By MJ Austins
Ah, there he was: Kingfisher St. Castle. Tall, broad, with honey-gold blond locks
curling gently around a face only a villain could hate.
How Bob hated that face.
How Bob hated the friendly, guileless brown eyes currently staring pleadingly at
him from that face.
“Come on, Rob, you can’t just skip out on the Puppies for Charity Live Dance and
Apple Bobbing Fair~” St. Castle insisted insistently, not relinquishing his grip on Bob’s
“It’s Bob, and you’ll find I can. And will.”
St. Castle, of course, instead of accepting and acknowledging Bob’s flat refusal,
focused on what he no doubt considered the most important and relevant information.
“But isn’t Bob short for Robert?”
Bob scowled, finally jerking his arm away from the nuisance. “No.” From his past
interactions with St. Castle, he knew well enough to cut his losses and leave when
presented with the chance. “Hey, isn’t that Alicia Surrey?” He said, pointing behind St.
And then he bolted.
The only good thing about Kingfisher St. Castle, he mused, was he always fell for
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
The next day, St. Castle was waiting in the hallway when Bob came out of his
Experimental Physics class.
“Rob!” He exclaimed excruciatingly cheerfully, bouncing forward. “I mean, Bob!”
Bob grit his teeth. “St. Castle.” He acknowledged politely.
“I didn’t get the chance to finish talking to you yesterday!” St. Castle said blithely
as he followed Bob down the hallway.
Bob ground his teeth, tightened his grip on his backpack, and started counting
backward from one hundred.
At fifty-nine, they were down the hallway and St. Castle opened his goldfish mouth
“So you’re coming to the Fair, right?”
Bob focused on breathing evenly. “No.”
Queue the protest. “But why? It’s puppies! And a dance! And apple bobbing!”
And… the guilt trip.
“Come on, man, it’s for charity! Surely even you couldn’t say no?” St. Castle had the
audacity to nudge him in a friendly manner.
Bob considered punching him in his flawless face. A different idea occurred to him.
“Fine. I’ll come.”
The angelic smile that lit up St. Castle’s face was almost endearing. Bob looked
forward to painting it with disappointment by failing to show up.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
After school, Bob hovered in the back alley, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his
contact. Leon was supposed to have been waiting for him, and it was already six and a half
minutes past their arranged meet-up date. Bob’s loitering was well past the point he could
pass it off as unintentional.
At the point at which Bob was about to give up and leave, a vaguely familiar figure
jogged up, looking as shady and conspicuous as a weedy teenager could.
“Sorry, I – I had to,,, turn in a – huh – late assignment.” Leon managed between
pants as he tried to catch his breath.
Bob had no sympathy for him. “Do you have what I need?”
The immediate panicked guilt on Leon’s bespectacled face was all Bob needed to
Leon stumbled backwards a bit as Bob made to move past him out of the alley. “I’ll
get it to you at the Fair, I swear, I just – I just need a bit more time, please don’t do
anything awful to me!”
Bob paused and debated silently for a moment. He needed the information, yes. He
really needed it before the Fair if he wanted to be able to move forward with his plan, but
he absolutely could not wait until after the Fair.
“Fine. At the Fair. Nine o’ clock, at the front gate. Don’t be late.” And he strode
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Bob got out of his car at the fairground, instinctively scanning the early crowd for
signs of the golden hair of his enemy.
It was eight forty-five; he had fifteen minutes before Leon would arrive, he’d get
his information, and he could leave again. All he needed to do was avoid being seen or
interacted with for fifteen minutes. What could go wrong?
Predictably, things went wrong as soon as he got to the gate.
“Bob! You made it!”
Dread at this absolute and unavoidable doom curled in Bob’s stomach. He turned
“Are you in line for tickets? Come on, we can get them together! I didn’t expect you
to be here so early! That’s great! We can go look at everything before the big rush!” St.
Castle grinned, bouncing in place slightly.
“Actually, I wasn’t planning on…” Bob started, only to be completely startled when
St. Castle grabbed his arm and pulled him cheerfully toward the ticket booth.
Bob’s irritation spiked as St. Castle continued to babble foolishly over Bob’s
protests. “Alicia is volunteering in the Puppy Play Tent so we have to go see her first! And
Brandon and Sally Teaborough are running a Cupcake Eating contest near the west side, do
you want to do that? Oh, we totally should! It’s gonna be so fun! Oh, and then there’s the
Apple Bobbing Contest at two, which we absolutely have to do.”
The line shuffled up and suddenly Bob and St. Castle were in front of the booth.
Bob avoided the teller’s eyes, trying to broadcast his total unwillingness to be here.
