A Fairy Went A-Marketing
by Delaney Burk
She bought a little fish; She put it in a crystal bowl upon a golden dish.
We met on a Thursday. My roommate convinced me that other students didn’t even get their assignments back until nearly the end of the semester and giving them their graded work so soon would be spoiling them. She said a better use of my time would be to go to Ornate with her and serve as her wing woman. After all, guys were more likely to buy the both of us drinks, thinking that if they struck out with one, they still had a chance with the other.
I left her to select my outfit while I started on my make-up. Most of my more risqué options had been banished to the back of my closet in favor of work-appropriate attire. For once, I didn’t complain about the outrageous amount of cleavage she wanted me to show or how I could barely fit into those shorts anymore. It was summer, and the nights were becoming as hot as the days and everything in the world was being reborn and that could include me, even just for one evening. We split a Lyft and tipped the driver extra for letting us blast Janelle Monae through his aux.
By the time we got inside, the air was heavy with sweat from packed bodies and tequila vapors. I followed Allison to the bar and let her take charge of positioning us enticingly on the stools. She said something about how farmers’ markets put their prettiest produce in the front that on any other night I would have scolded her for. She reached to take my knee and cross it over the other, only to stop when a hand gently came to rest on her shoulder. Turning to face the interruption, her cherry-red lips parted into a welcoming smile. They spoke, flirtations lost to me beneath a heavy bass, and I was only pulled back into the conversation when Allison spoke into my ear.
“What do you want to drink?”
I raised an eyebrow and her and her gaze momentarily flicked back to the man. Already? I shrugged, requesting a lemon drop before she turned to face him. I watched him order, Allison’s ring-coated hand snaking around his shoulders. She handed me my glass before taking her own, the drink my larger than mine. One day, I’d be as bold as her, willing to charge a fifteen-dollar cocktail to a guy I’d just met. I toyed with my straw. They continued to converse, only pausing for her to tap me on the shoulder and silently indicate that they were transitioning to the dance floor. I raised my drink as a salute and she swung her hips as a goodbye. Careful to ensure that she remained in my line of sight, I watched her shift and bounce to the rhythm of the song in a way I could never manage authentically. My dance abilities always looked like I was trying to hard to mimic them from the how-to videos I picked them up from. Not that I would ever share the source-
“What’re you drinking?”
I flinched and became acutely aware of the new individual that had taken my friend’s seat at the bar. He leaned away to avoid the splash zone, my surprise having jostled my drink, thus sending vodka and sugar over my thighs. I looked up to see his lips pulled back in a grimace. I responded eloquently over the music.
“I asked what you’re drinking,” He repeated, pointing to my glass, “Now so I can get you another one.”
He was tall, white, kind of gangly. He’d bleached his hair to white, but dark roots were visible, even in the changing light of the club. He reminded me of the kind of guys in high school that would flirt with me for a while, only to ask for my friend’s number. I cast a glance towards Allison. She had her arms snaked around her new friend’s shoulders and they were swaying, nose to nose. Her fingers still clutched the rim of her glass like a prize from a claw machine. I turned back to him.
“A Mai Tai,” I said, setting my previous glass further down the bar, “With extra cherries.”
An hour she sat in wonderment and watch its silver gleam.
However many drinks I had, he must have had double. Two Mai Tais and a mojito into our encounter, I learned three things.
His name was Denver.
He was a manager at Best Buy, but he was in school for accounting.
What he lacked in dancing ability, he made up for in utter confidence in said dancing ability.
I’d barely set my third glass on the bar when he tugged me onto the dance floor, insisting that ‘this was his song’.
