My fourth novel, Love is Dead so Donuts, is a meager, likely failing attempt at a semi-romantic comedy with the hopes that I might make some money in the independent publishing world. And maybe make someone laugh in a way that doesn't make them uncomfortable.
Love is Dead so Donuts

Celia’s mother told her that love was for fools and dead poets. When Celia asked about the living poets, her mother said to her that they’re all wrapped up in conceit, and so are all men, so you either need to love that conceit or do away with them forever. So, Celia loved men and their conceit until she couldn’t any longer. Then she gave her love to the things that gave love back: Donuts.

 

Jelly

It was the fifth first date in Austin with some dickhead trying to make an app that no one would use. The app, the boy said, would allow people to see the gender breakdown of people at local bars that were also using the app. When Celia asked what would happen if people didn’t have the app, the boy simply said that “they wouldn’t show up.” When Celia expressed concern that the app might be misleading, if people were deciding on a place to drink based on the representation of gender, the boy told her that he had a marketing plan. When Celia asked about non-binary gender options, the boy said that the app was really for guys looking to find women, and when Celia noted there were already apps for that, the boy went to the bathroom and didn’t come back.

              After paying the bill for the two of them, Celia walked the sidewalk beneath the gray overcast sky and felt the spittle of clouds dewing her face. She kept her eyes hidden away behind oversized rose-tinted sunglasses, and the world was painted a jelly red. Celia thought people looked happier in red, and when they smiled, it seemed fantastical and filtered—a vague reality that was harder to take seriously. So while stock markets plummeted for reasons she didn’t understand or care to understand, while friends ranted about anxiety and student debt from years prior, and while men built apps that no one wanted, Celia lived in a jelly-filled fantasy world. Everyone was just swimming in its sweetness.

              What brought her back from the fantasy or what intensified it further was the sudden olfactory smack to the nose from a combination of light frying and cinnamon. A distant sizzle. When she saw a line of people standing outside of a popup shop, beneath the heavy lid of an open roll-up door, she knew she’d found the source. So, she walked on until she stood behind the small crowd of people.

              A glass display showed off a colorful assortment of donuts with small folded labels that had each of their names. Celia found herself admiring the considerate use of fonts that seemed to match each type of donut. The labels for the glazed donuts dripped a frosted white, and the apple fritter’s initial A was replaced with a small red apple with a bent green stem sprouting a single leaf. She saw in the reflection of the smudgeless glass a combination of anticipation and happiness on the faces of people in line. One by one, and sometimes in couples, people peeled away from the stand, and with each person that left, Celia took another step forward until she was face to face with the glass display case.

              Celia pulled the sunglasses from her eyes and took in the colors unfiltered. The pinks and blues in the decadent frosting pillowing cylindrical or triangular specks of accenting colors, every bit as sweet as the frosting she assumed. Her mouth hung at the options of shape, whether they were round or long, flat or bloated, crimped or smooth, angular or bulbous and she felt the skittering tip of saliva at the edge of her mouth, so she sucked it back in and snorted as the man above the display case repelled back.

              “Uh, afternoon,” he said and leaned on the counter above the display case again.

              “Apps,” she said back with a hanging mouth, and the word barely articulated.

              “Was that apple?”

              “Uh, no,” she said, and her mouth snapped shut.

              The man wore a goofy white paper hat with two parallel blue lines that ran all the way around the thicker headband area. His eyes were soft, but the rest of his features were sharp, and he was too good looking, Celia thought, to be selling donuts, so she assumed he must also be selling an app and be an idiot. It was apparent he was in good shape by the roundness of his shoulders beneath a white shirt stained with a rainbow palette and black chocolate smudges for artistic texture and white buttons trickled down beneath the cover of a white apron in worse shape than the shirt.

              “What kind of donuts do you have?” Celia said.

              The man’s lips thinned, and he looked down at the case and said, “Uh, well, we have all of the types right here in front of you, unless you’re looking for something special. And in that case, we’d be happy to make you something special.”

              “Something special?” she said.

              “Oh, sure. We can make donuts in any shape you want, really. Fill them the way you like or just give you the holes if that’s what you’d prefer.”

              “Fill them? Holes?” she said.

              He smiled, and his teeth were all white except for a small stem of something green stuck between one of them, and Celia thought the stem in his teeth was refreshing, so she stared at it for a second longer than was right before she looked back to his eyes.

