A floating bed hovers over soft pastel light within a shimmering place. It feels like it’s the day, but it can easily be night as well.
He’s coming for me.
Isabella, a warm twenty-four-year-old, sits with her legs folded in the middle of a pile of cushions. A female in every sense with blue hair cascading her backside. She wears sheer underwear while gazing into the distance. She clocks the room slowly.
Again. I don’t dare go far.
She peeks over her shoulder. A blue cherry blossom tattoo on her bicep blends in with her dark lipstick that accents a demure sensuality. A man wraps around her from behind. One hand cups her breast with the other palm on her stomach.
She turns to face him. She melts in his gaze.
I know my limit. Enjoying it.
She holds his neck and kisses him with desire. Isabella submits to the euphoric moment.
He has a gentle shade of silvery hair and blue-tinged cuticles. His blue tattoos cover his spine and his forearms match her markings.
I love it all.
A bluish-white symbol glows on her ass cheek as he strokes her hair. Their passion electrifies the air as they kiss. He lays Isabella onto her back and mounts her. He nuzzles her neck. She grips his shoulder and kisses him as she hooks a leg onto him. She nips his lower lip before swirling her tongue on his.
A female voice INTERRUPTS the moment, “What the hell are you doing? Excuse me! Bella!”
Isabella wakes up groggy. Her tongue still lashes the pillow full of drool. Her face flush from the intense dream.
“Bella! I gave you that pillow to sleep on, not smash it with your mouth!” insists the voice.
ISABELLA replies, “… Huh?”
Daylight spills into a room filled with a woman’s saccharine decor. A bra hangs on the doorknob by a strap. Isabella wears poplin shorts and a tee shirt. Isabella leans up onto her elbow. She groans in protest of waking up. She fights to open her eyes.
The voice chides Isabella, “Let me guess that dream again?”
Ciera, a sassy twenty-three-year-old, opens the curtains. Penetrating light reveals her dark curly hair and spaghetti strap tank top with jeans.
“Thanks for the love, Ciera, but yeah. At least there I feel like a goddess. Can I go back to bed now?”, Isabella responds.
Ciera finishes tying the draperies and turns toward Isabella. She stares at Isabella, concern rising. “No, sweetie. My pillows can’t take any more.” Ciera giggles.
Ciera steps close to Isabella, “You got potential, Bella.”
Isabella leans up on her elbow. “It’s getting more and more vivid each time. Why?”
“Dunno. But the pillow sure loving it.” Ciera pulls the soggy cushion from under Isabella. She looks at the battered pad, and up into Isabella’s embarrassed face.
“You’re jealous of it. Just admit it, Ciera.”
Ciera smiles as she sits on the bed’s edge. “Maybe. I’m envious of losing my best friend to a slutty fantasy.”
Her countenance has a frankness taking Isabella off guard. Isabella pats Ciera’s hand, “I love you, sis. Even long after the horrid way, they’d try to marry me to some stranger.”
Ciera chokes up at the sincerity but catches a sudden tear. “Ugh! Anyway, it’s time to get up.”
A thin necklace lies on Ciera’s neck, and glasses sit on her nose. Isabella lays back down. “Why don’t you mind your--“
Ciera throws the pillow at Isabella, smacking it on her back. She turns with faux anger. She cries out, “Ouch!”
“Come on, Birthday Princess! Those chocolate buttons will melt if you don’t hurry.”
Ciera teases her, “Guess you need to hunt for them. If you have time.” She pauses a moment then, “Tardy girl.”
Isabella scoots to the edge of the bed with reluctance. A small mixed breed of turtle and dragon jumps onto her lap. It purrs as it rubs against her. Isabella strokes the pet as she watches Ciera leave. Ciera talks over her shoulder, “And if you’re late with the rent this month, Isabella, you won’t have an apartment to stay in either.”
Ciera holds the door as she leans back into the room, “Hugs and kisses!”
Ciera closes the door. We hear her going downstairs humming.
Isabella looks into the turtle-dragon’s eyes, “What do you think Moo Moo?”
Isabella covers her yawn. She strokes Moo Moo’s head. The creature purrs.
“You’re right. Errg…”
She rises and stretches to the ceiling. She plops back on the bed to get her smartphone. Her finger slides a security code to unlock it. She taps an app to play music.
“Not only without a paycheck, how else am I going to get my tunes?”
Isabella goes to the nondescript bathroom. She turns on the shower. then brushes her teeth as she waits. Afterward, she jumps into the water spray. Isabella drops her clothes to the floor. The mirror grows foggy.
After the shower, she throws a wet towel on the bed. Music plays as she faces a half-full closet in her panties. She hesitates, chooses a shirt, and grabs the bra off the door. She does a sniff test on the bra and puts it on. She tugs a mid-riff shirt on.
“Now, where did that chicklet put those chocolates?”
Isabella hurls her clothes, tossing the room. No success.
“Oh, she’s going to regret this.”
She puts on a pair of earrings, steps over a mound of dirty clothes. She puts on a pair of jeans from off the floor. Isabella turns off the music, grabs a jacket, and runs out the door.
Moo Moo peeks from under the clothes. The fledgling dragon has a dreamy gaze and curls up before falling asleep.
