The Clearfront Balcony Club, Scene 10

Scene 10: A paper chain is wrapped around Brisa and Owen’s balcony. Owen stands outside in his dress uniform, and he looks excited but nervous. Rob stands outside in a polo and nice slacks. Jessica and Drew are also dressed nice and are ready to take pictures on their phones. Nedra and Theo stand on their balconies ready to watch. Juniper has a laptop propped up on her balcony. Mendel comes out and starts flying his drone, centering it around Brisa and Owen’s apartment.

 

MENDEL: And we are rolling!

 

JESSICA: Cue music!

 

Juniper hits play on her laptop, and a wedding march plays. Brisa slowly walks onto her balcony in her wedding gown. Brisa and Owen then face Rob, who begins speaking when the music stops playing.

 

ROB: Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here today to join this man and this woman in marriage! The couple will now recite their vows to each other.

 

BRISA: Owen, my life wouldn’t be complete without you in it! You’re my rock, my soulmate, my everything! When the world seems dark and scary, you make it all seem lighter. When life gets crazy, you make me feel sane again. When I feel sad, you make me feel better with just your presence! I don’t know what I’d do without you! As your wife, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make you as happy as you made me! I love you so much!

 

OWEN: When I first saw you, I thought you were too pretty to want anything to do with me! I had no idea your heart was just as beautiful as your looks! You got me through a really tough time, and although we didn’t meet under ideal circumstances, I’m so grateful that it helped me find you! We face another difficult situation, but there’s no one I’d rather go through this with! You’ve made me into a better person, and I can never thank you enough for that! I still can’t believe you’ve chosen me, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of our life holds for us!

 

ROB: You may now exchange the rings.

 

BRISA: Uh… They’re late in delivery.

 

OWEN: Here’s what they would’ve looked like.

 

Owen pulls out his cellphone and quickly pulls up an image of their order. He then sets it aside to continue the ceremony.

 

ROB: Well then, it’s my great privilege to now pronounce you husband and wife! You may kiss the bride!

 

Owen and Brisa kiss, and everyone cheers. Mendel lands his drone, and Nedra pulls out a set of frosted cupcakes that are individually wrapped.

 

NEDRA: Okay, Juniper, I used your rice flour to make you and Mendel vanilla cupcakes. Everyone else is getting chocolate.

 

DREW: Sounds good to me!

 

Nedra pases out the cupcakes, and once everyone gets them, they wait to unwrap them until Brisa and Owen open theirs. They feed each other a bite, and then everyone else starts eating theirs. Carla comes out with a swaddled baby.

 

JUNIPER: Oh, hello dear!

 

JESSICA: Hey, Carla!

 

BRISA & OWEN: Hi!

 

NEDRA: What are you doing out of the hospital so soon?

 

CARLA: They were out of rooms, so I just promised I’d take it easy.

 

MENDEL: Who’s the newest member of Clearfront?

 

CARLA: Well, originally I was gonna name her after her daddy, but I decided I didn’t want her to be anything like him! So, her first and middle name went from Blake Finley to Jessica Drew!

 

Jessica and Drew both look surprised and touched.

 

JESSICA: Wow, I’m honored! I don’t know what to say!

 

DREW: I can’t believe it! I… Who wants a drink?

 

Everyone expresses interest in that. Drew passes out champagne glasses to everyone.

 

DREW: Okay, everyone except for Carla and Mendel, hold your glasses as close to my balcony as possible. Sorry, it won’t work with a balcony separating us.

 

Mendel and Carla don’t look offended. Everyone else holds their glasses close to Drew’s balcony. Drew pours champagne into each of their glasses with flair. They all applaud when he’s done. He passes the champagne to Jessica, who pours some for Mendel. Carla grabs the bottle and drinks straight from it.

 

CARLA: Yes! I needed this!

 

JESSICA: A toast to the happy couple!

 

EVERYONE BUT BRISA & OWEN: Here, here!

 

BRISA: Owen and I would like to make a toast to all of you for helping us out with our wedding! Especially you, Jessica! Without you, none of this would be possible!

 

JESSICA: Oh, I was happy to do it!

 

OWEN: Cheers to all of you!

 

BRISA: Here, here!

 

Brisa and Owen clink their glasses together and take a drink.

 

JUNIPER: Would you guys like me to play some music for your first dance?

 

BRISA: Nah. It would feel a little silly since no one else can do it. Well, I guess you guys could…

 

Brisa indicates to Theo and Nedra.

 

THEO: Nah, I’m good.

 

NEDRA: He’s not that good of a dancer.

 

THEO: I didn’t say I was a good dancer! I’m just good not dancing!

 

NEDRA: I knew what you meant! I was just making another point!

 

THEO: (to Brisa & Owen) This is your future, you know! After almost fifty years, you’ll turn into this!

 

OWEN: I can’t wait!

 

Brisa and Owen clink their glasses together again and give each other another kiss.

 

JUNIPER: So, that’s a no on the music then?

 

MENDEL: That’s a no. I think the cupcakes and champagne are the extent of their wedding traditions.

 

ROB: How about a wedding present?

 

Rob pulls out a gift bag. They open it to find toilet paper.

 

OWEN: Oh, heck yeah! I think I’m more excited for this than the gravy boat Brisa’s mom sent!

 

As they set it aside, Brisa notices her wedding bouquet on the ground.

 

BRISA: Oh, I know another tradition we can do! I can toss my flowers!

 

CARLA: Don’t you dare throw that to me! I don’t need another man in my life right now! You know, at first I was worried about doing this by myself, but I’m kinda liking the break, actually!

 

JUNIPER: I would also like to politely decline your flowers. I had a great romance once, and no one else can top it! The universe may change my mind one day with someone special, but until then, I would rather enjoy my life of singlehood.

 

Brisa shrugs and turns to Jessica.

 

BRISA: Here, catch!

 

Brisa throws the bouquet to Jessica, but she misses and it falls to the street. Brisa looks down and apologizes to someone on the street.

 

BRISA: Sorry!

 

Brisa turns to Jessica.

 

BRISA: Sorry!

 

OWEN: Don’t worry, I think she’ll do okay anyways!

 

He looks at Jessica and Drew and winks. Jessica grins and blushes.

 

DREW: So… Do you wanna go out sometime?

 

EVERYONE BUT DREW & JESSICA: Yes!

 

Drew and Jessica laugh.

 

JESSICA: I’d love to!

 

Drew smiles broadly. Carla’s baby starts crying.

 

CARLA: Sounds like someone is hungry!

 

THEO: Yeah, I’m starving!

 

Nedra shakes her head.

 

NEDRA: Are you sure you’re okay by yourself?

 

CARLA: I’ll be fine! If I need any help, I can always reach out to the Clearfront Balcony Club!

 

ROB: Absolutely!

 

Carla goes inside.

 

BRISA: The Clearfront Balcony Club… I love it!

 

JESSICA: Me too! I don’t know how long this virus thing’ll last, but I’m so glad I have you all to go through this with!

 

DREW: Here, here!

 

An ambulance rolls by.

 

JESSICA: Saluté!

 

EVERYONE BUT JESSICA: Saluté!

 

Everyone takes a drink. They then chitchat until the lights fade.

 

 

 
Wedding Day

The Clearfront Balcony Club, Scene 9

Scene 9: Jessica eats soup on her balcony. Drew comes outside wearing a bandanna around his nose and mouth.

 

JESSICA: Did you make a trip to the bodega?

 

DREW: How did you know?

 

Jessica points to her mouth. Drew suddenly remembers he’s wearing a bandanna and takes it off.

 

DREW: Oh, right! I guess I’m getting used to it. It’s weird that this is becoming normal!

 

JESSICA: Yeah, totally!

 

Drew almost steps forward more but realizes that there’s something there. He picks up a wrapped bowl of food.

 

JESSICA: Nedra made potato soup for everyone.

 

DREW: Oh, sounds much better than the TV dinner I was gonna make!

 

He unwraps the bowl and drinks from it.

 

DREW: Mmm! This is so good!

 

NEDRA: (from inside) You’re welcome!

 

DREW: Thank you!

 

He grins and continues to drink the soup.

 

JESSICA: Is there more food at the bodega now?

 

DREW: Yeah, there’s a bit more. I didn’t do any food shopping though. I thought I’d get some champagne for the wedding tomorrow. I have a pouring technique I’m dying to try!

 

JESSICA: Sounds like fun!

 

Nedra steps outside.

 

NEDRA: That reminds me, what kind of cake does everyone want?

 

JESSICA: I’m okay with anything.

 

DREW: Same here.

 

Juniper points her head outside.

 

JUNIPER: I’ll eat anything as long as it doesn’t come from an animal.

 

Nedra mulls this over.

 

NEDRA: Hmm.. I’ve never made a vegan cake before…

 

Mendel pokes his head outside.