“I’d like nine tickets, please!” St. Castle said. “And can I have seven of those set
“What name?” The teller sounded exhausted and was eying St. Castle with mild
disbelief, as if unable to comprehend someone having so much energy this early in the
morning. Bob could empathize.
“Your total is sixty-three dollars.” The teller slid St. Castle two tickets. St. Castle
paid with exact change and shoved a twenty into the tip jar.
Bob paused to comprehend how another college student could afford to just… spend
money. Then, as St. Castle pulled him bodily into the fair – he put up a good resistance but
St. Castle outweighed him by at least forty pounds – he further contemplated how he could
lose St. Castle before 9, so he could meet up with Leon and then leave.
St. Castle stopped abruptly just inside the gate and pulled out his phone. “I need to
text them about the tickets,” he muttered to himself, and then glanced at Bob. “It’s fine
if my friends join us later, right? James and Lucas have been dying to meet you.”
Bob had never felt true fear before, but hearing that gave him chills he imagined
were pretty close.
“I’m leaving soon, actually,” he managed, trying to pull out of St. Castle’s grip.
St. Castle pulled him forward, unbalancing him slightly. “But there’s so much to see!
Come on, you can stay long enough to meet my friends, right?” There was something a bit
off about his smile and it wasn’t disappointment.
A horrifying thought suddenly occurred to Bob.
What if St. Castle hated him just as much as he hated St. Castle?
What if this was all a horrifyingly successful plan to make Bob absolutely
He stared at St. Castle, suddenly seeing the popular, charismatic blond in a whole
new light. What if that angelic face was all a terrifyingly believable charade hiding
someone secretly as deeply irredeemably despicable as himself?
If so, St. Castle might just be someone Bob could respect. Hate, yes, and oppose at
every turn, but still… respect.
He checked his watch. It was 9:02. A quick scan of the immediate area showed that
Leon was neither on the grounds nor was he anywhere visibly close to the gate.
“Come on, the puppy tent is this way!” St. Castle had finished texting and was now
pulling Bob along one of the rows of booths. “My friends are gonna meet us at the Cake
Eating Contest in an hour or so, that’s okay right?”
Bob cast one last panicked look at the front gate and silently cursed Leon to be
eaten alive by detention teachers.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Alicia Surry, Bob decided, was his new least favorite person. Ever.
“And this one is a Burmese Mountain Dog, she’s a frisky little lady! We’ve been
calling her Peanut Butter, because of her coloring!” Alicia cheerfully set the rambunctious
puppy onto Bob’s lap.
Bob made no moves to interact with the puppy, instead staring disapprovingly at
Next to him on the floor, St. Castle was cheerfully playing with three cocker
spaniel puppies, his cheerful laughter filling the tent. It grated on Bob, but what grated
more was Alicia’s expectant smile, as if she thought he ought to be pleased with the furry
thing currently trying to chew on his shirt.
“She likes being scratched behind the ears,” Alicia hinted.
“That’s nice.” Bob replied, carefully removing his shirt from the creature’s slobbery
teeth. “Is there a way to keep it from moving so much?”
Alicia giggled in the most annoying way possible. “Bob, have you never held a puppy
Bob glared at her, which she apparently found even more amusing. “I don’t have
time for wiggly animals.” He said, dripping every word as disapprovingly as he could.
“You never had any pets when you were a kid?” St. Castle piped up from the floor.
Bob didn’t meet his eyes. “I had a betta fish; it got water poisoning and died.”
“What was its name?” Alicia asked in that soft ‘I’m trying to be gentle’ voice people
only reserved for situations they’d assumed were delicate.
“Narcolepsy.” Bob replied. He finished disentangling the puppy from his shirt and
gingerly handed it back to Alicia. “I’m not an animal person.”
St. Castle sat up and gave Bob a long, sad, kicked-puppy look. “You didn’t even try to
Bob considered St. Castle’s disappointed face and wondered if this was what hell
was going to be like. While his recent revelation about St. Castle explained a lot of the
unusual behaviors St. Castle exhibited towards him, it didn’t help him actually deal with
“I need to make a call.” He said instead, standing. “You can stay and play with the
puppies, I’ll just be outside.”
St. Castle nodded, looking puzzled, but turned his attention back to the yapping
dogs on his lap.
Bob wasted no time leaving the tent and dialing Leon.
Leon picked up after the third ring. “Gerbil speaking, who’s this?”
Bob grit his teeth. “It’s Bob. Where are you?”