“I mean, like a remix of my song, but it’s still really good. You should hear the original, it’s awesome! I’d play it for you if it wasn’t so loud—”
I stopped listening, too sober to care and too drunk to focus on anything other than how his elongated limbs seemed to have minds of their own, wiggling and shaking and jolting out from the rest of him. An apology to those around us as they tried to escape his body’s beat-bouncing fury and gave him dirty looks got stuck in my throat. Instead, I mimicked his movements, allowing my body to feel what he felt. Surges throwing my arms in the air, drum beats bouncing my hips, pulses jerking through my blood stream throwing every piece of me over the dance floor. I watched Denver throw his head back, his hair flashing blue, red, silver, purple under the changing lights. My eyes closed, pleased to still see the colors spark behind my eyelids. Rainbow of lights, flurry of moves, a storm of sweat, techno, and summer.
And then she gently took it up and slipped it in a stream.
I finally found Allison again at the line for the bathroom. She grabbed my shoulders after nearly passing me to return to the dance floor.
“Thank God you’re here! I was going to look for you after I peed. I didn’t see you at the bar anymore.”
I resisted the urge to ask if she’d washed her hands and instead gently removed said appendages from my shoulders. “I met a guy.”
Her eyes lit up. “You did?”
I ignored her surprise. “Yeah. He bought me drinks and everything. His name’s Denver.”
Allison whistled, and she rested her hands on her hips. “Look at you! Damn, I was going to ask if you were ready to go, but I can stick around for you and your new man.”
I was surprised. Usually it was me asking Allison if we could leave a party or a bar because I’d had enough, guilt quickly following behind the request to depart. I shook my head.
“No, we can go.”
“Are you sure?”
My gaze returned to the dancefloor. Through the sea of bodies, I could see the bubble Denver unintentionally made for himself. I imagined walking back there and telling him I had to go. He’d ask for his number and I’d tell him I wasn’t looking for anything serious and he would insist he wasn’t either and in fact, he wasn’t that attracted to me anyway and I shouldn’t be so cocky about it and— it was better to go now. He’d eventually realize I was no longer there. Maybe he’d remember me as the mystery girl from Ornate that got away. I’d be his summertime lost love. Or lost dance partner. A romantic could dream.
“I’m sure. Let’s go.”
She bought a colored bird. It sang the sweetest, shrillest song that she had ever heard.
“Are you sure we aren’t too old for these things?”
Based on the looks I was receiving, tempers were beginning to be pressed upon by my complaints. I didn’t think I was wrong in asking; as much as Allison liked to follow the line of logic “you only grow old when you stop playing”, there were certain places I was hesitant to visit in my late twenties. One of them was house shows. Our friend said she knew one of the bands playing and insisted we go. I wanted to ask what it was for but neglected to follow through. By the time I remembered the question, the car had left, and I didn’t want to find out if it was to raise money for a senior show and risk considering how likely it would be to run into any of the students I saw from the class I was the T.A. for that fall semester. Instead, I kept close to my friends and wished I had listened to their suggestion about bringing something to drink. No one was above the B.Y.O.B. rule.
Stepping over feet and crushed Coors Lite cans, I clamped my hand around Allison’s, her own clinging to Monique’s. The three of us weaved like an awkward serpent through the crowd of local college students. I tried to not to think like a to-be professor, about how I’d been trained to look for signs of alcohol abuse, how any one of these guys could be in my class in a year or two and I’d have to lie when they asked if I had seen them somewhere before and—
I bumped into Allison’s back, not realizing she’d stopped. She waved off the apology I didn’t say and pointed into the room we stood at the edge of. Fifty or so attendees were crowding a group of women that were finishing setting up.
“Are these Monique’s friends?” I asked, only to find my question answered. Monique had departed our trio and was pushing through the crowd to speak to the group. Before she could arrive, however, a shrill buzz ripped through the air, signaling the plugging in of am amp. The noise had barely dissipated before guitar chords busted into the room, followed by drum strikes. As the crowd began to move and nod along to the music, Allison tried to tug me into the room. I shook my head.
“Fae, come on.”
“I’m good, seriously.”
“If we don’t get in now, it’ll be too packed to find somewhere to stand.”