              “We can frost them, red, yellow, pink, green, black if you want, or white,” he said.

              “Frost them. White?”

              “I guess what I’m saying is that if you aren’t interested in something already here, we can make you whatever you want; however you want so that you can be happy.”

              “So that I can be happy,” Celia said.

              “That’s right,” and he smiled, and she watched the stem again.

              Celia thought about it for a long time, and people gathered behind her, whispering their choices to each other. The resounding feminine pitch drew her to look back and notice that the seven or so people in line were all women, and their eyes went between the man’s green-stemmed smile and the donuts. The sing-song notes of happiness in their voice as they talked about sprinkles and frosting and cream filling contrasted the commonness of the homeless shouting and start to stop traffic noise of rubber on asphalt. Celia’s eyes glazed over like the donut classic, and she tried to remember the last time she spoke in such tones about a man, but she couldn’t.

              She whispered, “Are you all single?”

              No one answered or heard her, but as they fidgeted and added her to the assortment of novelties, they were looking over. When their eyebrows lowered and faces flushed, Celia turned back to the man and rambled out what she desired with such enthusiasm that the sentence could have been one word.

              “I want a jelly-filled donut in the shape of a heart with red jelly like blood,” she said.

              The sounds behind her stopped, and the man in the paper hat meme-blinked and burst into laughter. He nodded and pointed his index finger at her.

              “You got it. Come back in about twenty minutes.”

              She nodded crookedly and stepped sideways from the line and the group of women that watched her with a mix of confusion and smiles. One woman outright clapped, and Celia bowed before continuing down the street and away from the shop.

              She put her headphones into her ears and listened to lo-fi, and her feet dragged with the resounding scratch in the music, and the beats were uplifting and happy because she was uplifted and happy. She turned around and walked backward and stared out to the donut stand. The line grew, and women of all shapes and sizes, of different colors, of different heights, stood in communion with the display of frosted sugar with all the vibrancy and innocence of children.

 

Celia held a grande cappuccino outside on the Starbucks patio while swaying her feet atop a chair. An open table umbrella clicked against the patio table in rhythm with her lyricless music. She read an impulse-buy magazine that, in bold red impact font, read Fifty new ways to please your partner, and Celia smelled the sample perfumes and rubbed them on herself as indiscreetly as red impact font. When she was halfway through number one of the fifty and reading about mouth stuff, she closed the magazine and dreamt awake of the heart donut. She stood and left the magazine on the patio table for someone else and returned to the donut shop.

              The line was twice as long as when she left, and while one or two couples were in line, proud women stood and bobbed looking over one another to the glass display, each poking out to the side of the queue, then looking back to see who was behind them or to assess their progress. Celia pulled one of the headphones from her ear and leaned to her left, and she saw the figments of color, the splashes of weird yellows amid more acceptable pastels and when she leaned out, the man in the paper hat saw her, just like that, and he waved for her to come to the front of the line. Celia’s expression flattened, and she pointed to herself and looked back, and when no one was in line behind her, she looked at him again, and he was still waving and pointing in her direction. The women watched Celia as she marched along the side of the line, with a proud and puffed chest, but solemn neutrality across her lips. Some were annoyed, some were stunned by her awkward bravado, and when she stopped at the front of the line, the man in the paper hat handed his heart—the donut heart—to her in a piece of white tissue paper like he might break a couple pieces of himself off for her right there to take home. She reached up and took it, and blood-red jelly leaked from a small hole where it was filled, and her eyes lit up with a smile. Celia cradled the jelly-filled heart-shaped donut near to her belly and muttered “thank you” to the universe at large.

 

That evening, Celia laid sideways across an ex-boyfriend’s hand-me-down-by-breaking-up armchair, braless with red jelly globbed on her cheeks and some less than an inch from one of her eyes. She had both hands on her stomach and watched Golden Girls reruns in a mental haze brewed of an intense sugar high, a late afternoon cappuccino, and tiredness from being alive. Celia hiccupped and scraped a picked-at nail over one of the bits of jelly on her face and shoved her fingertip into her mouth. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she fell asleep satisfied.

