She tells stories.
Some of them are true.
Most of them are not.
A Lexicon for the Lovelorn
This story came in 1st place in my heat for an NYCM Flash Fiction challenge.
Prompts: A romanic comedy/co-operative/lollipop.
Ever visited one of those outdoor hippie markets, stalls overflowing with upcycled clothing, silver jewelry, patchouli-scented all-natural body care, and Mason jars filled with organic mixtures? Imagine all those handmade goods crammed inside a commercial space wedged between a Yogurteez and a yoga studio.
Welcome to the Meraki Artisan Co-op.
Now picture the last teenager on Earth to be caught dead working there and that’s me: Rose Edmunds. How does this creature—clad entirely in black synthetic fibres, hair dyed shades unseen in nature—occupy the same space?
As I sit at the counter hunched over my notebook, the bells hanging above the front door chime. A precarious stack of boxes hovers at the entrance, slender hands gripping the bottom of the pile, a pair of khakis sticking out underneath.
Ultra-conservative, freshly-pressed khakis.
A voice like butter melting in the summer says: “Good morning! Where can I put Nita’s paper maché creations?”
I point before realising he can’t see me. “The corner.”
“Little help, maybe?” The khakis shift awkwardly.
I leave my stool perch and remove the two top boxes. Setting them on the floor, I turn around and
Coup de foudre (French): thunderbolt, meaning love at first sight.
I stumble backwards. The boy smiles, teeth bright like lightning against his dark skin, the afterimage burning into my retinas.
I tug the frayed edges of my black dress, as his eyes travel light-speed from my thick eyeliner to my combat boots. My clothing is my armour: it distracts people from glimpsing my squishy insides. Yet somehow, this boy makes me feel exposed.
“Hi,” I say. Attempting to hide a cringe, I grab a lollipop from the countertop and start sucking.
So. Much. Worse.
“Cannabis Pops?” He reads the jar label, raising a precise eyebrow. It sweeps up like a second hand on the smooth clock of his face.
“Only CBD-infused,” I mumble, the candy pushed up against the inside of my cheek.
“Haven’t seen you here before.” As his hand runs through black hair, the word lustrous pops uninvited into my thoughts.
“Patti’s my mom. I’m saving money for college, so she pays me to help out.”
“Ethically-sourced healing crystals Patti? She never mentioned a daughter.”
“She avoids parading the skeletons in her closet through the shop,” I attempt a cool smirk. “I’m Rose.”
“Like the flower?”
I bite back a gazillion sarcastic replies. “The crystal. My full name’s Rose Quartz; for obvious reasons, I don’t normally mention the second bit.”
“Makes sense,” he considers. “You seem less of a fragile flower, more solid like rock. Uh, I mean, not that you’re solid-looking. Solid in the sense of dependable? Real?”
Is he nervous? He scratches beneath the collar of his button down shirt. I try ignoring the three buttons open at his neck.
“A mineral, actually.” Cherry-flavoured drool dribbles at the corner of my mouth. I wipe my face, tossing the lollipop into an empty mug.
“I’m Rey, short for Reyansh.” He holds out a hand and we shake like this is a normal human interaction. “My mom’s Nita.” He gestures to the boxes he just unloaded.
Rey then notices the book display.
“This is new.” He picks up a copy. “A Lexicon for the Lovelorn by Siouxie Banshee? Must be a pen name.”
“What’s it about?” Is he interested? Just being polite?
“Short stories based on expressions in different languages about, um, love.”
“Love.” The word drops from his mouth like an entire Emo anthem.
“Reasons why people search for connections. How they fall in and out of love. What makes it last.”
He opens the book to a random chapter and reads: “In German, the verb fensterln” —OH GOD NOT THIS PAGE— “means to climb through someone’s bedroom window in order to have sex without their parents finding out.”
His left eyebrow raises again, slaying me like a blade through the heart. “That’s very…specific.”
“German includes many interesting compound words.” Nerd out on European languages: that’ll impress. I fiercely pray for a meteor to strike precisely where I stand.
On cue, the beaded curtain on the back doorway jangles; my mother sweeps in barefoot, a whirling rainbow of tie-dyed fabrics.
(A note about Patti: She views every human encounter as a potential love story waiting to unfold. You can imagine the utter mortification of being a teenager in her mere presence.)
“Ooooh, Crystal of My Heart,” she says, using her nauseating nickname for me. “I’m ecstatic you’re finally sharing your book with people! Hello, Reyansh!”
“Hey Patti,” he waves, then: “You wrote it? That’s so cool!”
My face burns the ghastly pink of my namesake. I look around for distraction, but Patti’s already disappeared.
“So, what do you do? Like, for fun? I’m guessing art delivery isn't it.”
Rey laughs. “Like you, it’s my last summer at home. I work with clay: wonky pots and things.”
“I wouldn’t have guessed,” I say, then notice grit beneath his fingernails. Perfectly imperfect.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’re the author?”
“I didn’t want you thinking I’m a sappy, sentimental girl desperately seeking a boy.”
I need a word for the instant all the surrounding energy changes from light and flirty to serious, when you try looking anywhere but at the other person’s mouth.
“I already assumed you were a sappy, sentimental girl.” Rey leans in, his warm skin giving off the heady scent of Netflix-Teenage-Hearththrob musk.
Using her sixth sense for awkward moments, my mother reappears. Seeing us standing there, she shouts: “Mamihlapinatapai!” like some deranged fortune teller.
“Pardon?” Rey says.
My feverish attempts at telepathy cannot stop Patti from speaking: “Ask Rose Quartz. It’s her favourite expression.”
“Page 129,” I manage.
Mamihlapinatapai (Yagan): a wordless, yet meaningful look between two people who both desire to initiate something, but are too scared to initiate themselves.
After reading, Rey looks up. “How long’ve you been waiting to use that word?”
His eyes, like burnished coins thrown in a wishing well, see past my armour. He is smiling.
* * *
Want to read another? Read Parenting Tips for the End of the World