“Then go ahead. My head kind of hurts anyway. I’ll be on the porch.”
She pursed her lips and I could tell she wanted to say something else. About how I had complained most of the way there or how rare it was for me to do something she deemed “fun”. I didn’t give her a chance and made my way back outside.
I didn’t expect to find anywhere to sit. But the music revving up pulled most of the attendees into the house and left me with a choice between a lawn chair with a broken back and an old sofa with unidentifiable stains. I chose the latter. Autumn was cooling the night air, making the outside all the more inviting. I pulled out my phone and began to mindlessly scroll. It was the break and I felt I’d earned relaxing in the way I felt was appropriate.
“Do you have a light?”
I looked up from my phone and turned towards the inquiry.
The speaker stood over me, the hands in the pockets of her jeans. Tanned, short, and her jet black hair was shaved in that “I don’t care about conventional beauty” style I’d seen on half the girls present. But unlike the others, she looked to be closer to my age than to that of a student. She stared at me with heavily lined eyes, waiting for an answer.
“I think so.” I dug through my bag. I hadn’t smoked in a over a year, but Allison still did and knew she hated asking strangers for a lighter. I passed it over and she nodded in thanks. Cupping the cigarette at her lips, I watched her blow smoke into the way in a way I was sure she’d picked up from a movie. Something like Casablanca or Sabrina. She didn’t hand back the lighter. Unsure of how to reignite the conversation without immediately approaching a “give it back” gesture, I nodded to her chest.
She looked down and tugged at the fabric. “Uh… thanks.”
“Is it a band?”
Her eyebrows pinched together. “You could say that. I mean, we just played in there.” She thumbed towards the house. I could instantly feel my face go hot.
“Shit, I’m sorry—”
“You’re Monique’s friend, right?”
I halted by apology as she took another drag. “I saw you come in with her.”
“Yeah,” I answered, now that it was my turn for monosyllabic answers, “I am.”
She toyed with my lighter, flicking it on and off. I opened my mouth to ask for it back, not wanting her to waste the fluid (even if I didn’t use it anymore).
“You want to make out?”
I froze. “Excuse me?”
“Do you want to make out?” She repeated. She moved to sit beside me on the sofa, tucking her Doc Martens beneath her as she sat.
My eyes flicked towards the house. Inside was probably Allison and Monique, getting bounced around a mosh pit with kids nearly ten years younger than them and drinking all the cheap beer they could fit in their purses. The whole way over, I’d worried over who would be there and if I was dressed right and if it was too obvious how old I was. I didn’t risk like they did, didn’t throw myself fully into things. Giving wholeheartedly without care was dangerous to me. I refocused on my newest companion. Under the porch light, her brown eyes and black make-up gave her a haunted look and I couldn’t help thinking about how much I love Halloween.
She sat beside its painted cage and listened half the day.
Dating Teresa was like worshipping a goddess. I gave her offerings, gifts of clove tea and cheap nail polish and my Hulu password. I prayed at her altar, attending every one of her shows, regardless of how late it was or if I had a class the next day. The leaves changed color and fell to the ground, dying at the feet in of her as she expected her fans would one day do. I would sit on her futon and she would sing me all the songs she’d written about ex-girlfriends that she hadn’t yet written the music for, but she would get around to when her bandmates “got their heads out of their asses”. I let her pierce my nose to match her’s; I loved it until it got infected and I had to take it out. My friends were pleased that I was going out more, becoming less of a whiny homebody. But then they began to ask why I was never going out with them anymore and why Teresa always needed to come along? Did they want me to be social or didn’t they? I’d found someone important, a source of worship, couldn’t they be happy for me? Every time I bowed down before her, devotions on my tongue as I pulled down her panties, I ignored their voices whispering at the back of my mind. She wouldn’t write a song about me.
And then she opened wide the door and let it fly away.
