Home > Happily Ever Afters

Happily Ever Afters
Author: Elise Bryant

 

Chapter One


The doorbell rings, and I ignore it.

I’m right in the middle of writing an important scene. Tallulah and Thomas have found shelter from the rain, thanks to a conveniently located abandoned cabin, and they’re standing face-to-face, so close there’s an electric charge between the tips of their noses. And when he reaches up to pluck an eyelash off her cheek and tells her to make a wish, it’s clear from the urgency of her sigh and the longing in her dark brown eyes that the only thing she’s wishing for is him.

It’s one of those swoony declaration-of-love moments, like something you see in those ancient movies they always play Sundays on TNT. But instead of that pale girl with the red hair, my protagonist has brown skin and a fro, and she’s about to get her happily ever after.

Except she’s not, because the Doorbell Ringer is still at it.

The only people who have come over in the weeks since we’ve moved south to Long Beach have been crabby Mrs. Hutchinson from next door and two Mormon missionaries in starched white shirts and skinny ties.

I’m not going to stop the flow of words pouring out of me for them.

The doorbell rings again, though, followed by a swift knock that’s barely audible over Miles’s television blaring from the back of the house. My brother, the traitor, is on his second viewing of his Dream Zone DVD, and the person outside can probably hear it too, a sure sign that someone is home.

Enter the Dream Zone, the documentary detailing the roots and rise to stardom of the now very much defunct boy band, is the only reason we have a clunky player anymore, even though Mom went all Marie Kondo on the rest of the disks in the move. It’s Miles’s most precious possession. He treats the DVD and its accompanying booklet like some sort of sacred texts.

I tell myself that if it rings one more time, I’ll get up. If it’s really important—more important than Mrs. Hutchinson’s concerns about the jacaranda tree between our houses or, you know, saving our souls—whoever’s out there will try at least once more. I cross my fingers and wait one moment. And then another. But there’s nothing except the nasal crooning blasting from the other room.

I’m in the clear.

Thomas blows the eyelash away, but his lips stay open, cradling the words that Tallulah has been longing to hear. And just when he’s about to reveal what’s written in his heart, he’s interrupted by . . . a bubble.

A white bubble pops up on the side of my draft in Google Docs, followed by a few more in quick succession.

Why are you working on this one?

Collette needs another chapter

TESSA JOHNSON YOU PROMISED!

That kind of cliffhanger should be illegal don’t make me report you

I know you’re on here!!!!!!!! I can see your cursor

Caroline’s cheese-face avatar accompanies each comment, a stark contrast to their stalker-y vibe, and a few seconds later, my phone starts buzzing.

So I guess no one wants me to write today . . . at least not what I want to write.

“Did you finish the chapter?” she asks as soon as I answer, skipping any sort of greeting, as usual.

I’ve known Caroline Tibayan since we were six, the only two brown girls in Ms. Brentwood’s first grade class. When Jesse Fitzgerald told me I was ugly because I had skin the color of poo, Caroline hauled off and socked him in the nose. Lola, her grandmother, swatted her behind with one of her sandals when she got home that day, but Caroline still maintains that it was worth it. We’ve been best friends ever since.

“Monitoring my internet activity? Really? That’s like something out of a Lifetime movie.” I laugh. “Also, hi. That’s usually how people start a conversation.”

“Okay, yeah, hi. But can you blame me? You left off on such a cliffhanger, and then nothing for days? You’re a monster!”

“And you’re dramatic.”

“Me, dramatic?” I can almost see her through the phone, crowded on her tiny twin bed in her tiny room, her long black hair splayed over the striped comforter. Lola took the second bedroom when she moved in with Caroline and her parents, so they converted the pantry into a space for Caroline. “You’re the one who ended the chapter with Jasper standing outside Colette’s window, professing his undying love, his purple hair freakin’ ILLUMINATED in the soft glow of the streetlamp! TOTALLY unaware of the fact that Colette is macking on Jack in there at that very moment! C’mon! I need to know what happens now!”

“Sorry! I’ve been busy.”

“With Tallulah?”

“Yep.” Tallulah’s the main character in my other work in progress—a swoony story about a mousy Black girl with a fluffy fro and Thomas, the hipster singer-songwriter with moody eyes and dark hair and deliciously broad shoulders, who moves to town and makes her his muse.

“Well, send me that one at least.” She sighs as if it’s a consolation prize. “And have they finally kissed yet? All the pining and googly eyes are getting to be a bit much. I need some action! They’re barely on base zero point five. Not going to lie, Colette is so much more interesting.”

I smile and shake my head. “I can’t help where the inspiration takes me, Colette.”

“Your audience is waiting, Tallulah.”

By my “audience,” she means herself. She’s my biggest fan . . . and my only fan. But I’m not complaining, because that’s just the way I like it. I don’t write for other people. I write for me and Caroline.

The stories have always come easy to me. My mom said I started writing stories down as early as kindergarten, but I was secretive even then, keeping whatever notebook I was working in safe under my pillow. The subject matter changed as I got older, the what-ifs transferring to what would happen if Harry ended up with Hermione instead? And then what would happen if Harry ended up with me? I felt embarrassed about the stories, but they also made me feel warm inside, and seen. It was empowering to create a world in which I was the center, the prize, the one desired.

Caroline talked her way into reading through one of my notebooks eventually. I expected her to laugh, but instead she praised me as a romantic genius and asked me to write her into a story too. (She always had a thing for Ron.) And she told me there was a word for what I was doing—fan fiction. That made me feel less embarrassed about my stories. At least I wasn’t crazy or something. Other people were doing this too.

Soon I graduated from Harry and Ron to Edward and Jacob to members of our favorite boy band, Dream Zone. (Because okay, Miles likes Dream Zone because I liked Dream Zone. A long, LONG time ago. But I try to keep that shameful secret on the down low.)

I kept thinking the stories were something we would outgrow, like Dream Zone, but they never stopped. They just became about our relationships with my own made-up boys instead of someone else’s. Like, fan fiction of our own lives. It wasn’t like we could go to a bookstore and find many fluffy love stories with girls who looked like us in them.

Now that I’ve moved, I share my stories with Caroline through Google, instead of passing her my beat-up laptop at lunch. I act exasperated, but I’m also secretly happy she hasn’t stopped asking. That, at least, this part of our relationship has stayed the same.

“Wait, what is that banging?” Caroline asks, “I don’t think that’s on my end.”

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