Thought I would share with you a piece I wrote for a fiction writing class at Uni last year, about a teenage cupid-in-training. My teacher wasn’t happy with it, but hopefully y’all will be at least mildly entertained.
The Cupid’s Dilemma
Being a teenager is complicated enough. Leslie thought it was wholly unfair to also saddle her with the responsibilities of a life-altering secret, dropped on her by the wonders of genetics.
Going into the ‘family biz’ was a little more necessity than it was a sense of duty. There were, after all, an exceptional shortage of those in her family trade, and the Council dictated the ‘fulfilment of her potential’ mandatory.
Leslie didn’t ask to be a Cupid. Leslie didn’t sign up for this. The lack of fertility among her kind wasn’t her fault, nor should it be her responsibility to go into the secretive line of work. Not that her opinion on the matter meant all that much. No, Leslie had to attend the private high school for paranormally gifted students to train in the field of Cupid’s magic.
Indeed, Leslie led a complicated life.
Today, she discovered the universe wasn’t through with messing it up. It came in the form of an assignment. Not your typical ‘write an essay’ kind of an assignment. No, Leslie had been given a target: someone the Seer’s had decided needed a push in a specific direction, steering them down one path as an alternative to another. It was now Leslie’s responsibility to shoot an arrow at said target to nudge them in the right direction.
Leslie returned home from the academy with her mind still racing, rushing up to her room where she tossed her bow and quiver into the safety of her bedroom closet. She leaned back against the door and stared, unseeing, at the wall.
As if puberty hadn’t given her enough emotional crises. This assignment was on a whole new level. Anger and frustration settled into place, a familiar fire of hatred for her own people burning through her.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, snapping her out of her dread; a reminder that she was already late to Grace’s house. Seeing her life-long best friend was not the kind of stress she needed right then, but she also didn’t have a lot of alternatives. It wasn’t like she could explain why she didn’t want to study that night.
It wasn’t fair that her best and truest friend felt like she was being shut out, it wasn’t fair that Leslie couldn’t confide in someone just because they weren’t the right species. Every day was an uphill battle not to spill the beans and she hated it.
Leslie stripped out of her grossly white uniform in favour of an outfit of black matched with black and some more black, and hurried out the door again to Grace’s house, three doors down across the street. They might attend different schools, but any excuse to hang out – even if it was homework – was taken advantage of.
That was the way things were, since the beginning of High School; since Leslie had been forced to attend the Academy instead of mainstream education. It had been the beginning of the strain on the best-friend bond between Grace and herself. It was hard to make conversation flow when you couldn’t tell your best friend about the wonders of magic and enchantment. It sucked major ass.
Leslie didn’t knock on the pine-green door, but strolled on in and took the peach-carpeted stairs two at a time, turned left, and opened the third door on the right. The inside of Grace’s room was pretty much what one might expect of a teenager, and in fact, closely resembled Leslie’s own room. Laundry was heaped in various piles across the floor and the only space available for study was the clear half of Grace’s double bed. Makeup was strewn across the desk, the mirror dusty and smudged with who-knew-what, and most of the ugly floral wallpaper was concealed beneath a ridiculous number of posters.
“You are never going to guess what happened today.”
Grace had a black eye.
“What in seven hells happened to you?” Leslie exclaimed, chucking her bag onto the floor and dropping onto the bed beside the girl who was little more than mounds of brown curls and freckles.
“Ok, so you remember Georgia, right?”
Georgia… Georgia… Leslie vaguely recalled the name, but for the life of her couldn’t conjure a face to go with it. Leslie grimaced. They lead completely separate lives, surrounded by two very different groups of people. Grace’s world, for starters, at least featured mainly the human population.
“Well today, Jesse was talking to me in phys-ed – because we were on the same volley-ball team, see – so at lunch, Georgia comes up to me and she’s all like, ‘who do you think you are?’ and…”
Leslie wondered if this kind of typical teenage rubbish went on at the Academy, and she just never witnessed any of it. She only had classes with a small group of fellow Cupids, so her social circle was decidedly limited.
“So I was like, ‘bitch please, you can keep your damn boyfriend, I’m not even interested – and the psycho socks me in the face!”
“Did you hit her back?”
“I wish,” Grace said, “I’ve never been hit before, you know? I just kind of… fell on my ass and stared dumbly at floor before Mr Reece showed up. Also, is that glitter on your face?”
The comment took Leslie completely off-guard. She burst out laughing, “Is there? God, I must look like such a fruit-cake. I had- uh, Art last period, so yeah, could be.”
Leslie considered again the pros and cons of actually telling Grace the truth. It was a circular debate that always ended with the same conclusion. Besides, she hadn’t said a word her entire life – and she’d missed the chance to come clean years ago, when she was put into the Academy. Now it would just mean admitting to lying about the biggest thing in her life for the past four years.