 

MENDEL: I’m good with a vegan cake since I can’t have anything with lactose, but I also have Ciliac Disease, so…

 

NEDRA: So, I gotta make a cake with no dairy or gluten? You guys aren’t leaving me with a lot of ingredients!

 

Juniper and Mendel shrug as they go back inside. Nedra shakes her head in frustration and then goes back inside. Brisa and Owen step outside. Owen is holding a notebook.

 

BRISA: Can you guys help Owen with his vows?

 

OWEN: There’s nothing wrong with my vows!

 

DREW: What do you have so far?

 

OWEN: Days may not be fair always, that’s when I’ll be there always…

 

BRISA: It’s repetitive!

 

JESSICA: Very repetitive considering it’s from an Irving Berlin song.

 

Brisa glares at Owen.

 

OWEN: I thought it was cute!

 

BRISA: You didn’t even try to write your own vows? Don’t you love me?

 

OWEN: Of course I do! That’s why I’m marrying you!

 

BRISA: But why can’t you say it then?

 

OWEN: I love you more than anyone in the world! I don’t know how to say it any longer than that!

 

Brisa gets exasperated, but Jessica steps in before she can argue.

 

JESSICA: We’ll help with your vows!

 

Brisa hands him a pen and goes back inside. Owen sits down to write.

 

OWEN: We were supposed to surpise each other with the vows, but she got suspicious when I finished too fast. I love her, I just don’t know how to express it poetically.

 

JESSICA: How did you first meet?

 

OWEN: In the principal’s office. We both got caught up in the tardy sweep.

 

JESSICA: What did you first think when you saw her?

 

OWEN: I didn’t think she’d talk to me ’cause she looked like one of the popular girls.

 

JESSICA: But eventually you did.

 

OWEN: Yeah! Well, she did. I never got in trouble like that before. She saw how upset I got and made me feel better. We became good friends after that.

 

JESSICA: When did you become more than friends?

 

OWEN: Pretty much after they released us from detention. As soon as they let us leave, we were inseparable.

 

JESSICA: That’s cute! Now, how do we put that into something more romantic sounding?

 

OWEN: Now you see my problem?

 

DREW: I got it!

 

As he speaks, he looks forward but makes shy glances to Jessica.

 

DREW: When I first saw you, I thought you were too pretty to want anything to do with me! I had no idea your heart was just as beautiful as your looks! You got me through a really tough time, and although we didn’t meet under ideal circumstances, I’m so grateful that it helped me find you! We face another difficult situation, but there’s no one I’d rather go through this with! You’ve made me into a better person, and I can never thank you enough for that! I still can’t believe you’ve chosen me! I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of our life holds for us!

 

Jessica blushes furiously as Owen scribbles all of it down.

 

OWEN: Wow, this is gold! How did you come up with it so fast?

 

Drew still can’t meet Jessica’s eyes.

 

DREW: Oh… It just came to me…

 

Drew cautiously peeks at Jessica, who stares at the ground but grins broadly. As Owen writes, they’re quiet. Suddenly, Rob bursts outside with a bag in his hand.

 

ROB: Whew! I’m glad it’s the weekend for me now! Anyone thirsty?

 

He pulls out a six pack of beer.

 

DREW: I’ll take one!

 

JESSICA: Me too!

 

Rob hands one to Drew and Jessica, and then he offers one to Owen.

 

OWEN: I dunno, I’m a little nervous about tomorrow. I think I need to keep my head clear.

 

ROB: Man, you gotta have a drink! You didn’t get a bachelor party!

 

OWEN: I guess this is like my bachelor party!

 

He accepts a beer from him. Jessica hold her beer up.

 

JESSICA: To Brisa and Owen!

 

DREW & ROB: To Brisa and Owen!

 

They hold their beers as if they were clinking glasses and take a drink. Drew notices something on his beer.

 

Drew: Hey, Mendel!

 

Mendel pokes his head outside.

 

DREW: This beer is gluten free. You want one?

 

MENDEL: That sounds really great actually! Thank you!

 

Rob happily hands over a beer to Owen, who passes it to Mendel. They sit on the balcony and chitchat as the lights fade.
Drew & Jessica

The Clearfront Balcony Club, Scene 7

Near sundown, Drew watches as Jessica puts the finishing touches on the paper wedding bouquet.

JESSICA: And… Voila! They’re done! What do you think?

DREW: When you said that you wanted to make paper flowers, I didn’t have high confidence in how they’d come out, but I gotta admit, I was totally wrong about this one!

JESSICA: That’ll teach you to never doubt me again!

DREW: I won’t make that mistake twice!

They both laugh.

DREW: I think Brisa will love them! Well done!

JESSICA: Give yourself some credit! You contributed too!

DREW: You spearheaded it. I just followed your directions!

JESSICA: We did this together! We make a good team!

DREW: I’d like to think so!

Drew smiles at her, and she smiles back bashfully. They’re quiet for a moment.

JESSICA: So… I guess I should give these to Brisa.

DREW: Oh, yeah… She’ll probably want them at some point, huh?

Jessica giggles as she kneels down in order to knock on Brisa and Owen’s back door. A moment later, Owen comes outside.

JESSICA: Oh, hey Owen! We finished Brisa’s flowers!

OWEN: Oh, awesome! I’ll get her. (Peeks his head inside) Hey Brisa, come here!

Brisa comes outside wearing oven mitts.

BRISA: What’s up?

Owen points upstairs, and when Brisa sees them, she is delighted.

BRISA: Oh, they’re so pretty! Thank you so much!

Brisa tries to grasp them but can’t with her oven mitts on.

BRISA: Oh, sorry! I just pulled dinner out of the oven.

Brisa hands Owen the oven mitts so she can grab the flowers.

DREW: What’d you guys make?

BRISA: Oh, well, we don’t have much, so I just combined the leftover chicken nuggets with canned spaghetti and some mixed veggies to make some sort of casserole. I hope it’s good!

JESSICA: That might be good… I gotta figure out what to make for dinner too.

Nedra comes outside.

NEDRA: You kids hungry?

OWEN: Always!

NEDRA: You like pizza? I got extra!

JESSICA: Oh, pizza sounds great! Thank you!

BRISA: Yeah, thanks!

NEDRA: Oh, no problem!

Nedra goes inside.

THEO: (from inside) Hey, I was gonna eat that!

NEDRA: (from inside) You said you were full!

THEO: (from inside) I didn’t say I was gonna eat it tonight! Maybe I want it for breakfast!

NEDRA: (from inside) Since when do you eat pizza for breakfast?

THEO: (from inside) Well, I’d at least like the option!

NEDRA: (from inside) Oh, you hush!

Nedra comes outside with four paper plates that have giant slices of pizza on them, and each are wrapped in plastic wrap. She passes them up one by one to Drew, who passes three over to Jessica, who passes two over to Owen and Brisa. They unwrap it and take a bite. Everyone looks pleased.

JESSICA: Mmm! This is amazing!

OWEN: It’s really good! Where’d you order it from?

NEDRA: Order it! I made it from scratch!

DREW: From scratch? You have a gift! You could open up your own restaurant!

NEDRA: I’d love to! I can’t work anymore! If I could, I’d go back to nursing since they’re desperate for more help. Unfortunately, a few years ago, I got blood clots in my lungs and lost sixty percent of my breathing capacity. I’m too high risk to help fight this virus! And now I can’t even see my grandkids! So, now I’m just looking for ways to make myself useful around here! It gets me through the days…

BRISA: If you want, you can help us with our wedding! I gave up on the idea of having a cake to cut, but maybe you could…

NEDRA: Count me in!

Rob comes outside.

ROB: Oh, hey guys! I got my…

He sees everyone finishing up their pizzas.

NEDRA: Don’t worry, I have one more slice!

ROB: Oh, thank you!

Nedra goes back inside.

ROB: I was just gonna say that I got my certification! I’m officially an ordained minister!

OWEN: Oh, perfect! Tomorrow, we should get the dress, so we can probably have the wedding-

BRISA: On Sunday! Oh, I can’t wait!

She happily celebrates. Nedra comes outside and gives Rob a slice of pizza. Their general merriment comes to a halt when Carla comes onto her balcony with a total poker face. Everyone is quiet for a moment.

CARLA: Is Mendel here?

Mendel cautiously pops his head outside.

MENDEL: I can hear you.

CARLA: I just wanted to apologize for yelling at you! You were only trying to help! Honestly, I knew I needed to get out of that situation, I just didn’t think I had a lot of options! Especially now! I can’t go anywhere! Not because of the pandemic, I mean, I’m so sore that I can’t even make it to my mailbox let alone the store! I need help, and I thought he was my only option.

MENDEL: If you need help, you have plenty of options right here!

JESSICA: That’s right! If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask!

ROB: Yeah, I work at the bodega, so if you need anything before I go to work, just holler!

NEDRA: You hungry?

CARLA: Well, honestly, I haven’t eaten anything all day!

NEDRA: Oh no! We can’t have that! I’m out of pizza, but there’s some leftover pasta in the fridge. I’ll get it for you!