The line was silent for a beat and a half. “I’m getting what you need?” Leon sounded
confused. “You said you wanted it tonight, right? My supplier is being difficult, but I swear
I’ll get it to you! Nine o’ clock, front gate! Please don’t –-“
Bob hung up. Nine o’ clock in the evening. He glowered at nothing, just barely
restraining himself from flinging his phone onto the ground. He took a deep breath and
started counting backwards from 100. It was just a 12 hour setback. It just meant he was
going to have to spend the entire day at the fair.
It just meant that unless he could somehow lose St. Castle, he was going to have to
spend the entire day with him and his friends.
He was going to find some way to lose St. Castle. He refused to subject himself to
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
“…and this is James, and this is Lucas!” St. Castle finished his introductions.
Bob nodded awkwardly at the group of St. Castle’s friends, suddenly aware of how
much he did not want to be here. St. Castle had a friendly hand on his shoulder, but Bob
suspected it was there to make sure he didn’t try to disappear again.
“So, are we gonna do this, or what?” James asked with almost as much energy as St.
Castle. He gestured to the Cupcake Eating Contest tent, which already had several people
in line at it.
“Yeah!” One of the girls – Bob had forgotten her name – cheered, and started
toward the tent.
St. Castle went along with them, meaning Bob came too, because, true to Bob’s
suspicions, St. Castle’s hand was essentially a leash.
Bob wondered if it was possible to make oneself sick from actual hatred. It wasn’t
even being forced into a Cake Eating Contest; Bob loved cake and competitions. No, it was
the way St. Castle had been cautiously probing him about his family the entire way through
the fairground, and even now was giving him small, concerned looks from the corner of his
Bob hated being pitied. And people always assumed there was something about him
Why did it even matter that his fish had died and he’d had no other pets, and no
friends in middle school, and no friends in high school, and no friends now? Bob didn’t need
friends, he had plans.
Bob was still seething about that when they sat down at the table full of cupcakes.
The tent worker explained the rules: five minutes to eat as many cupcakes as possible,
please don’t eat the wrapper, the whole cupcake must be eaten including frosting, only one
cupcake can be eaten at a time. It was pretty straightforward. Bob zoned out when they
started talking about prizes: he wasn’t here to win, he was here to eat his aggression away.
The clock started, and Bob began eating with single-minded fury.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
“Wow, man, you were murder!” The redheaded friend said as they left the tent. Bob
eyed him suspiciously.
“Do you have, like, training or something? The way you put those away, man, I never
would have guess, you being so skinny and all.” The redhead continued blithely.
Bob decided it was probably best to ignore him.
“I don’t know; getting your name down on the charity wall is kind of a lame prize,
don’t you think?” Said one of the girls.
St. Castle frowned at her. “Charity is important, Cynthia, and I personally think it’s
great that everyone will know how much Bob cares about helping other people!”
Bob’s blood ran cold. “I don’t want that.” He blurted, panic setting in. That would
ruin so many of his plans!
“Well, if you’d asked to remain anonymous, they probably would have let you, but it’s
a bit too late now.” St. Castle pointed out, giving Bob a soft, mildly reproachful look.
“Where do we want to go next?” He waved to the fairground.
“Ferris Wheel!” One of the blonde girls exclaimed, bouncing eagerly. “And then we
have to do the spinning ride!”
Bob’s mood soured further at the mention of the fair rides. The only good thing
about the whole thing was the fact that St. Castle had insisted on paying for everything,
because Bob was not about to pay for things he didn’t even want to do.
St. Castle dragged Bob after his friends; they wove through the grease-scented
food court toward the towering Ferris Wheel. Bob felt motion-sick already.
Too soon, they were being loaded into a rickety carriage. St. Castle gave Bob a
concerned look as they sat.
“Are you alright?” He asked. “You look a bit pale.”
Bob bit his tongue, refusing to let St. Castle know how effective a torture this was.
“I’m fine.” He said, probably a bit too brightly.
St. Castle flicked Bob’s hand, which was knuckle-whiteningly tight on the rail.
“Scared of heights?” He asked with a knowing, cheerfully amused smile.
“I prefer my feet on the ground.” Bob said through grit teeth.
The Ferris Wheel started moving with a terrifying, creaky jerk. Bob’s grip
tightened painfully and he could feel his muscles tensing. He tried to focus on keeping his
body relaxed, but the carriage swayed gently as it moved up, making it impossible to think
about anything other than the sickening movement.
“Look, you can see the whole fairground!” St. Castle exclaimed, nudging Bob and
gesturing at the widespread landscape.
Bob glared at St. Castle, but St. Castle had his melting chocolate brown eyes on the
ground below them and didn’t notice Bob’s venomous hatred.
