Kalpana I., Writer

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It never occurred to me that I wasn’t considered normal. Normal has such small parameters nowadays. Mum always told me as a child that I had a vivid imagination. One that could conjure anything even in the darkest times. Mum never mentioned anything about normal or different. In fact, Mum seemed to think the word ‘normal’ was a social construct in itself. Just another thing humanity had passed along.

As a kid, I believed her regardless of the situation. I trusted her with anything. As a teenager, insecurities started to creep around every corner, following me around everywhere. My nose was too small and my face was too pale. My eyes were uninteresting and dull. They still are.

I forgot what ‘normal’ was supposed to be and focused on what everyone thought normal was, or maybe I stopped caring.

“Quinn!” I hear a nasally screech. It was Fiona, my boss. She’s a short, stubby woman who wears dresses too tight for her figure, and long dangling earrings that touch her shoulders. If anything makes it worse, she wears hideous red cat-eye glasses, which I’m sure don’t even have lenses in them. Right, I’m at work. A coffee shop, to be exact.

“What have I told you about disappearing?” she demands of me, but I’m not paying attention. There’s a new boy at the counter. He has short baby blue hair, but it grows brown at the roots. He has tanned skin and he’s my height. Most bold, perhaps, is his pastel pink jumper paired with blue jeans and white converse. They contrast his barista apron. I’m drawn to him.

Then I look at his eyes. Oh lord, his eyes. They’re blue. Very blue. I could get lost in the gold flecks that rest in them. Beautiful.

He notices me, then. Those blue eyes focusing on me. His cheeks go a little pink. He seems shy. He seems hesitant to wave but does so anyway. The corners of his mouth turn upward, just a little bit. Suddenly, I remember the flower crown I have in my backpack. I turn around and run back into the room with my emerald-colored backpack.

I open the largest zip pouch. There it is. The flower crown I never wear. It has flowers colored peach and cream and there’s a rose gold lining inside each flower. I run back into the front of the shop. I feel more confident to walk towards the boy now that I have something to give him.

“Hello,” I say softly, towards his turned back. At first, I think he hasn’t heard me. Then, he turns around. I can look at his eyes clearer now. There’s a green rim around his pupil. It’s even more beautiful.

“H-Hello,” he stammers, cheeks tinged pink.

“I was wondering if you wanted this,” I ask, holding the flower crown towards him. I notice the shop customers staring strangely at this boy and I. I stare back. It’s their problem.

The boy’s cheeks bloom a rose garden. “Really?” he asks, skeptical.

“Yes, silly,” I reply. He nods slowly, before reluctantly taking the flowered headband from my calloused hands to his own smooth ones.

“What’s your name?” the boy asks, seemingly more comfortable after putting the flower crown on. It matches his jumper. I can’t help but stare.

“Quinn Parker,” I say. “Yours?”

“Alex,” he replies. “Alex Winslow. I know it’s a silly last name.’

“It can’t be as silly as my middle name,” I shoot back.

He giggles. His tongue pokes out from the side of his mouth when he laughs. “What’s your middle name?”

I lower my voice to a whisper, “Now there’s a secret I’ll only tell when I have kids of my own.” Alex giggles louder. I wink.

“Well, I best be getting back to work. You’re new here if I’m correct?’”

He nods. “Could you show me around?” he asks, rather hesitantly.

“Of course,” I reply.


Work at the coffee shop seems to be better when Alex is around. The customers keep staring at me. I wonder if Alex is making them uneasy because he doesn’t wear ‘normal’ “boy clothing.” Though I’ve promised him I will go after anyone who disapproves his clothing choice. He seemed unhappy with his clothing because of how everyone reacts. I’ve told him it doesn’t matter what he wears. It’s just clothes.

I open my eyes. My head is resting on my backpack. I slept again. I also notice Fiona’s wonderfully pudgy face staring up at me. I jump back and hit my head on the cabinet behind me.

“That is one time too many that you’ve slept during the job,” she growls at me.

“I-I’m s-sorry ma’am,” I start.

“No excuses, you’re fired,” she says without any remorse present in her expression.

“B-but,” I object.

“No buts. You’ve been a terrible, sloppy worker for too long.”

This can’t be happening. I don’t have anywhere to live, anywhere to go. Now, I have no salary to earn. I usually live off thieving from Tesco and other various grocery stores. I knew it wouldn’t work for long.

“P-Please, I’ll do better next time,” I try again.

Fiona shakes her head, “There will be no next time.” So, impulsively I leave. Alex didn’t come to work today. Lucky for me, I know where his flat is. I start jogging on the pavement, taking quick panicked steps. I reach the building and call Alex on his cell. He comes out of the front door of the building.