Nedra goes inside to get it.

THEO: (from inside) You’re giving that away too? I wanted to eat that too!

NEDRA: (from inside) You haven’t eaten it so far!

Nedra comes outside shaking her head. She passes the plate to Rob, who passea it to Owen, who passes it to Carla.

CARLA: Thank you so much!

ROB: Yeah, thanks for sharing your food with us!

NEDRA: Oh, it’s just nice to have people to share it with!

Carla smiles gratefully and goes inside to eat it. Mendel also goes inside,but his mood is clearly elevated. Owen and Brisa finish up their food.

BRISA: Come on, Owen! Let’s go work on our vows!

They go back inside. Rob’s cellphone rings.

ROB: Oh, hey Mom! Guess what I got today!

After everyone else goes inside, Drew looks at Jessica admirably.

JESSICA: What?

DREW: It’s just amazing! You volunteer to help a couple of strangers with their wedding, and now everyone’s benefiting from this project! It’s crazy how your one act of kindness has had such a ripple effect! What would we have done without your help?

Jessica smiles and blushes.

JESSICA: You’re too kind!

DREW: No, you are!

Jessica shyly laughs. They continue to casually chitchat as the lights fade.

The Clearfront Balcony Club, Scene 6

Jessica and Drew sit on their balconies while doing more crafts. Drew rolls green paper into a tight cylinder while Jessica cuts red paper into petals. Brisa is standing on her balcony with a cloth tape measurer while Juniper gives her instructions from her balcony.

JUNIPER: Wrap the tape measurer around the fullest part of your chest.

Brisa does as she says and wraps the tape measurer around her chest.

BRISA: Like that?

JUNIPER: No, dear, the tape measurer needs to lie flat, and you have it twisted in the back.

Brisa tries to make the tape measurer flatter.

BRISA: Better?

JUNIPER: Yes. Now, what does it say where the numbers meet in the middle?

BRISA: One twenty. That can’t be right!

JUNIPER: The other side needs to go on top.

Brisa tries flipping it around, but she drops it. She tries wrapping it around herself again, but she sees that it’s twisted again. She groans in frustration.

BRISA: Owen!

Owen comes running out.

OWEN: What’s up?

BRISA: Do my chest!

She dangles the tape measurer from one hand as she holds her arms out so that Owen can measure her. Owen doesn’t see the tape measurer and gets confused.

OWEN: What? Right here? In front of everyone?

Brisa dangles the tape measurer in front of him.

OWEN: (laughs) Oh!

Brisa shakes her head but smiles as he takes the tape measurer.

JUNIPER: You need to wrap it around…

Another loud argument sounds from Carla’s apartment. Everyone stops what they’re doing as they listen to the argument.

BLAKE: (from inside) We can’t afford to waste food!

CARLA: (from inside) I’m sorry! It was an accident!

BLAKE: (from inside) What are you doing?

CARLA: (from inside) You said you didn’t want it if it was burnt!

BLAKE: (from inside) We’re not wasting it! You’re gonna eat it!

CARLA: (from inside) I’m not eating burnt food!

Nedra comes outside and watches Carla’s apartment with a worried expression.

BLAKE: (from inside) Oh, yes you are!

Some loud banging is heard from inside Carla’s apartment.

CARLA: (from inside) Stop it! You’re hurting me!

More crashing is heard from Carla’s apartment.

JESSICA: I’m calling the police!

BLAKE: (from inside) Eat it!

BRISA: We’ve tried that.

CARLA: (from inside) No!

BRISA: She just denies everything and nothing happens.

BLAKE: (from inside) Eat it!

JESSICA: We’ve gotta do something! We can’t just-!

CARLA: (from inside) No!

DREW: I’m calling anyway!

Drew pulls out his phone, but before he calls the police, a small drone flies out of Mendel’s apartment. They all watch as it hovers in front of Carla’s apartment.

BLAKE: (from inside) Eat it!

CARLA: (from inside) No!

BLAKE: (from inside) You stupid bitch!

More crashing is heard from inside of Carla’s apartment.

BLAKE: (from inside) What’s that?

Blake goes outside, and the drone flies out of his reach but still hovers by him. Mendel sticks his head outside.

MENDEL: It’s a drone with an aerial camera! You’re fight is getting live streamed to the police as we speak! Hope that burnt food was worth going to jail for!

Blake’s eyes grow wide, and he runs back into his apartment.

CARLA: (from inside) Blake? Where are you going?

The sound of a door slam is heard. Carla dashes outside and sees Mendel landing the drone.

CARLA: What did you do?

MENDEL: I got footage of your assault and sent it to the police.

CARLA: What? How could you?

MENDEL: How could I not? I hear him hurting you all the time! It’s not right!

CARLA: He’s on probation! Now he’ll go to jail for a long time!

MENDEL: Good!

CARLA:No, that’s not good! This baby is due any day now, and I can’t take care of her by myself! Then when the mall opens up again and I can go back to work, who’s gonna take care of her? Oh god, I’m so screwed! Thanks a lot, jerk! You ruined my life!

Carla runs inside crying. Mendel stands there with a hurt expression.

JESSICA: You did the right thing!

MENDEL: I thought I did! I didn’t think anything was worth going through all that, but…

NEDRA: Don’t worry! There are programs to help people in her situation. If you let that continue, that boy would’ve ended up killing her and her baby!

MENDEL: Yeah, that’s true. I just wish she felt better about it.

DREW: She will, in time. What he was doing was just plain wrong!

OWEN: If it weren’t for social distancing, I’d beat the crap out of him!

MENDEL: I couldn’t stand listening to it anymore! I’m learning to block out all of the noise you guys make while I work, but I can’t ignore that!

BRISA: I don’t blame you! If I had a drone that could film videos like that, I would’ve done the same thing! And we’re sorry for all the noise! We’re just excited because-

MENDEL: You’re getting married. I heard.

JESSICA: Hey, I’ve got an idea! If we promise to keep it down, would you be willing to film the wedding?

MENDEL: (mulls it over for a moment) That sounds fair!

OWEN: Oh, thank you so much! Uh…

MENDEL: Mendel. And don’t tell me, you’re Owen, Brisa, Nedra, Juniper, Drew, and Jessica.

DREW: Wow, I guess we really were loud!

MENDEL: Yes, you were! Well, I need to get back to work. At least it’ll keep my mind off of… (looks upward) everything. I’ll talk to you all later!

BRISA: Bye, Mendel!

JESSICA & DREW: Bye, Mendel!

Mendel waves and goes back inside as does Nedra. Juniper mimes to Owen how to do the tape measurer. Drew gestures to Jessica with a fist tilting up and down by his mouth. Jessica misinterprets what he meant and gives him a quizzical look. Drew shakes his head and his hands to indicate that’s not what he meant. He reaches into the cooler and point to a bottle of beer. Jessica laughs and accepts the beer. She holds it up in a tosst and points to Carla’s apartment. Drew nods, and they point their beers toward her in a silent salite. They continue to craft as Owen uses his hands to indicate Brisa’s measurement size. The lights fade.

The Clearfront Balcony Club, Scene 5

Scene 5: As the sun is starting to set, Drew sits outside drinking a bottle of beer. Jessica comes out with a bowl of pasta. Drew makes eye contact with her and waves.

DREW: (jokes) Is that your dinner or another craft project?

JESSICA: (sits down on her bench and laughs) My apartment felt a bit stuffy, so I thought I’d eat outside.

DREW: What’d you make?

JESSICA: Spaghetti. Well, not really. All the store had was this pasta that I think is supposed to be for soup. (shrugs) Whatever, it still tastes good to me. Oh shoot! I forgot my drink!

DREW: You want a beer?

JESSICA: Sure, I’d love one! Thanks!

DREW: No problem!

Drew uses a bottle opener to loosen the cap and hands it to her. She takes off the cap and holds it up in a toast.

JESSICA: Cheers!

DREW: Cheers!

They clink their bottles together, take a sip, and sit back down.

DREW: What did we just toast to?

JESSICA: (takes a bite of food before she answers) I dunno, we’ll think of something later.

Drew chuckles as he takes another drink.

DREW: How was your night after we finished crafting?

JESSICA: (playfully sarcastic) So exciting! I walked all the way down to the mailbox!

They both laugh.

DREW: I guess the halls are pretty empty now, huh?

JESSICA: Yeah! It’s weird! Usually when I get the mail, I pass by the gym and it’s always full. Today, not only was it empty, but the room was dark! I’ve never seen it like that!

DREW: I miss going to the gym!

JESSICA: I miss having the option to go! I never could get into a habit of exercising since my schedule was constantly changing for whatever gig I landed. Now I wish I went! Maybe I wouldn’t be so out of shape!

DREW: What’s wrong with your shape? I like your shape!

Jessica looks up in surprise, and Drew gets embarrassed.

DREW: I just meant that you appear in decent physical shape. I mean, based on the glue stick toss, you’re obviously not athletic, but…

JESSICA: Hey!

