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The Loser

By WilliamJMeyer All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Drama

Blurb

When a poor girl attends a rich girl's birthday party on the same day as her own birthday, she soon discovers her 'very best friends' invited her for less than gracious reasons. A short story.

The Loser

This was her dream.

A land of shadow and fog. Blue shadow. Pink fog.

The blue shadow was blue like Chad’s eyes— Chad, that boy in science class who killed the frog. She liked to think that he killed the frog for her.

She hated to admit that even as she turned away from that horrid sight, she admired Chad for being the hunter-killer. They might as well have been cave-people, yes, hiding from dinosaurs— not true dinosaurs, mind you, but herky-jerky ones. Lumbering, tail-dragging. Always angry. Always hungry. Rubbery, black and white dinosaurs.

Chad was her man, her frog-murdering man, and his kill that day, though low on its yield of digestible meat, was nonetheless proof of his stalwart courage.

The pink fog was pink like candy hearts inscribed with thoughts of Rated G desire— white, powdery, cupid words promising bad puns, not exactly Happily-Ever-After.

She frowned. She squinted. Someone— was laughing.

She shut it out.

She looked again to the sky. The sky was—Chad’s eyes drifted by. Just his eyes, you understand. Wait, what was that, candy hearts now erupted from his pupils.

She lifted off the ground— only a few inches, as was customary in her dreams.

Then the flowers uprooted— they floated, too, and good God if they didn’t break out into song. And puffy clouds rolled in, laughing. But the mirth wasn’t gentle, as puffy-cloud laughter is known for. No. There was something scathing, almost insidious about those har-de-har-hars, and when the clouds sprouted grins— well, that’s when she opened her eyes.

Jordan lay on the sleeping bag, surrounded by her friends, her very best friends.

Five little girls were on hand and knee, staring at Jordan. There was Cynthia of the golden hair, Meghan of the runny nose, Clarissa of the perfect perm, Kelly of the designer glasses, and— finally— Patricia of the it’s-not-Halloween, but-I’m-going-to-wear-a-cute-little-cat-eared-hair-band-anyway.

Jordan turned around completely to find the source of their bizarre behavior. Her look was met by the wall’s vinyl likeness of that sensational British pop duo known as Wham!

Jordan gave George Michael a quick blink before turning back to her friends. Her very best friends.
“Good morning?” she asked, rubbing her eyes and wiping away the last of those pesky, crooning flowers.

The girls giggled in unison, like a hydra high on nitrous oxide.

“It’s three a.m. silly!” said one of the serpent-heads. Probably Meghan, because the reproach was followed by a slight sniffle.

Jordan rubbed her eyes again.

A few hours ago the balloons, the helium balloons, the cake, the chocolate cake impressed with the birthday girl’s name, the gifts, the gifts wrapped by parents and not the attending children— all of it lay before Jordan, arrayed as though for her birthday, and the baker merely got the name wrong.

In fact, it was Jordan’s birthday, too.

Her mother couldn’t afford balloons, a fancy-schmancy cake, or even much of a gift beyond a rummage-sale Strawberry Shortcake. But even that had a deep gash on the back of its left thigh. Nonetheless, Jordan’s mother had also wanted to throw her a birthday party.

Jordan looked around their motor home before quietly saying, “No thank you.”

“But you never bring any of your friends home, and this way they could all be here at once!” Jordan’s mother beamed.

“I don’t have any friends,” replied Jordan, and of course that wasn’t strictly true. “Besides,” she continued. “It’s Clarissa’s birthday tomorrow too and she invited me and it’s a sleep-over and everything.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” said Jordan’s mother. “You see, you have friends.” Jordan nodded.

Jordan stood at the top of the stairs that led down into the home of Clarissa the Greek-goddess-in-training. Jordan wore her Easter dress. A hand-me-down from some Aunt she hardly knew.

Jordan set a tiny box wrapped in newspaper down on the gift table. It was dwarfed by the next largest box which, judging by its size, could have been a plastic baking oven.

“Thanks for coming!” said Clarissa, suddenly appearing beside Jordan, her smile as bright as the crystal chandelier hanging over them.

“Thank you for inviting me,” mumbled Jordan. She could hardly breathe, sensing the presence of the other girls. Jordan turned and found herself surrounded.

They were all smiling.