I hadn’t heard from her in two weeks when I finally received a Facebook chat. My casual, fond inquiries about getting coffee the morning after a show began to mutate into concerned voicemails and messages to Monique, asking her whereabouts and if she was still alive. I prepared a sigh of relief in advanced as I opened the message. I expected an apology, an explanation concerning a lost phone or a family emergency. The latter formed into an imaginary invitation to join her for Christmas next month, finally getting to meet the sister she was always raving about.
‘Sorry. New phone. Moving to Washington. Band needs to grow. You were beautiful xx’
I never did get my lighter back.
She bought a winter gown; All stitched about with gossamer and lined with thistledown.
The promotional e-mail proclaimed that every patron that donated five dollars would receive a champagne flute before midnight. I had deleted it without examining the details, only for it to appear in a group chat. The attachment was quickly followed with a dozen confetti emojis and a proclamation from Monique that we absolutely must go. I sent off an initial text claiming that I couldn’t go, but to have fun in my honor. Before I could get out of bed to plug my phone it, Allison appeared in my doorway.
“I know you don’t have plans.” She said, staring me down.
“Doing nothing is plans. I specifically planned on not having plans.”
Her shoulders slumped. “Fae, it’s New Year’s Eve. I know you’re still upset about Terri—”
“But I feel like you’re getting to a point where you’re just reverting back to who you were before you guys were together. Yeah, what she did was shitty but before all that, she got you out and having fun and stuff. If anything, do it for the spite. Show her you can have fun without her.”
“She doesn’t follow me on anything anymore.”
“I meant in spirit.”
I crossed my arms. I appreciated that she didn’t include how deep I fell into the relationship, doing the kindness of pretending that I was never at fault in the matter.
“Alright,” I couldn’t help smiling when Allison hissed out a ‘yes’ and immediately sent a text to contradict my own, “If only to wear the dress I got for Christmas.”
She wore it all afternoon with prancing and delight.
I had never felt so good. The whole bar was packed with bodies. No one could move more than a couple inches at a time and I couldn’t raise my arms without hitting someone. But I couldn’t bring myself to care. Allison and Monique had made sure I was ready for the holiday, ready to show Teresa-in-spirit that I didn’t need her to leave the house. We knew Harvey’s was going to be filled to the brim, especially with that mailing list promotion, so we decided to hit the pre-game hard. Wine with dinner turned into rum and cokes while we did our make-up, which turned into shots as we waited for our Lyft. By the time we arrived, I was beyond thankful for my choice in footwear; boots hurt less to trip over than heels. The sardine-style space didn’t impact our excitement. Every song was our song. Everyone there was our friend. We shouted out our new year’s resolutions to one another over Queen and announced that next year would be our year. One could say what they wanted about seasonal depression or post-break-up funk; I was kicking them both in the ass. I didn’t even attempt to get my promised champagne as the countdown began. None of it mattered. I was no longer a hermit. The Fae of 2019 was confident, powerful, ethereal. I melted the ice and snow that surrounded the old me, reborn like a phoenix of opposing elements. I’d fly above my misery, cold-hearted misery – gone!
Then she gave it to a little frog to keep him warm at night.
I don’t think he liked that. Maybe he thought I should have stayed on Earth, where I belonged.
She bought a gentle mouse to take her tiny messages, to keep her tiny house.
I’d only signed up for group because my therapist suggested it. Seeing her twice a week was getting expensive and there was only so much my insurance would over, even when I declined meds. I told her I didn’t want one with therapy activities; I could paint and do yoga at home, I didn’t need to do it with a bunch of strangers with only trauma in common. She gave me a card for a group called ‘Courage to Heal’ and I tried not to glare at the name every time I saw it listed on the cork board of the community center where the meetings were held.
I went every Friday after my last lecture. I’d bring papers my professor asked me to grade and do them while I waited for the other members to come in. I liked to look busy, like I had so much going on in my life that healing was something I was just barely able to squeeze in. Like memories of snow and gravel on my bare ass and finger nail marks on my stomach didn’t wake me up so frequently that I started sleeping in the living room. It felt safer, knowing Allison would hear me if I needed help next time.