Frosted Chocolate

 

Celia found herself zoned in and staring at a bubble-filled ice cube in her water, wondering if the background music was smooth jazz or cool jazz, but knowing the credit in college wasn’t worth the money either way. The other sound was her date rambling on about treestands for hunting, which she gathered were folding chairs for assholes. She looked up, and when she saw his hand coming toward her face, the room became clear, and she slapped it away, and some people from the other tables looked at them as her date retracted his hand.

              “Hey, I was just trying to help you out,” he said.

              “What?”

              “You have something on your cheek, like a little piece of glass or something.”

              Celia probed about her face until she felt the speck near her eye, and she plucked away the small red bead of jelly that survived a brisk face washing and heavy sleep. She tossed the bead away and smiled at the man in front of her.

              “So, anyway, what I was saying is that you actually use the treestand to climb straight up the tree, and eventually, once you’re up there, it’s as nice as anything else.”

              “What’s your favorite donut?” she said.

              “What?”

              “I said if you could have any donut right now, which one would you have?”

              “Donuts are full of calories. They’ll make your ass big.”

              “Like a Kardashian?” Celia said.

              “No, I think like Mama June,” he said.

              “Who’s that?”

              “Are you alright? You don’t seem like you’re into what I’m saying,” he said.

              “I guess I just don’t want to talk about treestands and hunting for the next thirty minutes,” Celia said.

              “I’m just trying to make conversation. You haven’t had anything interesting to say.”

              Celia put a closed fist against her cheek, and she said, “Did you know that the root length of a human canine tooth is sixteen millimeters?”

              Her date looked to his left and to his right before leaning in, and he said, “What?”

              “Can we get our check please?”

 

Celia rocked back and forth and looked at her ass in the reflection of one of the storefront windows. She hiked her knee like an Instagram model and then turned around as far as she could while still looking back. When a teenage boy moved into her reflection on the other side of the glass and started humping the pane, Celia cringed and continued down the street toward the donut shop.

              At first pass, she missed the shop entirely, so she turned back around and looked into the display case beneath the roll-up door, and it was empty but for donut crumbs and sprinkles littered across a glossy wax paper. Celia saw the bouncing of a paper hat behind the counter before the man bent into a mid-level metal shelf.

              Celia barked, “Hey.”

              The man in the paper hat jumped and slammed his head against the shelf just above him, and he pulled out and bumped against the counter, which shifted with a quick jolt. Celia jumped back, and her arms shot out as if to save the counter from falling—the sprinkles, the crumbs—but the glass stopped vibrating, and all went quiet as the man in the paper hat turned around to face her.

              “Hey,” he said, and it was flat and unwelcoming. Then he repeated it with a smile minus a green stem, and it was sweeter the second time around.

              “Closing up shop a little early?” Celia said.

              “We’re out. So we’re done.”

              “You’re what?”

              “We’re out of donuts. We sold out of them about twenty minutes ago.”

              “You what?” she said, and her voice came out high and pitchy.

              The man jutted his stubbled chin out and was about to say something, but his mouth just closed, and he shrugged.

              “Aren’t you losing business?” Celia said.

              “I suppose we’re losing your business,” he said, and he reached into the back of the display case, and one by one pulled the metal trays lined with wax paper out of it.

              “I have been dreaming of having a donut all day long, and this is breaking my heart right now.”

              “Your donut heart?” he said, and he lifted an eyebrow.

              “Wait, you remember who I am?” she said.

              “Sure. You asked for a jelly-filled donut heart filled with red jelly like blood if I remember right. That’s not an order you forget.”

              Celia smiled, and it felt weird, so she stopped and bit the inside of her lip. She looked down the street and watched as people passed the small shop. When she looked back at the man in the paper hat, he was watching her and wiping his hands with a wet white washcloth.

              “Listen, I might have something in the back if you’re really that beat up about it.”

              “In the back? How deep does this little shop go?

              “Pretty deep.”

              “Yeah?”

              “Yeah, it goes deep,” he said, and his eyes squinted, and he kept nodding.

              They both blinked and looked down at their shoes and then back at each other.

              “That is if you’re alright with chocolate.”

              Celia laughed out loud, and when it came out like a madwoman’s cackle, she covered her mouth and cleared her throat and nodded with her chin high and posture weirdly straight. Someone bumped into her then, and she bobbed to one side before standing straight again and regaining her lost ground. The man in the paper hat stared into the dark pits of her nostrils before he lowered his chin toward his chest and turned his palms to face up.