“Quinn?” he says, studying my appearance. My short, usually neat hair is messy and unkempt.

“I got fired,” I say, then smile a bit pathetically. Alex’s eyes hold somewhat sympathy, but mostly sorrow. He seemed to enjoy it when I was at the coffee shop with him. I’m not expecting it so when Alex sweeps me into his arms, I’m surprised. He’s warm. His jumper today is yellow and he’s wearing the flower crown I gave him again.

“Oh, come in, Quinn,” he says, “You can stay with me.”


“Of course!” he says, then smiles.

Alex’s flat is quaint. It has cookie scented candles in the corner of each room, but only the one in the family room is lit. It always smells nice in his flat. Alex comes toward me holding a cup of coffee and biscuits in both hands. I take them.

“Thank you,”  I say gratefully. Alex just nods in return.

It’s hard to believe I’ve only known Alex for a few weeks. It feels like it’s been longer.

“Hey, Quinn?” Alex asks me, almost in a whisper.

“Hmm?” I hum in response.

“Can I tell you a secret?” he says.

I turn to face him, “Alright.”

“You can’t tell anyone, okay?”

“Of course I won’t, silly,” I respond.

“I’m not from around here,” he whispers.

“I knew that-” I begin to say but Alex cuts me off.

“No, I’m not from anywhere, even I don’t know where,” he says.

I start to question what he’s saying again. He interrupts me again.

“Now it’s your turn,” he says, eager to escape the current conversation.

“What?” I ask.

“Your turn to tell a secret,” he giggles. “It doesn’t have to be a big one.”
“Ok…” I say slowly, trying to think of one.

“I see things, Alex,” I say.

“What?” he replies.

“My mind shows me things that don’t exist sometimes. I used to think it was because all of my imaginary friends were secretly real. You’re solid, right Alex?” I ask, genuinely wondering.

I’m about to reach and touch his hand to make sure he’s real. Before I can, he spins around so he’s on the other side of me, and places a quick kiss on my lips. He pulls away quickly and his face blooms a rose garden. I’m sure my face turns redder.

“Am I real enough yet?” he whispers.

I hold his cheek, “I think so.”

He smiles and I wrap my arms around him. We stay in that position for some time.

“I think I’m going to like it here,” I proclaim.


I’m still staying with Alex. It’s been a few months now. I love it. I bought Alex a gingerbread candle for Christmas. I’ve found a new job. I’m an employee at Tesco. It’s not as fun without Alex, but Alex seemingly has no chance of being fired. I think Fiona likes him too much.

I’m walking home now. I’ve got a cup of coffee in my hand. It’s hot, but refreshing in the crisp, January weather. I turn the corner toward the red brick building. I reach my hand toward the brass doorknob and — it’s gone.

There’s nothing left where the four-story apartment building was. That’s impossible. There’s nothing there but grey chunks of rubble. No. Alex promised he was solid. He even kissed me. He can’t be a delusion. I start to ask around. The neighbors. Those fortunate to live in an apartment building near Alex’s. I hope he’s okay.

I knock on a friendly elderly couples door in a slight panic. A kind woman with greying hair pulled into a bun. “Hello,” she says, “May I help you?”

“Yes ma’am,” I reply, hysteria creeping into my voice. “Have you heard of an Alex Winslow? He lives in the complex next to this one.”

The woman cocks her head, “There hasn’t been a building there since, oh, before I was born.”

“Oh, thank you anyways, ma’am!” I nearly shriek.

I ask around all day, hoping for any mentions of Alex at all. There are none. I even check the phone book.

Finally, I walk into that old coffee shop, hoping to see a brunette boy in a pastel sweater and a flower crown pressing buttons on a cash register. Instead, there’s a blonde girl there, who has too-tanned skin and purple streaks in her hair. I sneak behind the counter and find Fiona fiddling with buttons on her phone. She’s gotten even pudgier. She turns and notices me.

“What are you doing here? I fired you months ago,” she mutters.

My cheeks turn pink. “I was just wondering where Alex Winslow was. You know, the boy at the counter?”

“Who? I never hired an Alex,” she replies. “Now, shoo, before I call security on you.”

I stumble out. My worst fears have been confirmed. Alex wasn’t real. Maybe he was. I don’t know. My head is swimming with negativity and confusion. I see flashing lights and red blood. Red. Red, red red. So much red. The opposite of Alex’s eyes. Blue. It was calming.

In my state, I hardly hear what anyone is saying, but my broken mind can process one thing. The voices are repeating a word. I’ve heard it before…



  1. a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.