Talking was hard. Every one of those women had a story heavy as a stone and I took them in and swallowed them. I’d leave as fast as possible every Friday with a stomach full of violent girlfriends and too-friendly fathers and I would wish I never came. Every Thursday I told myself that I’d just stop showing up, that they wouldn’t miss me. Someone else with an equally painful story would fill my seat and I could move on. Every Friday I was back, grading essays about Forester and drinking an iced coffee like I was too good for all of this.
The session had ended, and I was already on my feet, bag over my shoulder. I was looking for the trash can to throw away my cup. I whipped around faster than intended when a finger tapped my shoulder.
We both stopped talking, neither of us wishing to talk over the other. She smiled apologetically and folded her hands in front of her. She was taller than me and crazy pale. I glanced at her name tag, only to find her hair hid it.
“Oh, uh—Chloe.” She said as a matter of introduction. She tucked a ginger lock behind her ear and I noticed that her nails had been bitten to the quick.
“I know,” She grimaced, “Sorry, I didn’t mean like, ‘duh’. I meant more like ‘I’m know you’, I guess?”
“You’re fine. I got what you meant.” I smiled and was surprised to find that it wasn’t as forced as it usually was as of late.
“Good,” Her shoulders sagged in relief, “I just… I wanted to tell you that, what you said… it was really cool. I mean, I’m not saying it as put-together or fancy as you would, but—I don’t know. It was nice.”
I didn’t remember saying anything that profound. Linda, the head of the group, asked me to share, to talk about anything since I had yet to. And I talked about how I hadn’t told anyone at work about what happened, that I said I’d had too much to drink over the break and tripped on my way home from a bar. It explained my injuries enough and it didn’t lead to questions. I said it wasn’t because I was ashamed, but because it wasn’t anyone’s business but mine. I chose to get a therapist, to come to this group. I chose who to tell and who not to tell, just like I was supposed to have been allowed to choose that night too. My own weak in-spirit ‘fuck you’, just like that night was supposed to have been towards Teresa.
Instead of disapproving Chloe’s kindness, I replied with meager thanks. Her smile widened.
“No problem. Hey, I was wondering. Do you do anything after this?”
I usually went straight home after group, often finding that it was easier to breathe back inside the apartment. I didn’t like to hang around. But I found myself shaking my head.
“Do you want to get coffee?” Her eyes fell to my empty cup, “Oh.”
The disappointment in her voice hit me like a truck. The impact pushed out an “I’d like that” before I could catch myself.
All day she kept its busy feet pit-patting to and fro.
I don’t know if we were running a race, but if we were, we were definitely following the tortoise’s path. Slow and steady, we were both reluctant to fall, let alone hard for one another. Starbucks after group began to result in the occasional suggestion to get dinner, usually fast food to avoid cost. At one point, I finally willed myself to suggest we eat at my place. I left it open-ended and reassured the presence of my roommate, remembering pieces of what Chloe had shared regarding her ex. I fully expected her to decline only to freeze a warm hand delicately slid over my own and she agreed.
Dinners replaced the coffee runs and soon they became bi-weekly. Lunches began to crop up and, occasionally, I’d join her when she’d go to the gym before work at seven (very occasionally). Soon, we were in each other’s apartments every other night and the most startling part was how easily it became the norm over so long. Like the cherry blossom trees outside – dead and exposed until you blink and suddenly, everything is re-growing and the air isn’t as frigid as it used to be.
In the same way our connection had snuck up on us, the evening had as well. We were watching The Birdcage when I glanced at my phone.
“It’s like two am.”
“Crap! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to stay this late.”