“Of course,” said Clarissa, drawing Jordan’s attention back to her. “We’re all your very best friends now.” She started to introduce all the girls, but Jordan cut her off.

“I know all your names,” she said, and it was true.

“C’mon!” and Clarissa took Jordan’s hand, and all the girls ran off through the dangling streamers and the balloons, the helium balloons, and then Jordan stared in disbelief at the string quartet lodged in the corner as they struggled through their version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Jordan tossed a glance back at the birthday cake, and then looked down at her Easter dress, and for the first time she saw the cupcake stain.

She gasped. She felt a presence over her and flinched.

The balloons, the helium balloons, well, they floated directly above Jordan— they aggregated like vultures.

Jordan looked down from the balloons to once again find the grins and the giggles of her friends, her very best friends. They spread out in a semi-circle.

Then she understood. At three a.m., silly. It was nothing above her or behind her that captivated her friends, her very best friends.

It was her.

Jordan ran a sweaty hand over her forehead. She looked down at her fingers— they were now smeared red and black. She smelled those fingers, unable to stop herself, and discovered a pleasant union of cherry and licorice.

Jordan sprinted to the bathroom.

The mirror was steamed, maybe Clarissa’s mother had recently showered. Jordan swiftly swept her right hand across her own diffused reflection. She partially revealed two letters. A capital L. And next to it— a capital O.

The letters were written on her forehead twice— once in black and then again in red, just inside of the black. Jordan realized her friends, her very best friends, actually had time to write their decree twice before she awoke from her dreams of Chad’s blue eyes, those gorgeous blue eyes emitting powdery pink candy hearts.

She stifled a gag.

Jordan lifted her hand to clean more of the mirror, and so confirm the remaining letters, but the bathroom door burst open. When she turned, a stone-hewn collage of her friends, her very best friends, arranged itself like a Mount Rushmore of lesser known presidents. Aged nine through eleven.

The rigid monument managed to point, and some presidents even crumbled, falling back, and one, probably Patricia (because a cat-eared hair band tumbled to the floor) dared to kick its legs in the air.

Jordan dove at the stony faces and forced her way through.

But Clarissa’s mother stood there, her brow furrowed and her lips curled in a disapproving sneer. There was a towel wrapped around her head, and she wore a bathrobe with pearls along the cuffs.

“Ah, now they’ll get it!” Jordan thought in triumph. She aimed an index finger at her forehead and cried out, “Look! Look what they did! Look. What. They. Did!”

Clarissa’s mother bent low to read the red and black proclamation. Clarissa’s mother wanted to use the little girl’s name for emphasis, but she was darned if she could remember it. Clarissa’s mother grabbed the nearest girl’s hand, the girl on Jordan’s immediate left.

“This is it,” thought Jordan, and she trembled in anticipation of her forthcoming vindication.

“Stop your belly-aching!” Clarissa’s mother yelled. She thrust the captured tiny hand into Jordan’s astonished view. The hand was probably Cynthia’s, because they were a few golden strands wedged between the fingers.

Clarissa’s mother turned the hand over, and showed Jordan the back.

An all-too-cute kitten had been scrawled in purple marker. The kitten was so near to Jordan’s nose, she could smell it’s improbable boysenberry flavor.

Clarissa’s mother bellowed again, “Look! They did it to all the girls!”

And at once the other girls displayed the backs of their hands like an unfolding Chinese fan of the Song Dynasty. There on the girly flesh, in various fantastic smells, the proud commissioned artworks of unicorns and flowers and ponies.

“But—” Jordan stammered, pointing again to her forehead.

“Go back to sleep!” cried Clarissa’s mother, letting go of the smeared kitten-hand. “All of you!”

All the girls marched back to the romper room and the boundaries drawn not on maps, but in the arrangement of their sleeping bags.

Jordan lay down under George Michael’s glossy gaze. She closed her eyes.

Her mother’s truck pulled up to the house on the hill to drop her off. Jordan’s mother gazed at the maze of pines that led along a circuitous route culminating at the pebbled shore of a shallow lake.

“Wow,” said Jordan’s mother. “Is all that theirs?”

“Bye, mom,” whispered Jordan, and she opened her door.

“Wait, no hug?” begged Jordan’s mother.

“Not an awkward side-hug, mom,” whined Jordan.

But it was too late, and her mother already had an arm around her daughter and pulled Jordan against her and Jordan’s cheek pressed into her mother’s right breast and Jordan grimaced.