              “Well?”

              “Yes, I will take the chocolate. Is it discounted?”

              “No,” he said with a smile.

              “Am I to presume this is an old donut that is not being discounted?” she said, and she couldn’t remember the last time she said presume.

              “It is not an old donut, it is an extra donut.”

              “So, you just have a bunch of extra donuts in the—deep—shop back there.”

              He nodded slower than he had before.

              “Okay. I’ll pay full price.”

              He smiled and threw the white washrag onto one of the shelves and stepped into the back of the shop through draped plastic. Celia watched him walk away and stuck out her bottom lip before looking around the shop and to the people on the street. A car honked and a man shouted something out at her, but she couldn’t tell what it was so she ignored it. Then Celia took a long breath and held it for another twenty seconds before the man in the paper hat returned with a small white carryout box with a black heart drawn on the top of it, etched into the cheap foam. 

              He extended the white box out toward her and said, “Here.”

              Her brows narrowed as she looked at the heart and looked at him, and she refused to take the box for a moment, so the man bobbed it a couple of times over the counter and empty glass display case.

              “What’s that?” she said.

              “What’s what?”

              “The heart on the box.”

              “You’re the heart girl,” he said.

              “The what?”

              “The heart girl? The donut from yesterday?” he said and grinned.

              “Oh, right. The heart. Bloody, bloody, bloody heart.”

              “You should stop saying bloody,” he said.

              Celia blinked and took the box and said, “How much do I owe you.”

              “Don’t worry about it.”

              “I thought you weren’t giving me any discounts.”

              “No discount. It’s free. Not discounted,” he said.

              Celia looked down at the box again. She brought it into the crook of her arm and threw him a quick salute with two fingers, and he did the same thing like it was their thing, but they didn’t have a thing. As Celia continued down the street toward her apartment, she glanced back toward the donut shop, and the man in the white hat was pulling in a trashcan but watching her as he did so. He did the salute again, but she just turned around and smiled and went home with her chocolate donut.

 

Priya jabbed a finger a few times into the perforated front of the box of wine. When the tab gave, she rolled the box back and forth on one of its bottom edges and fished out the spigot until it was set. She poured a glass of pinot into an open-mouthed red wine glass with the word diva on the side of it, and bobbles dangled along the glasses stem.

              “This is literally the worst wine glass I have ever seen in my entire life. Just anyone is a diva now? Whitney Houston was a fucking diva,” Priya said and stepped to Celia, who was sitting on the couch and handed her the glass. “You are the diva. I’ll get another one for myself.”

              “It was a gift from my mom,” Celia said, and she lifted the glass and tipped it from side to side and watched the legs of the wine fracture and drip back into the whole. “They all say something.”

            Celia looked up as Priya pulled a Game of Thrones glass that read I drink and I know things. Priya smirked back at Celia before pouring her own glass. She sat in the large recliner with her knees drawn beneath her and watched Celia on the couch.

              Priya held up her wine glass and said, “This one I can relate to. Because I’m short and smart and know the best time to kill someone is while they’re on the pot.”

              Celia laughed, and so did Priya. Celia looked to the muted television, and a pharmaceutical ad played with smiling old people and vibrant green pastures.

              “You’re going to have to tell me what’s going on,” Priya said.

              “What’s going on?”

              “You’re smiling an awful lot. It’s unlike you.”

              “What, I’m not allowed to smile anymore?” Celia said, and she tried to contain the smile she wore then but couldn’t.

              “Is it a boy?”

              “No.”

              Priya leaned back in the chair and narrowed her eyes on Celia. Then she looked to the coffee table, and beside a vase full of fake white begonias was the box with the ink-black heart. She smiled and wiggled into the cushions of the chair and drank from the glass. With eyes just over the glass’s brim and her mouth still behind it, distorted by the roundness of the glass, she said, “What is that there? Are you doodling to cheer yourself up now?”

              Celia put the white, shag pillow to the side and leaned forward to reach for the small white box with the black heart, and she opened it and revealed the frosted chocolate donut inside. She modeled it by swaying the box back and forth before she settled back on the couch with the box on her lap. Celia pulled a piece of the donut away and shoved it into her mouth. Her eyes closed just enough to hide away the light, and a long breath drew from her body, dismissed from the reserve deep within herself reserved for sighs or more disappointing moments. But instead, her cheeks flushed in bliss.