She jokingly threatens to to throw the bottle cap at him.

DREW: You’re throwing it? I’ll be fine then!

They both laugh.

JESSICA: It’s funny, I haven’t been told I’m in good shape in ages! You don’t get that often as a plus size model!

DREW: You’re a model?

JESSICA: Just a plus size model.

DREW: What’s wrong with being a plus sized model?

Jessica blushes and looks away bashfully.

JESSICA: Well, I did a bit of modeling to help pay the bills. After I finally landed a leading role, I didn’t think I’d have to worry about that for a while! I have enough to last a couple months, but if this thing lasts longer than that, I’ll have to figure something else out!

DREW: Join the club! Half the tenants in Clearfront gotta worry about that!

JESSICA: Probably more than half! Hopefully soon, it…

An ambulance blares loudly. Jessica and Drew watch as it pull up in front of their complex.

JESSICA: Oh no!

Brisa and Owen run out to see what happened.

BRISA: That did pull up in front of Clearfront!

Rob and Nedra emerge from their apartments.

ROB: I was just in that hallway! It better not be that damn virus!

Juniper comes out to see what’s happening, and Carla and Mendel curiously watch too.

NEDRA: It was only a matter of time before it reached us!

JESSICA: Don’t say that! It might not be that!

JUNIPER: (pointing down) There they are! Oh goodness, they’re so young!

NEDRA: They could have underlying health problems, but really, this thing affects people at any age!

DREW: Wait, look at his arm!

JESSICA: You’re right! That’s broken for sure!

JUNIPER: Oh, thank the heavens! It’s just a broken arm!

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Carla, Mendel, Juniper, and Nedra all return to their apartments.

OWEN: Whoo! Thank god! (mulls it over for a moment) We’re happy about a broken arm! We’re living in weird times!

ROB: That’s for sure! Man, I did not need this today! Work was stressful enough!

BRISA: What happened?

ROB: We got a shipment of toilet paper in this morning…

Everyone perks up when they hear this.

OWEN: The bodega has toilet paper?

ROB: It had toilet paper! For, like, three seconds! People stormed the place and fought over it like it was a plasma TV in a Black Friday sale! After it was gone, I spent the whole day trying to explain why we’re out!

JESSICA: What’d you tell them?

ROB: The truth! At first. I got tired of explaining it, so I started telling people that Crumbs took it to make a cat house! They didn’t think it was funny. Whew! I need a drink!

DREW: I got you!

He reaches into his cooler and pulls out a bottle for him.

DREW: (to Brisa and Owen) You guys want one too?

BRISA: That sounds great!

OWEN: Thank you!

Drew loosens the cap to three beers and passes one down to Rob. He passes two to Jessica, who passes them to Owen and Brisa. They all take a moment to take a drink and let the effect of the alcohol calm them a bit.

BRISA: If I change my wedding registry to the bodega, do you think I could get toilet paper?

They all laugh.

ROB: Oh, I haven’t gotten to that certification yet. It’s just been…

OWEN: We know! It’s gonna take a couple of days for her gown to finish anyways, so it’s okay!

They take another moment to savor their drinks.

JESSICA: So, what on earth do you think that guy was doing to twist his arm like that?

DREW: I’m not sure I wanna know! It’s a helluva time to go to the ER though! I wonder if he’ll even be able to get a room!

BRISA: All those poor people stuffed together, risking exposure…

ROB: I feel bad for all those healthcare workers! My job’s tough right now, but compared to what they gotta go through…

They contemplate it all, and their expressions grow grim. Jessica is suddenly struck with an idea.

JESSICA: I’ve got it! I know what we can toast to!

She holds her drink up high.

JESSICA: To their good health!

Drew holds up his drink.

DREW: To their good health!

ROB: Saluté!

BRISA & OWEN: Saluté!

They toast to each other from a distance, take a drink, and then continue to chat with each other as the lights fade.Jessica & Drew

The Clearfront Balcony Club, Scene 4

Scene 4: Later that day, Drew hands Jessica a very large paper chain as they share a hearty laugh from their conversation.

JESSICA: Are you serious?

DREW: Yes! Our kitchen was on fire, and that lady got mad that I wouldn’t serve her a drink! She asked to see the manager, but I said he was busy dealing with the fire department, so she just lost it at that point!

Jessica and Drew both laugh again.

DREW: Alright, so what’s next?

Before Jessica can answer, an argument blares from Carla’s apartment.

JESSICA: Well, I was thinking that…

The argument gets louder, and Jessica and Drew can’t ignore it anymore. They hear objects crashing inside of Carla’s apartment, which makes Nedra, Brisa, Owen, and Juniper poke their heads outside in concern. After a minute or so, the argument suddenly stops. Carla storms out to the balcony and lights up a cigarette.

NEDRA: You shouldn’t smoke when you’re pregnant!

Carla notices everyone staring at her. She puts out the cigarette but looks extremely miffed about it.

CARLA: Who asked for your opinion?

NEDRA: My nursing degree and your unborn baby! That child is stressed enough having to listen to its mom and dad fighting, it doesn’t need-!

CARLA: Hey, what my boyfriend and I do in the privacy of our own home is none of your business!

NEDRA: I got news for you, sweetheart, your arguments ain’t private! If you’re gonna fight loud enough that people on the streets can hear it, you’re gonna-!

Carla doesn’t want to hear a lecture and stomps back into her apartment. For a moment, everyone is quiet as they absorb what they just witnessed.

OWEN: (awkwardly changes the subject) So, how are the decorations going?

JESSICA: We got a lot done, actually! What about you? Did you figure out what you’re gonna wear yet?

BRISA: Well, Owen is gonna wear his dress uniform, but I can’t figure out what I’m gonna wear. I thought I brought my old homecoming gown with me, but we looked through everything and couldn’t find it anywhere! I guess I left it at my mom’s house, but unfortunately, I can’t go there and get it. My stepdad has heart problems, and they’re both at that age group that’s supposed to be vulnerable. There’s no time to mail it either, so I gotta use something out of my closet. There’s some nice outfits I could wear, but, I dunno, none of it feels special enough! I mean, I know a wedding on the balcony isn’t fancy or anything, but still…

JUNIPER: Your heart has made a call into the universe, and the solution has presented itself!

BRISA: Are you… Are you talking to me?

JUNIPER: It is no coincidence that I was called out here, for I have the ability to solve your problem! Wait right here! (She goes inside her apartment)

OWEN: What’s happening?

THEO: (from inside) Nedra! I can’t find my reading glasses!

NEDRA: It’s a studio apartment, Theo! There’s only so many places they could have gone!

THEO: (from inside) What? You’re not gonna help me look?

NEDRA: No way! I’m not missing this! Whatever she brings out has gotta be good!

Juniper comes out with a business card in her hand, and everyone seems slightly disappointed to not see something more outlandish. She holds out her arm so Drew can get it.

JUNIPER: Please hand this to the young lovers!

After Drew grabs the card, he reads the front side of it.

DREW: Juniper Moonbeam Brushfoot. What is that, a magic spell?

JUNIPER: (speaks in a less ethereal voice) No, it’s my name. I’m a seamstress.

Drew passes the business card to Jessica, and Jessica hands it to Owen. Owen and Brisa read it together.

BRISA: Oh, you work in that upholstery shop down the street!

JUNIPER: Well, I did until my services were deemed “non-essential.” But it appears I have a purpose for being home after all! If you provide me the material, I can make you a wedding dress!

BRISA: Oh, that’s great!

OWEN: Yeah, that’s really… Wait, where can we get the material? Everything’s closed!

Everyone mulls it over for a moment.

JESSICA: Maybe some old sheets?

NEDRA: Oh, I have a silk tablecloth that we never use! You can have it. (She goes inside to retrieve it.)

THEO: (from inside) No, not our good tablecloth!

NEDRA: (from inside) Theo, we can’t even fit a table that size in here! What do we need it for?

Nedra goes back outside and hands the tablecloth to Juniper.

JUNIPER: Wonderful! (to Brisa) Just email me a design you like and your measurements. I can have it ready to wear in a couple of days!

BRISA: Thank you so much!

OWEN: Yeah, thank you!

JUNIPER: Namaste, my children!

Juniper puts her hands together, bows, and practically glides inside her apartment. Owen and Brisa shrug and return inside. Nedra returns inside her apartment as well. Mendel pokes his head out the door with a cellphone to his ear.

MENDEL: (to the person on the call) I think they’re done now. Okay, let’s talk data protection… (continues his conversation inside his apartment)

JESSICA: So, anyways… I was thinking we could make little hearts that could line the sides of their patio.

DREW: Sounds good to me.

An ambulance siren blares past them, and Drew frowns at its sight.

DREW: How do you do it? How do you not let it get to you?