She attempted to discreetly rub the residue from her face, unsure where exactly it was.
“Here,” Grace said, leaning forward with her thumb extended.
Leslie jerked back, “I got it.” Dropping the pretence, she rubbed the sleeves of her jacket all over her face.
“Germaphobe,” Grace accused, flipping open one of her books. “Try match that story. Anything exciting happen in the snobbish land of private school?”
“Pfft, nothing like that ever happens at the Academy. The most exciting part of my day involves discovering what flavour jello-cups are available at lunch.”
Silence fell between them, an uncomfortable blanket of guilt and alienation that had Leslie’s insides bursting with the desire to completely blow Grace’s mind.
“Does your face hurt? How long do you think until it heals?” Leslie turned the conversation back to Grace, a tried and true deflection to steer her attention away from the deceit that burned a hole in Leslie’s stomach, but she could see the disengagement in her friend’s face, even as she let the redirect happen.
Leslie and Grace worked in relative quiet, the occasional conversation springing up about one mundane thing or another, but her mind wasn’t really present as hours ticked by until the sky was dark and Leslie’s phone buzzed to summon her home for dinner. She was wholly wrapped up in thoughts of her assignment: Grace. Shoot Grace with a pink arrow at four in the afternoon – tomorrow.
Leslie felt her stomach churn.
There was no good-bye hug that had been routine for most of their lives, simply a quiet murmuring of farewell with a little wave and a slight smile as Leslie made her way home in low spirits.
Mom, Dad, and Jeremy were waiting at the round wooden table in the open plan dining room, knives and forks arranged in neat lines beside white plates of steaming roast dinner. Jeremy had yet to shed his second-years’ Academy uniform and Leslie was surprised her mother dared let the 14-year-old boy consume dinner – especially one featuring brown gravy – in such expensive white clothing.
The family rule had always been, whenever possible, to wait until everyone was present before eating. Such family dinners had been less and less frequent since Leslie had reached the age of assignments. Homework now regularly included fieldwork that interrupted her way of life, social plans and even her other homework. Coming up with excuses for missing her daily studying session with Grace was becoming difficult and less and less believable. Leslie’s bitterness burrowed into her bones, into her pores, and put leaden weights into her legs as she took her seat.
“Someone looks like shit.”
The glare Leslie set on her younger brother had little to no effect compared to the raised arch of their mother’s eyebrows and set jaw that indicated one more crack like that and Jeremy would have hell to pay. She felt some of her sullen mood take up residence in Jeremy as smug satisfaction niggled at her.
“Bad day?” their father asked, voice mild and wholly insincere. He was tall and broad, and at first glance seemed like an imposing man; strong jaw, neatly clipped and combed hair. Second glance revealed a passive man with little to no opinion on a good number of things.
Leslie shrugged, “you could say that.”
She didn’t bother telling them what was eating away at her. They’d had that conversation too many times, and it always came down Leslie being spoken to like they were trying to reason with an eight-year-old, explaining that it’s just ‘the way things were.’ You couldn’t go telling humans about Cupids – besides, she’d be lucky if Grace believed a word she said.
Never mind the fact she was now expected to force Grace down a specific path now. She didn’t know what the visions had held or why the Seer’s decided it was so important Grace go one way over another. For all Leslie knew, it was important for Grace to fall in love with a psychopath because it would ultimately result in something good happening. She could end up being responsible for putting her friend through hell – and then she would have to sit on that truth, for the rest of her life.
Of course she understood the reasoning behind the rules, but that didn’t make it any easier to bear, nor did it quell the intrusive voice in the back of her mind questioning what if.
Leslie ate her dinner in what had become a familiar silence.
Her assignments were always, always the pink arrows. Pink arrows for attraction, which must be fired at the correct moment to ensure the correct result. The easiest arrows to craft, and least damaging should she mess it up.
Her quiver held one blue arrow, one silver, one orange, and a violet arrow; a handful of pinks and even a couple of red ones. Each had a purpose and effect, each handcrafted in the workshop by her own hands as the class studied the creation and use of the assigned colours – but God forbid they actually task her to use one. The only exception to her collection was the single black arrow, standing in stark contrast to the rest. The most complicated and vital arrow of all: that which undid all magical mishaps.
Leslie stewed over her task as it drew nearer and nearer. She was cutting things close – she should already be in her other form, cupid wings summoned and magic turning her invisible to the human eye. She should be at Grace’s house already, waiting to complete her mission. She was dawdling. Stalling.
After all, if she messed up the assignment, she wouldn’t have to face the consequences of what she might do to Grace. She knew it was wrong, and would likely have all kinds of penalties, but…
Leslie went down the hall and stepped into her room, swinging her bow and quiver off her shoulder as she entered.
“What the fuck are those?”
Well, if she wasn’t up shit creek now.
Grace jumped off Leslies bed, taking three steps forward for a better look, “did you start taking archery?”
