Fortune’s Fool


Chapter 1

 This has not been my day.

The suckage began when I realized I hadn’t hit snooze; I’d turned off the alarm. I screeched into work late, rumpled and panting and coffee-less, only to find a semi-emergency in progress. At the end of the day, after the boss (She Who Shall Not Be Named) swept out of the building in her usual cloud of brimstone, I beat it to the parking lot to find a screw in my very flat tire. It took two hours in the steam bath that is Central Florida in July and a can of Fix-A-Flat to get me on the road.

I drag myself into my adorable rental house, feeling flatter than the tire, only to find out that my roommate Amii’s flake boyfriend has asked her to move in with him.

Well, that’s just fabulous.

Amii and I have never been the paint-each-other’s-toes-and-plan-vacations-together kind of roommates, but we get along well enough that this news is kind of a shock. I follow her into the bedroom, leaving Flake Boyfriend to rifle our empty pantry. “Amii, you’ve only been dating three months. Are you sure this is a good idea?”

She shrugs, a quick, dismissive motion. “You know, Felicity, I think he may be the first guy I’ve dated in, like, forever who really gets me?” That was an actual question, not just her trademark lifted word at the end of a phrase, which makes everything she says sound like a question. Amii’s one of those sleek, blond girls who’s probably had a boyfriend every day of her life since the second grade. Boys don’t chase the girl with the crazy red hair, so no, I don’t know.

“You’ll find another roommate soon, I just know?” she continues as she stuffs a handful of thong panties into a duffel bag. “You’re pretty awesome?”

Awesome. Right. Meh job, ick salary, bundle of insecurity. Mmm-hmm. Awesome.

I’m rapidly calculating in my head and realizing that I probably shouldn’t have paid cash for those tickets to SwampCon next week. A pile of bills is going to hit me soon, bills I’ll be solely responsible for once Amii moves out. This house isn’t big, so it’s not that expensive, but it is in a nice area of town, so it isn’t cheap. I’ll need to find a roommate quick.

“Okay? So?” Amii says, shouldering the duffel and holding out her arms for a hug.

We’ve never been the huggy type, but why not? I can be nice, even as a bead of financial panic slides down my spine like a cold drop of rain.

Amii squeezes briefly, gently, and gives me a little wave as she walks out of the room. I follow her into the living room in time to see Flake Boyfriend scrape the last of the Moose Tracks ice cream out of the carton with a spoon and stuff it in his mouth, leaving the spoon and carton on the counter for someone else to deal with.

Don’t do this, Amii, I send telepathically. This guy is no prince.

“Bye?” she says. “I’ll come get the rest of my stuff tomorrow?”

Flake Boyfriend says nothing until he grunts, “See ya” on the way out the door. Then there’s nothing left but me, the empty ice cream carton, and a bank account that’s about to get held up and left for dead.

At least it’s Friday night. The weekend is upon us. It can only get better, right?

* * *

Okay, scratch better. At this point, I’d settle for tolerable.

Amii and Flake Boyfriend showed up at high noon the next day to clear out her stuff. They made surprising time, considering they normally both move like three-toed sloths. She followed him out the door with a perky finger wave and a “Call me?” that might have been an actual question. As roommates go, she wasn’t bad. Slow-moving, but not screechy or messy. Not much, anyway.

I have to admit the quiet last night was nice. No giggling through the wall, or more uncomfortable noises. Tell-tale rhythmic thumping is one thing. Cartoon voices amidst the thumping that make it sound like Pinkie Pie is doing Batman? Not so much. I won’t miss that at all. Or the constant reminder that she wasn’t bothered by rhythmic thumping coming from my side of the wall the whole time we lived together.

That’s another thing about my current situation. All work, no play. I can’t remember the last time I went on a date. College was like one big group outing, since drama majors only really get other drama majors, with plenty of partner-changing and friendship realignments to keep things lively. It was easy to hang with the group of them and not have to concentrate on one. And the office? Please. She Who operates in cranky mode most days. I can only imagine how awful things would get if she thought for even one second that two of her employees might be enjoying themselves outside of their little cubes. Plus, the male/female ratio is sitting on a solid 1:5, and most of those 1’s are gay. Or married.

Amii’s empty room is like a missing tooth—a big space where something used to be. I can’t help peeking in there to convince myself she’s really gone. And of course I stroll past her door a bunch of times to avoid what I really need to do, which is go through all the bills and find out how long it’ll take before I get in real trouble.

I finally bite the bullet at supper, which is a nuked plate of leftover cashew chicken. The stack of unopened bills is taller than I thought. I slice open envelope after envelope with a butter knife, smoothing the papers within and tossing the outer envelopes on the floor to deal with later. Power and water bills will go down because I won’t be dealing with lights on behind closed doors anymore (Flake Boyfriend) or marathon showers (Amii). Cell phone same. Rent now sticks in my financial picture like a hairball. The landlady, Mrs. Dominguez, is pretty nice, but she’s older and retired and relying on the rent money to make her ends meet. I might get a little extra time, but I won’t get a cut in the rate. The hundred-dollar check Amii left for her part of this month’s utilities will be long gone once I fill my empty gas tank and buy some groceries to fill my equally empty refrigerator.