JESSICA: Who said it doesn’t get to me? I’m only human, I feel negative feelings too! I just don’t let it consume me. I used to get obsessed with my anxious thoughts, I wouldn’t let them go until I solved whatever issue that was plaguing me, and it really messed me up! I thought the solution to that was to not let myself think any negative thought. That was actually equally damaging! I had so much unexpressed emotion that it nearly consumed me! Eventually, I learned to give my emotions room to breathe, but after an appropriate amount of time has passed, I moved on to something else. It’s okay if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, we’re all going through unimaginable stuff right now, but just don’t let it define you! It breaks my heart to hear about all of the suffering happening out there right now, but after I give myself time to grieve, I think about what they would do if they were in my shoes and I try to live my life to the fullest! I can’t change what’s going on out there, and I’m not always happy about my own situation here, but all I can do is try to make the best out of these circumstances!

Jessica gives him an encouraging smile, and as his mind drinks in her words, he smiles back. After a moment, he picks up the crafting materials.

DREW: When that lady couldn’t see the manager, she threw a fit! A couple of TSA agents had to come over and try to calm her down!

JESSICA: Oh really?

Drew continues to tell his story while they go back to work.Carla

The Clearfront Balcony Club, Scene 3

Scene 3: Jessica comes outside with a stack of papers that have penciled lines on it, scissors, and a glue stick. She sits on the floor of her balcony and sets everything down in front of her. She then starts cutting along the lines she’s created on the papers. Drew emerges from his apartment, and Jessica glances up but quickly goes back to her task. Drew tentatively goes to the edge of his balcony to talk to her.

DREW: Got bored of being inside all day?

JESSICA: (still miffed at him) Actually, I thought I should work where Brisa and Owen can come coordinate with me if they need to.

DREW: Oh, makes sense.

Jessica continues working without making eye contact with him.

DREW: Listen, I’m really sorry for the way I behaved earlier! I’ve just had a hard time dealing with this whole stay at home thing! I loved going to work and being surrounded by interesting people all day! Then, on my time off, I liked hanging out with friends and watching sports, and now I can do either of those things! All I do is sit around and watch TV, and everything is either repeats or depressing news. I keep seeing the death toll go up, and then I hear all these sirens go by, and it all makes me wonder if I’ll be next! I worked at the airport, and I keep thinking- What if I came in contact with one of those people who have it? Or what if I caught it and don’t even know it yet? I’m constantly taking my temperature, and every little ache and pain makes me paranoid! I’ve never had much luck in life, so I keep worrying I’ll get it! I feel like I’m an animal just waiting to get slaughtered here! I get so jealous of the people who just have everything work out for them, they don’t have to worry about catching this thing! I thought you were one of those people; I didn’t know how much you struggled, and you must be looking for some way to escape all the negativity too! So, I’m sorry for trying to take that away from you!

Jessica takes a moment before she responds to him.

JESSICA: You don’t have much luck? You have a job that you love, some great friends, fulfilling hobbies… Sounds pretty lucky to me! So, some bad things have happened to you! That happens to all of us! That’s life! If you just focus on the bad things, of course you’ll feel unlucky! You’ll feel a lot better about your life if you stop feeling sorry for yourself all the time! Instead of pining over things you can’t do, focus on what you can do! That’s why I volunteered to help Brisa and Owen. I can’t work or visit my friends either, but I can do a favor for a couple of nice people!

Drew takes a moment to soak in what she just said, and he looks at her in an impressed expression.

DREW: Can I help?

Jessica finally looks up at him.

JESSICA: You wanna help?

DREW: Yeah! It beats sitting around the house feeling sorry for myself! I’d like to learn to be more positive… if you’ll give me a chance!

Jessica studies him as if she’s trying to gauge his sincerity, and when she concludes his authenticity, she holds up her glue stick.

JESSICA: Here!

Drew can’t reach it, so she gets up to hand it to him.

JESSICA: Oh, right! We’re supposed to be six feet apart!

DREW: I’ll step back, and you can toss it to me.

JESSICA: Okay, but I’m not a very good shot!

DREW: (jokes) Aw, be positive!

Jessica gives him a playfully reproachful look. He grins and then takes a few steps backwards. She tosses it, but it goes past him and onto Juniper’s balcony. Before Drew can reach over and knock on her door, Juniper gracefully saunters outside.

JUNIPER: What is the universe calling my attention to? (finds the glue stick) Ah, a bonding agent! It is surely a sign of my role in putting together two elements together! I must become the glue and keep everything together! But how?

DREW: You could pass the glue stick over to me.

Juniper looks at Drew and Jessica in surprise.

JUNIPER: Oh, I’m getting strong vibes from the two of you! You’re missing something, and I can help you get it back!

JESSICA: Well, we’re missing the glue, and you could help give it back.

JUNIPER: Ah, yes! Bonded together for a single purpose! How can I play a role in this endeavor?

DREW: You could hand us the glue.

JUNIPER: Ah, I could, but this object came to me for a reason!

JESSICA: Yeah, I accidentally threw it too far.

JESSICA: Oh, my dear, nothing ever happens by chance! As I meditated, my aura became entwined with the energy of the universe, and then this sign came to me! And I simply knew that-!

Nedra stomps out of her apartment and agitatedly focuses on Juniper.

NEDRA: Oh, for crying out loud! Will you just give the kids their damn glue?

JUNIPER: And just skip the spiritual lesson that’s presenting itself?

NEDRA: Yes!

JUNIPER: Fine!

Juniper holds out the glue stick for Drew to receive, but he hesitates.

NEDRA: What’s the problem?

DREW: Well, we’re supposed to stay six feet apart, you know, so the germs don’t hop onto each other…

NEDRA: Don’t talk to me about how to avoid spreading communicable disease! I was a nurse for forty years! You can grab the glue stick! Just don’t stand too close and wash your hands after you’re done using it!

THEO: (from inside the house) Are you done out there? Will you keep it down?

MENDEL: (pokes out of his apartment) Are you done out there? Will you keep it down?

THEO: (pokes out of his apartment) Hey, no one talks to my wife like that!

Mendel exasperatedly shakes his head and goes back inside.

THEO: The nerve of some people!

Drew quickly grabs the glue stick, and Juniper, Theo, and Nedra all go back inside. Jessica bursts out laughing, and eventually Drew does too.

JESSICA: So, I’m making a giant chain out of paper. I was thinking I could create the links, and you can glue them together.

DREW: Sounds good to me!

She takes the links that she’s already cut out and reaches them out to him. Drew gladly takes them and moves one of his chairs over so he could face her as he works.

DREW: I’m Drew, by the way. Drew Callan.

JESSICA: I’m Jessica, Jessica Robbins.

They almost reach out their hands to shake it out of habit, but instead they give each other a polite smile and then start working.

DREW: So, Jessica, what did you do before the quarantine hit?

JESSICA: I’m an actress!

DREW: Oh, really?

JESSICA: Yeah! I’ve mostly survived on being a movie extra and playing small parts in plays, but last month, I finally got a leading role in a huge theater, but then, well, you know…

DREW: That sucks!

JESSICA: Yeah! Oh well! It’ll be there waiting for me when everything opens up again. What about you? What did you do at the airport?

DREW: I was a bartender.

JESSICA: Not was, you are a bartender! Things’ll open up again one day!

DREW: (doesn’t totally believe it but tries) Yeah!

They chitchat until the lights fade. Image: Day five of Italy's nationwide coronavirus lockdown, in Rome

Amouraq, Chapter 19

Stephen felt both the sensation of falling and flying as the three of them were whisked through an air of nothingness. They were sucked into a beam of light, and in a flash, Stephen found that they had landed in an empty room in some kind of office setting. Going from outdoors to the inside of a building disoriented him for a moment, and his adrenaline was still pumping from narrowly avoiding danger. It hadn’t totally sunk in for him yet, so he asked, “Where are we?”

Allison answered him, “The International Crime Investigation’s main headquarters. Agent Allison Ramiro, at your service!” She extended her hand for him to shake.

Stephen shook her hand, but his brain could hardly process what she just told them. “Wait, if we’re in the main headquarters, that means…” He almost had it, but the idea just seemed too incredible to be true!

Emily guessed, “We’re in Ovelstrofe?” Allison nodded, and so Emily exclaimed, “We made it!”

Stephen’s heart nearly leapt out of his chest! As much as he swore that they’d make it to this point, it almost seemed unimaginable. After surviving that mystical forest for hours and hours, his body hard sort of adapted to that as a new reality. It stunned him to think they had actually made it to civilization again, and yet he couldn’t deny it any longer. Allison’s words coupled with what he saw with his own eyes made everything click, and when he realized their victory, he cried out in jubilation, “We made it!” He and Emily engulfed each other in a hug as they jumped up and down in celebration. He gratefully expressed to her, “You’ve totally perfected the whole rescuing thing! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Are you kidding me?” Emily reacted joyfully. “I would never had made it with out you!”

“You could have totally made it without me!” Stephen happily pointed out. “You just needed the confidence to know you could do it!”