              Priya canted her head and watched her friend indulge in the chocolate pastry. She saw the reddening of her cheeks and the heavy stain of mascaraed eyelashes on her cheeks. She drank her wine again and grinned while leaning forward and said, “Are you going to share that?”

              Celia’s eyes opened at once, and her cheek was full like a packing squirrel, and she shook her head just enough to answer Priya. Priya tapped her wine glass with a long white fingernail and kept on grinning.

              “I didn’t think you would.”

              “I love you, Priya, but I can’t share this.”

              “Mhm. Then I’m eating all of your mac and cheese.”

              “Deal,” Celia said as she shoved another bite of the frosted chocolate donut into her mouth, and she smiled again, choosing not to hide it.

 

Glazed Lemon

 

The word shirts was misspelled as shits, and the office buzzed. No matter which direction Celia turned the copy, the word was still shits, and it never became shirts again. She wondered how she could see the mistake so clearly now, though in rounds of proofing, from the lowest level to management, no one noticed the missing R that made the innocuous reference to clothing a disaster. She tapped the word with a blue fingernail until a voice shot from behind her.

              “I’m all about half-priced shits, to be honest.”

              Celia turned around, and her cubicle neighbor, Yu, smacked gum and leaned against the cubicle’s threshold with her arms crossed over a neon pink blouse. Yu smiled, but her eyes didn’t match the smile. She stood straight and shrugged before looking to another employee who eyed them as he passed by.

              “How did I miss this? It’s the biggest word on the page,” Celia said.

              “I don’t know, brah. I guess sometimes the most obvious things are the easiest to miss,” Yu said.

              “Well, I guess I better pack my things.”

              “You don’t actually think they’re going to fire you, do you?” Yu said.

              “Wouldn’t you fire me?”

              “No, dude, people—people make mistakes. We’re all human, you know?”

              Celia looked back at the page and tapped the misspelled word again. She shook her head and let out a long sigh that turned into a deep groan, and her head fell down onto the desk and page, and her hair darkened the room around her. Beneath the veil, she opened her eyes, and the word almost became shirts again as her eyes tried to make sense of the large text from two different perspectives. Her foot tapped beneath the desk.

              “You know what they say, ‘When life gives you lemons, you suck a little dick and keep your job,’” Yu said, and the click of her military-style boots carried her down the hall and in the direction of the breakroom.

              Celia groaned again and beat her head against the desk, rattling promotional pens in a plastic cup near her computer monitor. When she felt the rhythmic vibration of her ringing phone, she rose from the hair prison with her hair strewn across her face and stuck in her eyelashes, and she read the name Mom on the screen. She answered.

              “Hi,” Celia said in a lifeless drone.

              “Good morning. You sound like you haven’t had coffee yet,” Celia's mom said.

              “I’ve actually had too much coffee. I’m just having a bad day.”

              “A little early to call the day bad, don’t you think?” her mom said.

              “I really messed up at work, mom. Like, really messed up.”

              “Oh. Well, is everything alright? What happened?”

              Celia brushed her hair out of her eyes and face, and she looked back with her phone to her ear as Yu walked by with her hands cupped palm up near her mouth and she mouthed the words cup the balls with long exaggerated movements of her lips so that Celia couldn’t interpret the meaning any other way. Celia rolled her eyes and shook her head, cracking a smile despite the disaster.

              “Hello?” her mother said.

              “I’m here, mom. Sorry. I just might have accidentally, um, put some profanity in a piece of marketing. A mailer. That went out to ten thousand people.”

              “You did what? Celia Marie, I raised you better than—“

              “Mom. Mom, I didn’t do it on purpose. And the client missed it in the approval and my manager missed it, and it’s just an accident. I meant to spell shirt, and I spelled—you know.”

              “Shit, Celia?”

              Celia’s eyes widened, and it might have been the first time she heard her mother curse. She looked around the cubicle as if to check if anyone was in earshot, and she nodded once before she realized her mother couldn’t see it.

              “Yes.”

              “Well. Well, shit happens.”

              “Mom!” Celia shouted and burst into laughter.

              Celia’s mother joined her in laughing, and they went on for half a minute before they pulled themselves together. Celia wiped the tears from her eyes, and as the aftershocks of a belly laugh diminished and fell away, the reality of the situation hit Celia again, and she shook her head with a distant stare.