I watched Chloe toss her blanket off and begin looking for her shoes. One of the many things never spoken in our relationship was an implicit ‘no sleepovers’ rule. Neither of us seemed confident enough to broach the topic, so much like anything said in group, it was forgotten as soon as we left the community center. I shifted to the side when she sat back down, shoving her toes into her oxfords. I paused the movie.
“You know,” I murmured, “You could… stay over.”
She paused. “What?”
I kept my gaze locked on the television screen. “You could stay over. Sleep in my bed, since I sleep out here.”
Robin Williams stared back at me.
“Or we could both share your bed.”
My head whipped back to Chloe. She was chewing at her thumbnail again and I gently tugged her hand away. I kept my own around her’s.
“I’m sorry. Is that too presuming? I feel like that was stepping out of line—” She rambled. My other hand reached out to tuck some hair behind her ear and she trailed off.
“It’s not,” I whispered, “You’re fine. You’re great.”
Green eyes drifted down to my mouth and I barely had a chance to close my own eyes before her lips met mine. I wish I could have thought of something poetic or romantic to describe how she tasted, but I was too focus on holding back the urge to stick my hands in her hair or to unclasp her bra. I cocked my head to deepen the kiss, only for her to pull back. I flinched, afraid. I’d pushed too far. She reciprocated because she felt like she’d had to. This was too much—
She was unbuttoning her blouse.
Holy shit. “Chloe—”
“Just give me a second. Damn, these things are small.”
She stopped, looking up at me. My hand slid back to rest on her knee.
“You don’t need to do anything of this.”
“I know,” She asserted, “I want to.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Her eyes widened in concern, “Wait, do you not—”
“No, no. I do, I want to. Just—” I groaned and ran a hand over my face, “Why is this so hard?”
Neither of us said why.
“Why don’t I just sleep over tonight?” She slid a hand behind my head and cupped the back of my neck, “I think maybe you’d be more inclined to sleep in your actual bed if someone was there with you.”
“I think so too.”
She kissed its silken ears, thanked it, and let it go.
We’re standing at the front door of my building and Chloe looks to the window boxes my landlord put in.
“Flowers are coming in.” She said. I followed her gaze. Sure enough, red and yellow buds peaked out from bright green stems. By next week, daffodils and tulips would appear.
“Maybe we could see about planting some at my place?” It’s a question, not a statement. I turn back to face her. Black eyes meet green for a moment before she looks away.
“I… About last night…” She fidgets with one of the rings on her fingers and I recognize it as one I gave to her, claiming I was going to donate it anyway.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” I insist, “It was nothing.”
She purses her lips. “That’s the thing. I don’t think I want it to be nothing.” She meets my gaze and now she won’t look away, “I like what we have here and I kind of want to take another step. I’d like to try, at least. Would you want to do that? Try, I mean?”
Chloe stands on my porch and I think of Mai Tais. I think of obscure band shirts. I think of snow. I remember silver hair and nose rings and faces I’d do anything not to know. And standing in front of the memories are pictures of red hair and gym runs and too-short nails, hiding a past I don’t want to see.
I rest my hands on her shoulders to guide her to bend down. She complies, and I kiss her forehead. “Text me when you get home and look up that brunch place I told you about. We can go Sunday.”
She smiles, and I’m enamored all over again. I watch her head down the street and wave each time she turns back to do the same. When she’s out of sight, I look up at the trees, finding most of the gray sky blocked by budding leaves.
It’s getting warm again.
About the Author
Delaney Burk grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and just completed her degree in English with a Creative Writing focus at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has been previously published in Marymount University's Blue Ink and VCU's Emanata (for her illustration work), as well as Crab Fat Magazine and From Whispers to Roars. She is slated to be published in Virginia Commonwealth University's Pwatem, Auctus, and Amendment. She loves to explore a variety of genres and formats, especially urban fantasy, the combination of comedy and horror, and slightly off-kilter realism. Outside of hoarding lipstick and trying to watch every Colin Firth movie in existence, she is working to one day write for television or film.