Bob wished the day would just end
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Three hours later, Bob found himself wandering the craft booths with St. Castle.
He wasn’t sure if this was even more uncomfortable than when St. Castle’s friends had
been there, but they’d split ways after a disastrous Apple Bobbing experience. St. Castle’s
shirt and hair were still damp, his golden curls sticking out every which way as they dried.
“So, Bob, I know you didn’t really want to come.” St. Castle said as he examined a
booth of bead jewelry.
Warning sirens went off in Bob’s head. If St. Castle was going to start being
introspective and nosy again, Bob was going to hop the nearest fence and sprint away.
“When you agreed, I honestly expected you to not show up.” St. Castle continued,
glancing at him with an oddly sincere expression on his face.
Bob studiously inspected a bead bracelet and mentally plotted the course along the
outer fence back to the parking lot. He could probably make it in five minutes or so.
“So, I guess I just wanted to say thanks. I get that fairs aren’t really your thing,
but I really appreciate you spending time with me.”
The panic those words inspired in him motivated his perfect leap over the fence.
His fleeing apparently caught St. Castle off guard, because he didn’t pursue.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Nine o’ clock had Bob coming back to the fairground, dressed innocuously, and
loitering at the front gate for Leon. If Leon didn’t show up, he was going to report the kid
to the high school principal.
But at 9:03, Leon approached clumsily, a package in his hands.
“Took you long enough,” Bob spat.
Leon flinched and hurriedly pushed the package toward Bob.
Bob took it and passed Leon the money. “Get out of here; you didn’t see me, I was
never here. You know the drill.”
Leon nodded and darted away.
Bob stared at the package for a moment before opening it slowly. The book title
flashed chrome in the light spilling from the fairground.
How to Make an Enemy in Five Easy Steps.
Bob grimaced, St. Castle’s shocked, hurt face suddenly dancing across his mind’s
eye. How Bob hated that face.
Still, though, he moved from the shadows and stared at the fairground, booths lit
by strings of colored light, the strobing Ferris Wheel standing out against the night sky.
He could see the central square where the dance was happening. There was a tall,
broad, blond in the center, doing a bad rendition of the robot. It was probably St. Castle,
and Bob wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
The book in his hand suddenly felt incredibly unnecessary. After all, St. Castle had
made an enemy of him without even doing anything. How could Bob compete with that? Was
he really being outdone by someone who at first glance had the same amount of brain cells
as a golden retriever?
Movement in the shadows of one of the booths caught Bob’s eye. He automatically
moved forward, pausing to flash his ticket to the bored gate guard. The figure in the
shadows looked almost familiar.
The figure moved again and Bob saw the flash of light on metal; a knife, the figure
had a knife. Bob picked up his speed, a dozen questions in his mind. Why was there a
person with a knife in the shadows? What were they going to do with the knife? What was
he going to do about it?
The figure moved toward the dance square, and Bob sprinted forward, ducking into
the shadows of booths next to the dance. The blond in the center was St. Castle, and he
looked cheerful – evidently Bob hadn’t bothered him too much by charging away. That, for
some unfathomable reason, bothered Bob. He channeled that irritation into hating St.
Castle even more for being so confusing.
The knife-wielding figure abruptly charged out of the shadows toward the dancing
The world seemed to slow down.
Bob’s body moved of it’s own accord as his brain processed the trajectory of the
figure, the way the knife was being moved with dangerous intent.
He felt his body being caught by strong arms, the jostling making the pain in his
abdomen a million times worse.
“I’ve got you,” St. Castle said softly.
Bob was distantly aware of the screaming and general chaos around them, but his
eyes were focused on St. Castle’s angelic face.
“You took a knife for me?” St. Castle asked, face oddly vulnerable. “Does that mean
we’re friends now?” His smile was wobbly and Bob suspected he was close to tears.
There was warm, painful wetness spilling down his stomach. Bob tried not to think
about that. He took a deep, agonizing breath. “Kingfisher,” he managed, and St. Castle’s
first name felt strange, but somehow right, in his mouth. “I would, as evident, literally
rather die than be friends with you.”
And everything went black.
Bob woke up in a hospital bed, head fuzzy with pain medication. The bright white
lights hurt his eyes.
Bob winced, recognizing the timbre of that particular voice. “St. Castle.” He
“You took a knife for me, I think you can call me Kingfisher.” St. Castle said,
Bob stared at the ceiling and started counting backwards from 100.
“I met your parents, by the way,” St. Castle continued. “They’re really nice; not that
I thought they wouldn’t be, it’s just that the way you talked about your childhood made it
seem like –“
“Kingfisher,” Bob interrupted.