              “I need this job,” Celia said.

              “Celia, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Ever heard that?”

              Celia nodded with the phone to her ear again and said, “I’ve heard a couple renditions.”

              “The idea’s all the same, I’m sure. You, uh—you just have to do the best you can with the situation. It was an accident. I don’t think anyone in the office thinks you would do it on purpose, and you’re not the only one at fault, you remember that.”

              “I know,” Celia said.

              “You’ll be fine, okay?” her mom said.

              “I hope so.”

              “Maybe if you didn’t work so much, you could spend more time with, uh, friends, or something.”

              “Mom.”

              “It’s just been a while since you broke up with Bradley, and I think maybe it’s time you think about finding yourself someone out there. I’m not happy it’s in the city, but there are good men everywhere. Just less of them in the city.”

              Celia didn’t respond. A static bleed mixed with what sounded like clattering dishes on the other side of the phone.

              “Your dad was from the city,” Celia’s mom said. “And while he wasn’t always a good man, he was at least a man.”

              “How about I just get a dog?” Celia said.

              “A dog? What kind of dog?”

              “I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. I’m going to need a quick companion to help with all the extra time I’ll have at home,” Celia said.

              “Oh, stop it.”

              The sound of a running faucet on Celia’s mom’s side of the phone stopped with a squeak, and shuffling and rubbing came through the phone as Celia assumed her mother put the phone to her shoulder. Celia rubbed her eyes with her index finger and thumb in slow rotations, and she looked down at the marketing piece again.

              “There might be someone,” Celia said.

              The phone shuffled again, and Celia’s mom’s voice came through loud and clear, and she said, “Oh yeah?”

              “Well,” Celia said, and she stopped. Her eyes raised to the fluorescent lights that patterned the dropped ceiling, and she said, “It’s this guy that works at a donut shop.” She cringed, hearing how it came out.

              “A donut shop? Does he moonlight as a cardiologist?”

              Celia smiled and shook her head and said, “No, I don’t think he does.”

              Celia looked back as her boss arrived in a pastel shirt and a loud tie. His face was grim and tired, so she muttered an “I’ll call you back” to her mom and hung up the phone.

Celia stood across the street from the small donut shop beneath the same overcast sky that hung over Austin for a week. She observed the long line of women and a few men and thought about whether she wanted her job. 

              She whispered, “When life gives you lemons, you get glazed lemon donuts.”

              Her boss didn’t fire her, but when she sat in front of him, realizing that she had to take responsibility for everyone’s mistakes and not just her own, Celia thought about whether she really wanted to do what she was doing. She needed the job, though, whether or not she wanted it. Celia wanted a glazed lemon donut. So, she lifted her hand to thank the driver of a car that stopped, and she crossed the street and stood in line.

              Two young, pretty women stood in front of her with white teeth, shining hair, and tanned skin. Their tan drew Celia’s eyes to the sky, and she searched for any sign of sun that could have made their look seem natural, but when all she saw was a puffy gray blanket of clouds, she assumed they were frauds and thought nothing else of it. She leaned out to the side of the line to see if the man in the white hat was working, and he was, and he made eye contact with her. She ducked back into the line and smiled in hiding.

              “He’s cute,” one of the girls in front of Celia said.

              “The donut guy? Yeah, he kinda is.”

              “You think he has a girlfriend?”

              “Are you wanting to date a guy that sells donuts?”

              Celia’s eyes widened, and she looked around in every direction other than right in front of her. She let out a staggered breath like she’d been kicked.

              “Well, maybe not date. But.”

              “I’m his girlfriend,” Celia blurted out.

              Both girls rotated and looked back at Celia with cringing mouths and wide eyes before they glanced at each other.

              “I’m sorry, we didn’t—“

              “Oh, it’s fine. We’re getting a dog,” Celia said.

              “That, uh, awesome. I’m happy for you two.” Then both of the girls in front of Celia turned away.

              Celia, however, continued, “He’s going to school to be a cardiologist.” She smiled as she perpetuated the fantasy.

              “Wow. Sounds like you’re going to live the life.”