Jordan wriggled free and hopped out of the truck.

“You’re probably right,” called Jordan’s mother through the open door. “Side-hugs are no good,” and before Jordan could protest further, her mother bounced out of the truck, ran around the front, and was already lifting Jordan up into the air with a full- frontal hug— for all the world to see.

Jordan quickly scanned the windows of the house on the hill, looking for witnesses. “K’bye,” said Jordan, and she broke free and hurried toward the first step of the stair.

“Okay, honey, I’ll pick you up first thing in the morning. And then we’ll go to that matinee you wanted to see. Special birthday movie for my special birthday girl!” called Jordan’s mother, much too loud.

Jordan spun around to face her. Through the gate of her teeth she whispered, “But Clarissa’s mom is taking all of us to the movies tomorrow.”

“Oh. A different movie, though, right? Not Little Circus 2?” asked Jordan’s mother.

“It’s called Short Circuit 2 and, yeah, that is the movie we’re all going to see.”

“But you asked me to take—”

“Maahhmmm. I gotta go,” Jordan turned away and jaunted up the long alabaster stair, flanked by hedges taller than she.

Jordan opened her eyes.

A rustling sound made her uneasy. She bolted upright.

The other girls were huddled together, each using a flashlight to illuminate Clarissa as she feverishly tore through wrapping paper. They had evidently snuck out of the room and brought the gifts back while Jordan slept, oblivious.

“I thought you were opening them tomorrow,” whispered Jordan to herself.

“Shhhh,” said one of the girls.

Jordan could not recognize most of the gifts. Most of the gifts caught the light of the flashlight and sparkled in response. Most of the gifts would be forgotten in a month.

“Is that everything?” wondered Clarissa. “Harumph,” she added.

“Here’s something!” said another girl, digging deep into the compost of shredded wrapping paper and discarded ribbons. She handed a small box to Clarissa. It was sealed in newspaper.

“Is it from the gardener?” asked one of the girls.

“Or that bratty chef’s kid?” asked another.

Clarissa ravaged the box with her razored fingernails. In the next moment it popped open. Strawberry Shortcake fell out, somewhat disfigured.

The clutch of search beams found their mark in unison. The doll stared up at Clarissa from the floor, its eyes wide in horror.

Cackles went ’round.

“But it’s not even new,” Clarissa protested, poking the doll with a cashmere slipper.

“I think it fell out of the garbage,” someone suggested.

Jordan ran from the room.

The other girls gave pursuit, chanting. “Run Jordan! Run Jordan! Run Jordan!”

Jordan fled down to the first floor. She somehow found the kitchen door and flung it open. Scampering down the back porch and across the backyard, she made a beeline for the pine maze beside the house on the hill.

The last words Jordan heard drifting behind her were, “Let her get lost.” They probably belonged to Kelly because— well, it didn’t matter.

Jordan ran headlong into the forest, but the sway of the pines and the strong fragrance of their attendant needles slowed Jordan’s flight to a crawl. She looked around the maze, the maze now riddled with uneven hillocks. It seemed an easy thing to navigate from the outside.

The neighboring homes belonged to doctors and lawyers and former state senators and their house lights flashed between the branches, suggesting uninspired and uniform Christmas trees. Jordan spun in a tight circle. In response, the Christmas trees danced in an ever-widening swirl.

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you,” sang Jordan’s mother as Jordan sat dutifully at the small, lopsided table inside their motor home. Her mother appeared from behind the curtain that separated the kitchen and the bedroom. Her mother held a small plate with a lonely chocolate cupcake. Too many candles had been wedged into the thick frosting, and now the cupcake burst out of its paper cup, releasing most of its shape.

“Quick, blow ’em out!” shouted Jordan’s mother.

Jordan blew the candles out, spitting a little too much, and then immediately grabbed at the blue, pink, and white wax.

“Oh, wait, let me,” cautioned Jordan’s mother, “we have to save them.” She gingerly collected the smoking candles. “Eat up!” she added.

“Mom, we’ll be late, I’ll eat it in the truck!” Jordan said. She snagged the cupcake and ran out the door.

“Be careful of Aunt Sylvia’s dress!” said Jordan’s mother.

The door swung shut and rattled.

When she stopped spinning, Jordan chose a direction. She stepped forward between two large pines. In a few moments, she found the lake.