And then there’s my student loan payment, the only word for which is ouch.

It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into when I decided to major in English and drama. There are only so many jobs out there for folks like me with interest but not much talent. Still, it would be nice to make some money doing what I love. But that won’t be happening anytime soon. My professional life is confined to a small PR office writing exciting things like insurance company newsletters and flyers about single-stream recycling. Shakespeare it ain’t. It’s barely writing.

My father wasn’t hesitant about telling me how dumb my choice of majors was, either. Every male in the Reeves family is an engineer. My grandfather the engineering professor and his accountant wife gave birth to two amazing scientific children. My dad married another accountant the week after he got his master’s in chemical engineering. So when I popped out, seriously deficient in math and only marginally interested in science, there were questions about whether they’d brought the wrong infant home from the hospital. The red curls didn’t help, so different from the mousy waves dominating the rest of the family photo. My mother’s foray into genealogy—what more OCD/detail-obsessed hobby could she have found?—turned up a Scottish branch of the family that explained the hair and gave me a long-forgotten family name. But there was no explaining, or excusing, the complete refusal to gawk at the combustibility of chemistry or the perfection of physics or the marvels of mathematics, higher or otherwise. I chose astronomy class to fulfill my core requirement only because I’d fallen in love with constellations while reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Even so, I scraped a B. Dad was mortified.

In the English Department, though, I could breathe for the first time ever. Eliot poetry made an elegant sense to me that physics never did. Novels explained the world in a way my number-focused family never could. And in drama, my standout hair and love for all things literary and geeky was normal, not an interesting aberration that made everyone around me cock their heads and furrow their brows and finally release short, impatient exhalations that always sounded dismissive.

Don’t get me wrong. I know my family loves me. They just don’t get me, and they never have. Probably never will.

Still, I don’t regret my majors at all. Looking at this student loan bill from my new, roommate-abandoned perspective, though, I wonder whether the out-of-state private school was my best choice, considering I gave up a big ol’ scholarship to UF that would basically have paid for everything.

As it is, I work my regular job and put up with She Who during the week, and I work an occasional shift at Pete’s Diner, a local hole-in-the-wall, for a little extra cash in my pocket for impulse purchases. Which happen more often than they ought, especially at bookstores, my being impulsive and undisciplined and drama major-y and all.

Fewer dinners and lunches out, more eating at home will help, even if I bore myself cross-eyed with Caesar salads because they require zero thinking and zero cooking. I’ll be able to scrape by for a month or so alone if I can persuade Sally at the diner to give me an extra shift or two. But one thing is going to hurt something awful.

I’m going to have to give up cable.

I’m not worried about endless sports or wall-to-wall reality or local news, though. I have cable only because of my great obsession, which of course is on a premium channel. No more premium channels means no more Fortune’s Fool.

I could go on for days about this show, and not just because everybody else watches it, too. I’ve been fangirling FF since before it hit the air. Bought the graphic novel in high school and read it so obsessively my copy’s falling apart.

But I have to admit the show is something else. It’s set in the Debatable Lands between medieval England and Scotland, during the time of the Border Reivers. So it has everything: intrigue, plots, double-crossing, family squabbles, forbidden love, and more. Amazing art direction, great writing, and OMG, the hotness. Layers of medieval dirt, blood, and squalor do little to hide the hotness. Or the naked, which happens pretty often. May I just say that the casting director has a great eye for gorgeous, long-haired men? Plus, layers of geekitude—enough to make my English/drama major heart thump and my history brain rejoice and my other parts to, well, do what other parts do. Hotness, remember?

I’m not the only one. FF is so popular now it’s the only thing people talk about at work on Monday mornings. Superfans even have a name: Wheelies, for the spinning medieval Wheel of Fortune featured in the opening credits. Dame Fortune’s Wheel metes out success or failure so capriciously that you never know from week to week whether your favorite characters will be elevated to fresh digs in a castle or reduced to living in a hovel, hotness be damned. So, yeah. I’m a Wheelie. But not for long, if this budget I’ve been working on all evening is the thing that will keep me from unintentional starvation and a credit rating from hell (something Mom assures me will torpedo my whole adult existence).

Better do this now while I’ve built up the courage. I call the nice folks at the cable company and tell them I’m going to have to cancel. After three different scripted attempts to get to me stay on, the guy on the other line (who sounds like he’s about sixteen) finally explains what will happen when the subcontractor shows up to collect the DVR. At least I have until Monday. I can catch tomorrow’s episode of FF and then have a week to figure out how to maintain my top Wheelie status in the office and with my cousin Savannah, since this season’s only half over.

Sally asked me to work the lunch-to-close shift tomorrow, so I’ll ask her about beefing up my once a weekend to twice, or maybe tossing me a Saturday breakfast shift now and then. No Amii means no more nights enjoying the Pinkie Pie Does Batman Show, so getting up early will be less of a stretch.

But that’s tomorrow. I scroll through the DVR list: six episodes of FF at about an hour and a half apiece. I don’t have to be at Pete’s until eleven. Who needs sleep?

Binge-watch, here I come.

* * *

Fortune’s Fool is available exclusively in the Enchanted by an Emerald anthology, featuring six other original novellas connected by a fabulous magical emerald. Order your copy today!

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