“I- no, I…”
This was it, Leslie realised. The perfect excuse of situation had presented itself… if only she had the courage…
“I knew it, I knew you were lying to me! Why would you hide something like this? Are you embarrassed?”
Leslie panicked, “Grace, no- listen. I- I need to talk to you. I can explain everything.”
Grace hadn’t been to Leslies house in a long time. In fact, after she’d been issued with her very own tools of the trade, Grace’s visits and over-night stays had been carefully planned around to avoid such accidental discoveries.
Grace’s eyebrows were lifted, ready and waiting in outrage and betrayal. It was now or never, she had to make a choice.
“I… I do archery of a sort,” she began tentatively.
Grace sat down again on the edge of the bed, arms folded dramatically; I’m waiting.
Leslie took a deep breath, “Grace, I’m a Cupid.”
Seconds ticked by in silence as the confession sunk in, processed, and warranted response. Grace fought hard not to react, to hold her glare, but her mouth twitched once, twice, and then a full-blown grin showed through. She turned her face away as if she could hide it, before finally managing, “is that some kind of joke? Are you so ashamed of the truth you think that’s a better explanation?”
Grace wanted to be mad, but the ridiculousness of the statement was too hilarious. Leslie had figured it wouldn’t be that easy to convince her, but she wished it had.
Sure, Leslie even had the damned wings and everything – but there was no way to summon them without erasing her presence from Grace’s conscience. She couldn’t prove anything by summoning her wings. The magic would force Grace’s mind to turn a blind eye, to find anything and everything else fascinating to the point where Leslie would become nothing but a shimmer, a blur in the corner of her eye.
Grace leapt forward and snatched the bow and quiver from Leslies hands.
“Be careful with that! You could seriously cause some damage.”
Grace dropped the quiver on the bed and mimicked taking aim with the bow, drawing back the string and letting go, “Honestly, I’m not dumb. And if it means that much to you, I’d totally accept it, like, it’s a little nerd-ish and sooo typical of your snobby school, but I’m cool with it.”
And somehow it all looped around to Leslie getting lectured. Again.
“Honestly, I wish I was kidding right now. I’m a cupid. Those arrows – they literally dictate romances and sex drive. The pink ones are for-”
Grace looped her hands around the arrow shafts and pulled them all out of the quiver. Leslie wanted to snatch them out of her hands, but fought the urge. It was way, way too risky. If Grace pricked herself on even just one of them… Oh there would be hell to pay.
“Be careful!” Leslie insisted, “those are sharp and dangerous.”
“Yeah, I bet they are! Damn. Like you’ve got rainbow ones and everything. The don’t look like they’re made very well though-”
“What? Look at this one,” Grace awkwardly transferred the whole lot into one hand and drew out a violet arrow, “It’s not even carved straight; the feathers are-”
“I made that!” Leslie growled.
She reached out to snatch the whole lot of them back, both embarrassed and enraged. Grace released them to her, holding her hands up, “Fine. Be like that then. It’s not like we’re really friends anymore anyway, is it?”
Before Leslie could bite back a response her watch began to beep.
She froze, staring at her wrist in horror as she realised how drastically wrong the situation had gone.
It’s four o’clock.
Leslie looked wildly around the room. This couldn’t possibly be the situation Grace was supposed to be shot in, but… but…
In a panic, Leslie fumbled as she seized a pink arrow and her bow. She knocked the arrow and took aim at her friend, heart pounding in her chest.
“Whoah, Les, come on,” Grace said, “what the hell is your problem?”
Leslie’s watch was still beeping, the alarm signalling without a doubt that she had to shoot Grace now. She had to release the arrow and just… trust…
Leslie loosed the arrow.
The magic activated, the arrow flashing a vibrant pink glow before the entire thing faded into a transparent shimmer that didn’t strike Grace, but entered her- and vanished completely.
The two girls stood in stunned silence, staring at each other in horror.
The effects wouldn’t be immediate. The magic would splutter into effect over the next couple of hours or days, or sometimes even weeks, depending on the target.
“What- what the bloody hell was that?” Grace demanded.
Leslie had no words. She pushed the button on her watch to stop its incessant beeping- and she continued to stare at her best friend as the ramifications of what had happened occurred to her… Leslie was the only one in the room. Leslie was the only one Grace could react to…
“You’re…” Leslie wasn’t sure she could voice it. Didn’t want to risk being wrong, didn’t want to make things worse than they were, but-
“You… you really are cupid… you’re a bloody love-pixie?”
“Grace,” Leslie said, more and more sure of herself, “Grace, you’re attracted to girls?”
Her best friend’s face dropped and her face turned beet-red.
They stared each other down in stunned silence. Seconds ticked, each of them trying to form some kind of explanation, some kind of response.
Finally, it was Grace who spoke.
“I- I guess you weren’t the only one keeping secrets…”