Emily gleefully differed, “Yes, and you gave that to me! You’re my hero!”

Stephen’s heart swelled with pride to hear her think so highly of him, but when he noticed Allison out of the corner of his eye, he acknowledged, “And where would either of us be without her? Thank you!”

“We made a good team!” Allison observed. Emily and Stephen agreed, and they all formed a group hug.

Alastair had his head buried in his hands with a look of utter distraught as he leaned over his desk. Suddenly, he heard the sound of exuberant voices coming from the other side of the hall. He found that strange, so he curiously walked over to decipher what was occurring. He saw three people in the teleportation area, which perplexed him until he recognized one of the distant silhouettes as Allison! “Allison!” He rushed over to her, and she met him in the hallway to give him a huge hug. After a quick squeeze, he rejoiced, “You’re okay! Where’d you go?”

Allison smiled knowingly at him. “How about I let these two explain it?”

Alastair looked behind her and could hardly believe his eyes! “Stephen? Emily?” They both nodded. “You’re both alive! This is great!” He wrapped his arms around both of them in a huge wave of relief. “You’re still alive! I have so many questions for you! First, where did your plane go after…?” He cut himself off when he remembered something important. “Wait, we’ll have to discuss it later! King Patrick is dying as we speak, and he wants to see you both, so we gotta go!” He grabbed their arms and chanted, “Lanumaciae Alexendar’s castle!” They instantly disappeared.

In a large, stately bedroom with gray, stone walls, a group of servants stood around the bed with somber expressions. A few of them even wept as they gazed upon an elderly man who wore a ceremonial suit and a simple yet elegant gold crown. Stephen and Emily sheepishly entered, and both of them felt too uncomfortable to say anything at first. After a while, a couple of servants peeked their heads up and began whispering to each other, which stirred up a conversation throughout the room. The man on the bed picked up on the shift of focus and, in a weak but very kind voice, he questioned, “Who’s there?”

The servants abandoned all pretense and stared in their direction. Stephen broke the awkwardness of the moment by clearing his throat and introducing them, “Stephen Knight, FBI. This is Emily.”

One of the maids reacted, “Emily? As in the heir next in line?” Emily bashfully nodded, and all of the servants started buzzing about this eventuality.

“You made it!” The man on the bed then requested, “Please, come closer!” The servants cleared a path for them, so Stephen and Emily approached him. Even in his feeble state, Stephen thought he exuded sheer strength! And yet he still had an air of altruism and wisdom to him too. He addressed them, “I’m King Patrick, ‘though not for long! Soon, the throne will be yours. Dear Emily, you came from a neighboring land just as our beloved King Alexander did! He set out to dominate the world, but when he fell in love, he realized there was a greater way to spread his empire. Anyone can take over the world and force people into submission, but by offering friendship and brotherhood, more people will be drawn to you and follow your leadership. No force is necessary when you are truly loved! People will willingly come to your side when you need protection and will willingly uphold the laws that you decree. Their fidelity will come naturally so long as you never let them forget that you care! Please carry on Alexander’s legacy with pride and the utmost integrity!”

“I will!” Emily promised as her eyes brimmed with tears.

“Stephen, thank you for protecting our future queen!” King Patrick extended his hand, and naturally, Stephen shook it. As he did so, King Patrick motioned for him to come closer. Stephen leaned in, and King Patrick whispered, “Promise me you’ll always love her, even when she makes it difficult to do so!”

Stephen felt bewildered by his request. He couldn’t deny that he had romantic feelings for Emily, but he hadn’t crossed that bridge into calling it love yet. He hadn’t told a soul about how he felt about these feelings though, so he wondered how King Patrick knew to say that! He remembered Emily saying that he had strong intuition, and Amouraqians seemed to take royal predictions very seriously. The last bit of his words echoed back to him… even when she makes it difficult to do so… He glanced up at Emily, and he couldn’t imagine any scenario that would make it difficult to love her! So, he promised King Patrick, “I will!”

King Patrick regarded the entire room, “I want to leave letting you all know that I love each and every one of you in my kingdom! May you all have a peaceful and abundant future! Goodbye!” He closed his eyes, and after taking one last gulp of air, he stopped breathing. The servants all stared at his body forlornly, and some of them cried and consoled each other. Tears formed in Emily’s eyes, so Stephen put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She gazed up at him gratefully and wiped her eyes.

After a couple of minutes, some people in medical uniforms came in and requested, “When you’re ready, can you please clear the room so we can do his final examination?”

A few people left immediately, but some lingered for a while. Alastair entered with a balding man that had small glasses, a gentle grin, and a vibe of ardent enthusiasm for the academia, and Alastair informed Emily, “This is Hugo Boman, he’s deputy head of parliament.”

Hugo shook her and and told her, “Whenever you’re ready, we have a lot of paperwork to go over to officially instate you as queen before the coronation ceremony.”

Emily didn’t look pleased at the prospect, and before she left, she caught Stephen’s eye, and he mouthed the words, “I told you so!” She silently chuckled before following Hugo and Alastair out of the room. It made Stephen feel warm inside to see that the right person was set to take the crown!

Before he left the room, he took one last look at King Patrick. He wished that he had gotten here sooner so he could have asked more questions. He felt relieved to hear that Alexander had a change of heart about world domination, but he wondered why Xavier and his followers hadn’t accepted that view of him. He didn’t question royal predictions, but he didn’t believe that Alexander’s ambitions had been altered by his experiences. Xavier seemed to truly believe that he got robbed of his dream, and he became bound and determined to live out his original vision for the world. Stephen could only assume that Xavier didn’t believe in love, but King Patrick obviously did. His message of kinship seemed to guide his leadership decisions, and it obviously was effective. President Truett was only too eager to assist him in this crisis, and King Patrick was humble enough to ask for help from a cose. For an instant, Stephen thought that King Patrick must have hired him to really irk Xavier, who clearly viewed sorcerers as superior to anyone who couldn’t do magic, but then he remembered the prophecy that Xavier had shared with him. He figured that King Patrick must have heard it too, so now Stephen couldn’t tell if King Patrick hired him because he wanted to scare Xavier or if he truly believe in it also. Then, he recalled what King Patrick had asked of him moments ago, and he couldn’t figure out if King Patrick had foreseen some other role for him in the future.

Some of the servants were tidying up the room a bit with cleaning spells, and Stephen tapped one of them on the shoulders to inquire, “Was King Patrick psychic?”

“Psychic?” he repeated. “You must be a cose! No, sorcerers and sorceresses connect with the energy of the nature around them, so they’re more in tune with what’s happening in the universe. Coses can sense things too, but our instincts are a little more prone to picking up on things. And the more adept we are at our magic, the stronger our intuition becomes. King Patrick was the most powerful sorcerer I knew, so his predictions tended to be very accurate!” He paused and added, “Why?”

Stephen didn’t answer right away. He remembered that Emily had something similar, and now his mind began reeling with all of kinds of different possibilities! He became aware of the servant’s stare, so he quickly excused himself, “No reason. It’s been a long day! If you’ll excuse me, I need to have a word with the ICI.” The servant nodded cordially, and Stephen dashed out of the room. He owed Alastair an explanation, and he hoped he could give him advice on what in the world he would tell his boss about his ordeal!

A couple of days later, Stephen stood by the entrance of a huge ceremonial room. The pews were packed with people in colorful formal attire, and he could only assume that since they were in dark colors for King Patrick’s funeral that they wanted to wear something more vibrant and life affirming for today’s proceedings. He recognized some of the people as the castle’s servants, but it took him a while to make the connection since their moods were so vastly different. He saw Amelia waving to him, and he naturally waved back. She began whispering to the people next to her, and he knew that she must have talked about him because they all tried to subtly turn around to scope him out. The press had scattered throughout the room and hurried to make last minute adjustments since Emily was due to arrive at any moment. The entire room seemed to buzz with excitement to see the next heir take the throne.

“Oh hello, Stephen!” Allison chirped. Stephen turned his attention to her, and it took him a moment to register that it was her since she was wearing a much more conservative ensemble. She arrived with a group that Stephen could only assume was other Amouraqians agents since they stood in a guarding formation. “Would you like to sit with use during the ceremony?”

“Thank you for the offer,” Stephen politely declined, “but I have a plane to catch.” He indicated to a suitcase next to him.

Alastair entered the room, and he offered to Stephen, “Oh Stephen, before you go, I’d like to talk to you. I’m planning on retiring soon, and I’d like to nominate you to take my place!”

Stephen hadn’t expected to hear this! It wasn’t the first time he had gotten a job offer from another agency, but he never would have guessed anyone would pick him to head a magical law enforcement unit! “You want me to take your place? You want a…?”

“You’d be the first,” Alastair admitted, “but we’ve seen firsthand that you can handle it. My team would really benefit from your experience.” Allison vehemently nodded.