              Celia smiled and nodded, and she crossed her arms as a cool breeze shot through the street and between the buildings. The girls became quiet and stayed that way until they reached the front of the line. After the both ordered regular glazed donuts and walked away from the line, they chattered immediately about all of the things they didn’t say in the line, looking back from time to time to Celia as they went. Then Celia let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

              “Well, you made it when we have some stock left,” the man in the white hat said.

              “I see that. These long lines are tough,” Celia said, and she glanced toward the girls down the street again then back to him.

              “Good things are worth waiting for.”

              She smiled at him and looked at her own reflection in the glass. The cold, blushing tint of her cheeks spread across the assortment of donuts in the display, and she jabbed a finger against the glass right beneath a sign that read Do Not Touch Glass, so she lowered her finger and apologized with a look.

              “What’ll you have today, um… What’s your name anyway?” the man in the white hat said.

              Celia's head canted and watched him as his light eyes drifted from her own and down over her face, and she wondered what it is he was looking at or looking for. When he turned his head confused, she snapped out of the daze.

              “Celia. My name is Celia.”

              “Celia. I like that. That’s a pretty name, Celia. Sounds like a flower.”

              “I don’t really know the origin, but it could be a flower,” Celia said. She knew the origin had nothing to do with a flower and that the name had Roman roots, but she wouldn’t say anything to correct him, because being compared to a flower was the nicest thing she’d experienced all day.

              “So? What will it be?” the man in the white hat said.

              “Your name?” Celia said.

              “I meant what kind of donut would you like, but, sure, my name is Bradley.”

              Celia’s eyes locked on his, and her jaw tightened. She felt her whole body constrict, and she leaned toward him with her ear more in his direction, and she said, “Your name is what?”

              “Bradley. Is that alright?” he asked and laughed.

              Celia closed her eyes tight for a moment and said, “Can I please have a glazed lemon donut. Just one.”

              Bradley’s brows fell for a moment, and he leaned away from the display and nodded. He looked up at her a few times as he opened the back of the display and reached down into one of the shelves with a piece of tissue paper and a small paper bag, and he put a wrapped, glazed lemon donut into the bag for her. When Bradley looked back up, a five-dollar bill was held toward his face. He took the bill and gave her the donut, and when she took it, she walked out of the line and began down the street.

              “Change?” Bradley called out.

              “Keep it.”

 

Celia sat in a séance, surrounded by candles, and in the center of the candle ring were both a picture of her ex-boyfriend, Bradley, the glazed lemon donut, and a narrow-mouthed vase of water. Heart-breaking Billie Eilish haunted the background, and she stared at each of the three items in an otherwise dark room. Celia sat cross-legged in boy shorts and a gray tank next to the low coffee table that displayed each of the items. She held a cup of warm tea right above her lap, steaming with the essences of flowers into her nose, and she thought about what Bradley, donut Bradley, said about her name. She smiled, then she stopped smiling right away.

              Celia rose on her bare knees and placed the teacup on the coffee table, before placing her hands on each side of the table's long ends. She plucked up the photo of her ex-boyfriend and flipped it to read the small note on the back that said, “Love you, I guess,” and it reminded her of his stupid, qualifying sense of humor and she turned it around again.

              Bradley looked contemplative in the photo, and he barely smiled when a camera was out. When he tried, it always looked worse than when he didn’t, so eventually, Celia gave up on forcing him to smile at all. When he smiled less and less, she almost didn’t notice. As his cheeks and his nose reddened long after the winter months, she almost didn’t see. It wasn’t until the long absences and the silence that she knew things had changed for him, and in ways she didn’t know how to follow. 

              Celia tipped Bradley’s photo down toward one of the candles and lit the corner of it. It took longer than she expected, but the photo caught fire, and she held it up and watched as the heat bubbled through his hair and forehead and then down over his face. When Celia felt the heat, she tried to stuff the burning photo into the vase, but the mouth of the vase was too tight, so the picture wouldn’t go in. When she felt the pain of the fire coming on, she scrambled and felt instinctively driven to throw the photo, but instead, she smashed it into her tea, and it extinguished. She watched the black and white flakes swirl in the mug, and she shook her head.

              “One more for you, I guess,” she said.

              Her eyes drifted from the ruined tea to the glazed lemon donut in the paper bag. She thought of Donut Bradley’s hat, and though it was hard for her to smile, she did.

              “And now for you, I guess,” she said.

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© 2020 Joshua Aaron Crook (I probably don't have the money to sue you.)