Outside the apartment, the sunrises. Autumnal colors explode in the trees. Dry, dead leaves crunch beneath PEOPLE’S feet. Chill gusts blow. Rain threatens from the horizon. Isabella and Ciera come down the stairs.
“Don’t get caught fantasizing about your dream lover. If you do, I want all the juicy details later, okay?”
Isabella replies, “You’re going to miss your bus.” She takes a step, “You owe me buttons!”
Ciera shouts as she strolls away, “All the wet details. Even melting buttons!”
Ciera chuckles as she waves goodbye to Isabella.
Isabella waves back, “Bye.”
Ciera steps onto a bus while Isabella gets into a seven-year-old Chevrolet Spark. At the corner of the block, a MAN in a hoodie watches Isabella. His face was hidden in shadow.
The messy car interior requires a hazmat suit and Clorox. Snacks and a half-full water bottle lay on the passenger seat. A pair of boots on the floorboard sprawls over a bag of old receipts, melted candies, and scattered change.
The sunbaked car has some age to it. The unfortunate thing screams out, “well-used but loved.” A chaotic disaster in motion.
She starts the car, lays her windbreaker onto the seat, and puts on her seat belt. The windows fog up. Isabella turns on the defroster and groans when it doesn’t kick on.
She bangs the dashboard, hoping it would work. She sees the low gas warning light come up.
She lets out an exasperated sigh as she drives away. A few cars travel the road. Varieties of people bustle in everyday lives. The pan-ethnic state of humanity in a world much like ours.
“Let’s see what the next catastrophe is going to be.”
She turns on the radio.
“Why is it always talk radio?”
She taps the seek button to change stations.
“We’re at the breaking point — the frailty of our species. We cannot conform to the fear the aberrant loyalists push in their warped agenda. If these--“
“Are we that bad? Wanting the traditional heteronormative survival of our species? They call us binary-“
“This is the reason we have the Singles Tax now sitting at 15%. Most women want to be wife, mother, and homemaker—and are happy in that role-“
“Scientists around the world are working to fix the fertility decline. There are now confirmed seventy percent of women. It is murky whether rising global temperatures are a factor in female menstruation cycles-“
Isabella stops on a classical music channel. A look crosses her face says it all. Yuck.
She drives into a small city. Billboard signs have artwork pushing a variant of a theme from the radio.
[MARRY BEFORE MANDATE AND EARN $$]
[NO MARRIAGE BEFORE 25? DOWNLOAD ‘LET US HELP’ TODAY]
People ignore the advertisements. Isabella doesn’t pay attention to the ads.
I know Ciera was being ridiculous, but I’m worried. Can my dreams get me in trouble? Why does it feel so perfect?
She stops at a crosswalk. People bustle.
Everywhere I look, I’m told what to do, what to think, and whom I should love.
The crosswalk clears, and she proceeds on her way.
Maybe I need a man? It has been a while… okay, maybe more than a while.
She parks in the lot of a restaurant. Isabella walks through the employee entrance.
“Damn, I’m late. I hope he doesn’t see me.”
She spots her boss, Mr. Florian, the forty-year-old asshole.
The asshole berate a vendor, “What part of I ordered four, not a dozen, did you not hear? I will not pay you for your incompetence. Were you born that way? Stupid? Now go. Take the whole damn order with you. I’ll go to another company that has workers that can do basic math. Four does not equal twelve.”
Isabella slides toward the back to change. She lowers her head. Her eyes, wide with insecurity, stay focused on her feet. Isabella tugs her shirt down.
“Ms. Isabella. Tardy, again?”
She looks up, sheepish. Caught.
“Good morning, Mr. Florian. I was just--“
“You were going to get my coffee and meet me in my office.”
She sees him boring a hole through her. He clenches his jaw.
“Okay, I’ll bring it in a few minutes. After I change.”
“Not if you want to keep your job.”
Several workers of varied ages and gender, watch the exchange. Mr. Florian sweeps his gaze, and everyone hustles back to work.
A forty-three-year-old, irritable woman with salt-pepper hair looks sympathetically toward Isabella as she follows Mr. Florian into his office.
Stacks of papers line the desk. Posters plaster the walls. Dim light exposes an overflowing trash can. On a nearby shelf, a CCTV system records the restaurant. Isabella enters with a Styrofoam cup.
“Here’s your coffee, sir.”
She tries to find a space, fails, puts it between stacks of folders. Isabella turns to leave.
“Close the door.”
He looks up at her from behind a computer monitor. She hesitates, uncertainty in her eyes.
“Close the door. Or you go home. Choose.”
She closes the door but leans against it with one hand on the knob.
“I won’t bite. Unless you like that.”
He walks from behind the desk. Stepping over the messy trash can, he walks over to her.
“Sir?”, she says.
He stares at her for an uncomfortable moment.
“I can’t find the weekly timesheet. I keep losing it. I don’t know, is it me?”
Isabella side-eyes him as she goes behind the desk and takes a seat. She clicks the mouse.
Copyright @ 2021 by Michael Harper
All rights reserved. No part of this manuscript may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including and not limited to photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the author.