“Maybe I’m still dreaming,” Jordan thought as she shuffled over to the shore, and knelt beside it. She watched the wobbly water. It reflected her templed proof of human graffiti. She lifted her head. Across the lake Jordan spied the string of blue and red lights that marked her mother’s motor home. Although it was late summer, it was Christmas there, too. Strangely, the lights didn’t come down until early October. They went up again mid-November.

How many times had Jordan stood on that opposite shore, unknowingly looking to this very spot where she now knelt? How many times had her expectations warped these pebbles into nuggets of gold, gold discarded by the doctors and the lawyers and the former state senators on this side of the lake? Discarded because their buckets for the nuggets were full and, gosh, they had to dump those nuggets somewhere, and now that even the lake could hold no more, the shoreline must collect the innumerable overflow?

Jordan sighed. She looked down.

The pebbles were just that— pebbles. And from them came no shine. Jordan stepped into the lake— she was bound and determined to take the shortest route home.

She kept going, up to her knees sooner than expected, and the silt dispersed around her bare feet. Her thin nightgown distended around her, filling with water. She thought maybe her next step would lift her onto the plane of the lake, so she raised her leg high and moved in slow-motion, as if to give the water’s surface tension fair warning of her well-meaning, but desperate, intention.

Her mother found her the next morning, curled up and asleep in the bed of the pickup truck.

Jordan’s mother shook her. “What are you doing home, honey?” she asked. “Weren’t all you girls going to the movies today?”

“No,” mumbled Jordan. “The movie place burned down.”

“Oh,” said her mother. “But why are you in your PJs? And what’s that on your forehead? Here, let me look.” She brushed Jordan’s hair aside.

“They hate me,” mumbled Jordan.

“No one hates you,” said her mother.

“Yes they do,” contended Jordan. “Because I’m a, because I’m a—” and she traced the five letters across her brow: “Ell. Ooh. Ess. Eee. Arr.”

Jordan remembered the reflection of the first two letters in the mirror, and the wavy reproduction in the lake. Only now did she understand that her friends, her very best friends, had written the letters backwards. They had written them backwards so she could read them.

How clever, she admitted.

Then Jordan looked up, about to cry really, except she caught sight of her mother’s gentle smile.

And even as Jordan’s own finger followed the cherry and licorice contours, the letters were no more, washed clean by a sparkle in her mother’s eye and an imperfect but hopeful grin and, something else, something Jordan could not name, but didn’t need to name really, because not everything good has a name.

“Oh!” cried Jordan’s mother. “Look what I found yesterday at a rummage sale.” She ran to the driver’s side door, yanked it open, and pulled out a small toy horse off the dash. She brought it over to Jordan and showed it to her. It had a green mane and a green tail. “I left it in the truck so I could give it to you right away when I picked you up. I think it goes with your doll. They said her name was Maple Stirrup. Like maple syrup, but stirrup, because she’s a horse. Get it?”

Jordan looked up at the toy. It hovered over her. A third of its mane was missing. It had a frightening, crooked grin. Maple Stirrup was missing a hoof. One of her ears was cracked and would probably fall off in a week or two.

Jordan reached up and accepted the toy. “Yeah, I get it,” she answered.

“Let’s get you dressed,” said Jordan’s mother, and she lifted her daughter out of the bed of the truck. She set Jordan down on the ground. “Oh, I suppose I’ll need to go back for Aunt Sylvia’s dress,” she mumbled, thinking.

“Maybe,” started Jordan. “Maybe Aunt Sylvia doesn’t need to know about the cupcake stain.” She fidgeted before looking up at her mother hopefully.

Her mother’s face rippled with surprise but then relaxed. “Maybe,” she grinned.

Jordan shook the pine needles from her hair, and then straightened her nightgown from top to bottom. She discovered the gown was soggy, but only up to her knees.

“Aaannnd maybe we can go see that movie today, you and me,” Jordan suggested.

“I thought the movie theatre burned down,” her mother snorted.

“Hmmm, well, I think maybe the fire missed that building.”

“Is that right?” Jordan’s mother mused.

The sun was coming up, and when Jordan glanced back at the lake she couldn’t see the other side, for the water reflected the sunrise and it bloomed, blinding her. Scattered pebbles led from the lake’s edge and up to their mobile home and— well, they were made of gold.

Jordan ran to the mobile home, galloping Maple Stirrup through the air.

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