Stephen didn’t know what to say. He had spent his whole adult life working for the FBI, and he never really pictured doing anything else. Of course, Emily had been completely right in that he didn’t think much about the future. Everyone had gathered here today because she was their future, but he didn’t know about himself. He had been so busy in the last couple of days that he didn’t have time to think about his feelings for her. He still held her in high esteem, but after spending more time apart, he wondered if any of his romantic notions would go away. She was about to become queen, and he still had a job to do, so they probably wouldn’t be together much. If he took Alastair’s position, he figured that they would have to interact from time to time. If he did that and his feelings deepened again, eh didn’t think he could handle it if she didn’t reciprocate that sentiment. He wouldn’t be very effective at his post if he had to endure the heartache of seeing her constantly without becoming romantically intertwined. With her as queen, he didn’t see how she could desire him the way he wanted her! He also considered that their near-death experience just caused him to develop a crush. He thought that maybe after some time that this phase would pass. He didn’t know what to tell Alastair, so he started to reply to him, “Well, I’ll have to talk to…”

Emily entered the room, and Stephen’s breath almost literally went away when he saw her appearance! She wore an embellished white gown with gilded threads and ornate jewelry that had sparkling blue jewels on it. Stephen had never seen anyone so beautiful that he couldn’t speak, and yet here he was unable to say a word! She beamed at him, and his heart beat wilder than it ever had before! At that moment, he knew that his feelings for her weren’t just a phase!

Allison grinned at the other agents and suggested, “Let’s go have a seat! I think Emily is in good hands!” She winked at Stephen as she led the others to take a seat.

“Just let me know when you’ve made your decision.” Alastair pat his back and went to take his seat.

Emily approached him, but when she noticed his suitcase, her face fell. “Oh, you’re off to another assignment already?”

Stephen quickly explained, “Oh no! My case isn’t closed yet since Xavier is still out there! Actually, it’s my uncle Brian’s birthday today, and I’m taking him on a fishing trip.” Emily’s eyes widened in surprise, so he remarked, “Yes, I’m taking a few days off. After our excursion in the forest, I got to thinking… life is short, and I should spend time with my loved ones while I still can.”

“So true!” Emily smiled approvingly at this, which made his heart swell.

He almost got lost in thought staring at her again, but he was able to swiftly recover. “Anyways, I just wanted to stop by before your coronation to wish you luck. Oh, and here’s my new cell phone number. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to let me know!” He handed her a business card, and after she accepted it, he added, “Don’t you forget about me now!”

“I won’t!” She tucked his card into her clothes just as Hugo summoned for her to come on stage. She flung her arms around Stephen and squeezed him tight. “Just promise me you’ll come back!”

“Yes, ma’am!” He didn’t want to let her go, but he had no choice. She had to go, and so did he. He wished he could have stayed to watch the whole ceremony! As she walked towards the stage, he knew he had to tear himself away from there now or he wouldn’t have the nerve to do it at all. He couldn’t help but take one last look at her though. As they began the ceremony, he whispered, “I’ll never let Xavier get to you! I promise!” As he spoke, a vision of Xavier’s menacing eyes and haunting cackle flashed before his eyes. He shoot it off, grabbed his suitcase, and headed towards the airport.

The End

For now…The Crown

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 2

The shadowy figure emerged from the bushes just as daylight broke. The potion he made to keep the baby asleep was starting to wear off, and as she began to stir, he knew he had to get her away from the beaten path. As he traveled through the thick of the trees, he saw a small clearing in the distance. When he got closer, he saw a small lake that stood still enough to make him think that no one had set foot in that place for years. He had a couple of things to take care of before he went home, and this seemed like the perfect spot to do it.

As the infant laid down in the soft, green grass, she gazed up at an old man with a decrepit body, a pig-like snout, and patchy, sallow skin. As he studied her with his dark, beady eyes, she began to cry. He leered, “You don’t like my appearance? Well, too bad! I’m binding you to me until the queen can no longer bear children! Then the kingdom will be all mine!” The little baby couldn’t comprehend the song and dance that he now did in front of her, but she watched him intensely. When he got towards the end, she felt a warm wind envelope her body. A star appeared on her left palm, and the man cackled, “You’re bound to me now!”

The man picked her up and verified that his spell had worked by peering at the mark on her hand. He thought out loud, “It worked! You can’t get too far away from me now!” He ogled her little face, which looked like like any other baby’s except for the golden brown eyes. “Ugh! You have your mother’s eyes! We can’t have that, can we?” He gave her another potion to transfigure her appearance, and then he covered her with a blanket and headed out.

As he walked down the dirt road with the baby concealed in his arms, he began to grow more relaxed. No one besides him seemed to be in this area. Even as he gazed off the path and to his left, he saw that an amusement park had completely motionless rides. It was early enough in the morning where most people wouldn’t even think of waking up, so no one even stood outside to wait for the park to open. Even if someone had shown up on the path he walked on to question him, he knew that they had no chance of recognizing the baby at this point. He didn’t want to risk running into the royal guard if he could help it though. The amusement park told him he was almost home, so he began to speed up his gait.

He came up to a tall fence made from sturdy, wooden logs sealed together very uniformly. The center had two large doors secured by two sentries in slightly rusty armor and non-human faces. One had purple skin and the other had green. They both had grotesque horns and warts spattered erratically on their visage. They eyed the baby suspiciously, and one of them asked, “What’s that?”

“I’m going to raise her to become my personal servant,” he answered. The guards gave him a peculiar look, so he roared, “Step aside, you fools! Do you remember who you’re talking to?”

The second guard apologized, “Sorry, Reisseck, sir!” They half bowed as they opened the gates for him.

Reisseck walked through a village with crudely built houses that stood lopsidedly, some so much so that they swayed in the wind. The wood used to build them was mismatched and thin. The most coordinated objects on them were the thick shutters and corpulent doors. Some of the houses had rotted, or broken in some cases, fences with unkempt yards. The streets were empty at the moment save for a rat here and there. At the edge of the village, they came to a large, craggy hill. The structure itself appeared to have small windows peaking out at odd places on the wall. In front of the cavern entrance stood a sign that read “Tower of Tatarus” hung haphazardly above their heads. He went inside the dark foyer, and as he got further inside, he passed by several small and somewhat splintery doors. After many twists and turns, he came to the biggest hunk of rock, which had the only halfway decent door. He mockingly told the infant, “Welcome to Dregs Hollow!”

After Reisseck lit a candle, he searched around his living room, which was small and full of a lot of clutter. So many pieces of furniture just didn’t seem to have a proper place, and none of it matched. He had several odd and deformed knick-knacks strewn all about the area as well. He combed through his things until he found a peeling apple box and a scruffy, old blanket. “There! You have a crib!” He set the baby down and trudged over to a small corner that had a rickety table and as small fire pit. He took out his wand and started a fire. He put a cauldron on top just as the baby began to wail. “I’m making you food! Don’t worry, I won’t let you starve! I need you alive for a while!”

Not long after Reisseck arrived home, the royal guards of Lacoria arrived at the entrance to the village. The two sentries blocked their path, and one of them growled, “You’re not allowed to patrol in Dregs Hollow! We’ve been over this!”

The head of the royal guard pulled out a roll of parchment that had a red wax seal with a crown on it. “We have a decree from the king to search the grounds. If you don’t comply, we’ll have you thrown in the dungeons! Or, if you prefer, we can return with a fleet of knights! Which would you prefer?” The two sentries glared at them, but they begrudgingly stepped inside.

After scouring over the whole town, the royal guards came to the Tower of Tatarus. Reisseck sat coolly on a patchy recliner when they entered his home. One knight saw a bundle resting in the apple box, and he alerted the others, “There’s a baby here!”

Reisseck lied, “If you’re looking for a missing child from your realm, you’re wasting your time in my chambers! This one belongs here!”

“We’ll see about that!” another knight responded. They unwrapped the swaddle around the infant, and when they saw her face, they gasped in disgust! She had long, almost clear red suction cups that covered her eyes and red warts all over the rest of her face! Reisseck chuckled rapturously at their reaction.

The head of the royal guard sternly directed him, “If you see anyone with the missing princess, you better tell us!”

“Why would anyone bring a human here?” Reisseck taunted them. They gave him a dirty look before they left. Reisseck smiled broadly.

As soon as she learned to walk, he began to teach her to do housework. He had a fierce temper, and she found herself walking on eggshells when he was around. Reisseck gave her the transfiguring potion each day, but she grew up believing it was medicine that she needed to live. She never questioned it because she feared that he grow angry at her mistrust and quit making something her life depended on. When she reached school age, he didn’t want to let her get an education at first, but when he realized he could teach her to do more complex chores, he decided she should learn to read and write. Although the other kids in Dregs Hollow were also disfigured, they sensed her meek nature and teased her regularly. Without friends at school or love from her only parental figure, she grew up extremely lonely. Her only solace came from reading books. The selection of the town didn’t offer a lot, but it meant the world to her! It taught her that the world offered a different lifestyle than the miserable one she led, and she dreamed that one day she could find happiness too. She didn’t know how she would do it, but she vowed to herself to find a way to live a more meaningful life!

