shaking in my Pumas.” He picked up a few books, winked at a passing sophomore, and set them aside. “A little fun never hurt anyone.”
Elaine leaned against his shoulder, clinging to his arm in case he tried to turn away. “We’re supposed to be getting an education,” she hissed as close to his ear as she could.
George reached over with his free hand and ruffled the hair on the top of her head. He laughed as Elaine tore away with her hands clapped to her rain-ruined hairdo. “I am getting an education,” he protested.
Elaine shot him a dubious glare. “One that will help you become financially stable in your adulthood?”
George grinned roguishly at her. “Definitely.”
Elaine rolled her eyes and stalked away. “You’re impossible!”
“I’m going to make loads of money!” George hollered after her, loud enough for the entire Commons to hear. “Just you watch!”

Elaine stomped away as delicately as she could, so that the pavement wouldn’t scuff her shoes. When she reached the villa at the edge of student housing, she burst through the door and wrenched the shoes off.
Her younger sister Meredith sat in the big armchair, her face buried in a book.
 “Let me guess,” she said from between the pages, “he didn’t fall for it again, so you’re just going to sulk about it all afternoon.”
“Don’t even start, Meredith!” Elaine snarled, charging into her room and slamming the door.

Elaine was more or less re-styled and refreshed (after a good long sulk, true to form) by the time Meredith knocked on the door.
“Dinner, unless you’re planning on going out tonight,” Meredith mumbled around a bite of something she was still chewing. “Oh, and this came for you.” She handed Elaine a white envelope and walked back toward the kitchen.
Elaine stared at the package, addressed to “Elaine Elliot.” Her mind whirled with questions. Was it evening already? Had George decided to send her a gift after all? Who else would it be? She had taken great pains to rebuff any and all attentions from every other guy on campus—in spite of the fact that they all seemed steadfastly enamored with her. She opened the envelope, and a small box fell out, along with a card. She read the card first.

“Dear Elaine—I hope you’ll accept this little gift as a token of my feelings for you, in spite of how I may come across in person. I figured a note was the best way to let you know what I couldn’t exactly manage to say in person: I’m going away, on an exchange trip to the University of Edinburgh. I know you think little of my brother and me because my attendance thus far at Upton has been due to generous scholarships, but I hope this trip abroad stands as proof of my academic merit, along with the assurance that, starting next semester, I will be working to fund my own education. I hope we can get to know each other better, without the difference of our tax brackets coming between us. Believe me when I say that you are more than just a rich girl to me. Please wear these and think of me till I get back? Yours faithfully, Eddie

Elaine almost dropped the box in her hand. Eddie? Poor Boy Ed Winston? She almost didn’t want to know what dime-store imitation lay on a bed of cheap velour inside. Slowly, she cracked the lid and gasped.

Inside the box lay a pair of very small, but exquisite emerald earrings. They couldn’t have been more than a carat or two each, but the fact that someone on a full scholarship would splurge on a pair of earrings for a relationship that only existed in his head… Elaine closed the box and left it on the table in her room. She wasn’t about to let Ed Winston mistake any sort of feelings for her whatsoever. She would send the earrings back, and that would be the end of it.

Did you enjoy these characters? Read more excerpts from this unfinished work, titled Merely Meredith.

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