As she grew older, Reisseck allowed her to fetch items for him in the nearby villages. She kept a hood over her face the entire time and didn’t interact with anyone unless she had to. She feared Reisseck’s wrath, but she also worried about the reaction of the townsfolk when they saw her monstrous appearance. Still, she couldn’t help but get entranced by the humble routines of normal people. She saw lovers holding hands as they walked down the streets, friends happily chatting outside of cafes, workers either enjoying their jobs or enjoying complaining about them, and so much more, and she longed to experience such things! She teared up at the thought that these people got to live the lives that she could only read about because she had no idea how she would ever have a chance to experience these things. She tried running away a couple of times, but each time she tried, she found herself frozen solid, totally unable to move. She still felt determined to achieve her dreams, but she began to lose hope of ever making it happen.

Since he had a servant that took care of him, Reisseck became pretty sedintary. Except for brewing potions, all he did was sit around the house barking orders at her. Inhabitants of the village would often come to him for advice or to help them settle disputes, which he thoroughly enjoyed and would babble on for hours. In his mind, he became Dregs Hollow royalty. The feeling only grew when he allowed his servant girl to take a job since he would take her money to buy finer things for his house and his stomach. His belly grew almost as large as his ego! He felt very complacent with his life like this, and he felt pleased that no one ever questioned him about the missing princess again. Things were good for him, but all of this was about to change…

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 1

A toast! As of today, April twenty-first, nineteen eighty four, Bancroft Marketing Consultants is officially ten years old!” Hadeon raised his martini glass above his head as he spoke to an exceptionally upscale office full of people in fine suits and gorgeous cocktail dresses. Hadeon certainly seemed to relish the looks of admiration as they watched him on stage, and he flashed them all a wry smile that lit up his already striking features. He feigned a sense of humility by running his smooth, creamy fingers through his slicked back, jet black hair as he told the crowd, “It seems like just yesterday we were just a small business cramped inside of my uncle’s garage…” He paused and saw that the projector screen behind him remained empty. “Sorry folks, there was supposed to be slides to go along with this speech…Stacy!”

Stacy snapped to attention from the back of the room, and she felt her pale cheeks flush. She readjusted the black bow in her dirty blonde, feathered hair as a she rushed towards the front of the stage where Hadeon stood. He stayed smiling, but she could tell by the look in his cold, brown eyes that her blunder angered him. “Sorry!” she apologized as she rushed to get the slides up and running.

Hadeon didn’t address her but instead talked to the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, you all recognize my wife and your secretary? Probably not since she doesn’t have food in her hand!” Everyone but Stacy chuckled. She pretended to smile it off, but inwardly, she cringed. She was by no means thin, but she hadn’t considered herself overweight either. This didn’t stop the jokes though, a recurring issue that she ignored at the moment as she attempted to get his slides going. Hadeon asked her, “Why aren’t you wearing lipstick?”

She awkwardly answered, “I did. It must have come off on my drink.”

Stacy saw a flash of anger flicker on his face, but his consciousness of his audience caused him to grin and joke, “Save some for the rest of us, Honey!” He got more laughs, but Stacy didn’t respond. Luckily for her, he didn’t expect one since she got the slides going. A picture of Hadeon and a couple of other guys in office casual wear working at a small desk in a crowded garage displayed, which delighted Hadeon. “Ah, there we are! My company started as a simple door-to-door operation, but even back then I knew one day it would grow into Nashville’s number one marketing firm!” Stacy tried hard to convey interest as he continued his speech, but she mostly listened hard for her next cue for the projector.

Later, with newly applied lipstick, Stacy sipped a drink with a straw as she weaved her way through the room. Unexpectedly, a woman from a very posh circle stopped her, “Oh, hello Missus Bancroft!”

“Oh, hello!” she responded politely.

A man from the group remarked, “Congratulations on your company’s anniversary!”

She replied, “Oh, it’s my husband’s company. I just tag along for the ride!”

“Sounds fabulous!” another woman commented. “You are so lucky! I can only imagine the opulent lifestyle you must lead!”

“No need to imagine! We spend so much time here, you can pretty much see our whole life’s story at the office!” Stacy spoke truthfully, but they laughed as if she had said it in jest.

Hadeon strolled up to them, and the first woman complimented, “Oh, hello Mister Bancroft! Lovely speech you gave!”

“Thank you!” Hadeon flashed her a smile before he very measuredly requested, “Will you all excuse me? I would like to have a word with my wife.”

Stacy tried to act casually, but she knew he wanted to lecture her, so she begrudgingly followed him. He led her to an empty office, and she hung her head as he softly shut the door. He turned around and gave her a look of utter malice, and then he very coldly asked her, “What was that?”

“I’m sorry!” she shamefully apologized.

“We planned this!” Hadeon scolded. “You know what you were supposed to do and when, and yet you left me on that stage all alone! How do you think that made me look?”

“I think it turned out fine,” Stacy expressed with the hopes he would realize she had a point and they would skip the argument.

Hadeon’s mood only darkened. “Image is everything! One of the number principles of my business is always be prepared! I teach it to everyone who works for me, and yet my wife slash secretary didn’t prepare for one of the most important events of the year! This could have costed me a client!”

“I already said I was sorry! What else do you want me to say?” Stacy knew she shouldn’t have snapped like that, but she couldn’t help herself.

“You could act more sorry!” Hadeon growled. “You don’t seem to even care about what you did! No explanations either!”

“I don’t have an explanation!” Stacy scoffed. “I got distracted by a good conversation. I should have paid more attention, but it was nice to have a little bit of fun for once!”

“For once?” Hadeon seethed. “You don’t have fun?I give you everything! A job, a nice house, designer clothes… How could you be so ungrateful?”

“I am grateful!” Stacy shouted vehemently. “You take good care of me, but sometimes I wanna take care of myself! I’ve spent the last five years devoting my whole life to helping you and your business, and sometimes I just need a little break to focus on me! It was just nice to have people care about my opinion! I felt like I could be myself for a little while! Look, I really am sorry that I was late for something important to you, but it would be nice if you recognized what’s important to me sometimes!”

Hadeon roared, “Fine, but now isn’t the time!”

“When is the time?” Stacy retorted. “Tonight is about you, and tomorrow is the Easter picnic, and then we’re back to the office for the next six days! I’m not asking for constant attention, but it would be nice to feel important sometimes! At the very least, if I make a mistake, I don’t wanna get punished like I’m a little kid!”

“I treat you like a little kid ’cause you act like a selfish brat!” Hadeon yelled. “Ugh! Look, I don’t have time for this! We’re going to go back out there and I want you to tell everyone how happy you are with this company to make up for what you did earlier! Got it?” Stacy wiped away a tear of frustration, which just seemed to incense him. “You’re going to cry? Great, you’re gonna smear your mascara! Just tell people you have allergies, which make your eyes-!”

“I’m crying, and all you care about is how it makes you look?” Stacy cried out.

“Don’t interrupt me!” Hadeon’s temper boiled over, causing him to slap her across the face! Stacy stared at him in shock, and even Hadeon appeared surprised by his own action. “I’m so sorry!”

“You hit me!” Stacy rubbed her cheek, which felt sore. Her hands started shaking from the sheer adrenaline of the moment. For a moment, she didn’t know what to do. He tried to caress her face, but she dodged his touch. Suddenly, the truth dawned on her, and she knew exactly what to do. “No! I’m done! I’m leaving!”

“Okay,” Hadeon relented. “I’ll tell everyone you went home sick and-.”

“No,” Stacy corrected him, “I’m done with you! This marriage is over!”

Hadeon laughed derisively at her. “You’re too emotional right now. We’ll talk this over after the party.”

“I’m done talking!” Stacy stated firmly. “I’m not staying in an abusive relationship!”

“It was an accident!” Hadeon rolled his eyes. “Quit being so dramatic! It won’t happen again!”

“My father is a police officer!” Stacy reminded him. “I’ve seen what happens when women stay in abusive relationships. I knew you had become neglectful, but I didn’t know things were this bad! I don’t deserve this! I’m packing my things and leaving!”

Hadeon sneered, “Everything in this house was paid for by me! You’ll leave with nothing!”

“Just my dignity!” Stacy countered him. “That’s all I need! I don’t want anything that reminds me of you anyway! I’ll start over with my own stuff and get a fresh start! Good bye, Hadeon!”

As she started to walk out, Hadeon stopped her by saying, “If you walk out that door, you’re fired! You won’t be able to afford anything on your own! You’ll have no choice but to crawl back to me!”

“I’ll make it on my own!I’m never coming back! Never!” She stormed out, and as she marched towards the exit, she passed by the group she had talked to earlier. One of the women asked, “Are you okay, Missus Bancroft?”

“My name is Stacy!” she exclaimed, and then she walked straight out of there without looking back!