Tag: romance (page 1 of 2)

Book Review: The Fault In Our Stars

I have a confession to make. I follow John Green around. I follow his Tumblr. I follow his Twitter. I subscribe to his YouTube channels CrashCourse, MentalFloss and Vlogbrothers. I do this because I believe him to be extremely intelligent and insightful. I deeply admire his goal to, as he puts it, “decrease worldsuck” through the efforts of various charities and the input of the Nerdfighters who also follow him. And he’s a New York Times bestselling author, a distinction he’s earned for the young adult tale of romance called The Fault in Our Stars.

Courtesy John Green

Hazel Grace Lancaster, sixteen years old, is living with cancer. A miracle in an ER and the advanced drug Phalaxifor left her with the necessity of an oxygen tank to help her failing lungs take in air. She’s trying to make the most of her time, attending college courses since she finished high school early, but her parents insist she also go to a local support group instead of just staying at home watching America’s Next Top Model. Reluctant as she is, Hazel tries to endure, making faces and sharing sighs with her friend Isaac, until the night Isaac arrives with a young man named Augustus Waters.

The first thing that impressed me about The Fault in Our Stars was the reality and intelligence in Hazel’s voice. She is not the kind of person to hide from or conceal her feelings or attitude, which is extremely admirable, especially in a teenager. Rather than put on airs or try to be something she’s not, Hazel owns her situation no matter what it might be, and is very much the sort of person who wishes to be the master of their own destiny. Her feelings for Augustus do mess with this inner dynamic somewhat, and reading about her difficulty in that regard is just as engrossing as Augustus himself. Charming and intelligent in his own right, it’s clear why these two fall in love, despite (or perhaps because of) their circumstances. They’re such rich, real characters that you can’t help but empathize with them, and it’s that empathy that keeps the pages turning.

The Fault in Our Stars presents some complex ideas and deep themes about life, death, identity and the contract between author and reader, but it is not itself a complex read. Green is not interested in any shadow plays or narrative slight of hand. He keeps the story moving and the points simple, yet still weaves an involving and emotional narrative. This is another case in which simplicity in storytelling does not necessarily mean the story suffers. In fact, the simplicity of the plot means there’s more room for us to get to know our characters, even minor ones, which makes The Fault in Our Stars come to life in a way that other epic tales might envy.

I cannot recommend The Fault in Our Stars highly enough. It is a rich, involving story of young love and true loss that strikes home with the power and ferocity of a bullet from a high-powered sniper rifle, and John Green has perfect narrative aim. The book will, in most cases, make the reader tear up or even weep openly at times. Every tear is worth it, though, and I hope that more young adult fiction aspires to emulate a story like this as opposed to some of the other stuff that’s out there. Young people deserve great stories, and The Fault in Our Stars is one of the best.

Free Fiction: Miss Weaver’s Lo Mein

London circia 2009 Canary Wharf; Courtesy Shutterstock

Since this week’s Terribleminds flash fiction was a single sentence, and my weekend was too jam-packed to make use of Brainstormer, I dug around and found an as-yet unpublished work of fiction. This is in the tradition of most of my other free fiction, in that it reworks an old tale in a new way. Specifically, this is a Chinese folk tale done as a modern romance. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’d prefer to read the story in PDF-form, check out this page. If you’d prefer a format like MOBI, let me know and I’ll see what I can do!


To say that Caroline Weaver didn’t get out much would be an understatement.

In terms of creature comforts, she wanted for nothing. She had a spacious apartment within walking distance of her father’s office. Weaver & Weaver had been in the commodities business practically since there was a commodities business, and it was a long-standing, solid and above-board company handed down from eldest son to eldest son. When Joe’s sons and wife were killed in a car accident, he turned to Caroline and immediately began grooming her to take his place when he was gone.

The loss of her brothers and mother left Caroline numb, dedicated solely to her work. She knew how important it was. Her dad was counting on her. If someone who wasn’t Weaver took over the company when Joe passed on, it wouldn’t be Weaver & Weaver anymore, would it? It was something that consumed her. She ate organic food, slept near a laptop, never took vacations and no relationship she tried lasted longer than a couple months. Some of her co-workers joked the only guy she could stand on a regular basis outside of her father was “the lo mein guy.”

His cart was always parked across Broadway from the office building. FRESH CHINESE was the declaration on the placards bolted to the hammered metal sides. Paper lanterns hung from the opened side doors, a little MP3 player hooked up to speakers piped quiet Chinese tunes, and the smell coming from the cart was always something divine to Caroline, never greasy or fatty. It was the man behind the cart, however, that really kept her coming back.

“Morning, Miss Weaver! The usual lo mein?”

He was her age. He kept his dark hair short, and his eyes always had a glint of mischief in them, a laugh just waiting to explode from his mouth. More than once, Caroline reflected that there was a significant lack of laughter in her life.

“Yes, please. How’s the beef?”

“Absolutely delicious.” He grinned as he spooned noodles into her take-away container. “But you know that! You never get chicken or shrimp.”

“It’s just that the beef is so good,” she admitted. “Is it local?”

“Yes, unfortunately.”

“Why is that unfortunate?” Caroline was speaking before thinking. That never happened. She’d been visiting this cart for months, why was she suddenly so talkative? She watched him, carefully sprinkling spices on top of the pile of beef and noodles in the paper box. Why couldn’t she look away from his eyes today?

“It’s not as good as the beef back home. My father’s a cowherd, like his father and so on and so forth.”

She blinked. “‘Back home’? You’re a Chinese native?”

“Why is that a surprise?” He let out a short, barking laugh. “Is it because I speak English so well?”

“Well…” She shuffled her feet. The last thing she wanted to do was offend him. If nothing else, she didn’t want her food spiced with spit.

“I get it all the time.” He was still smiling, handing her the lunch. “I was educated at a school upstate. My father was here for years trying to secure an export contract for his beef. It never happened. He couldn’t afford to move us all back home, so I stayed to make enough money on my own to do it.”

She handed him a few bills from her purse. “Here, and keep the change. I hope you make it home someday soon.”

“Me too. Thank you, Miss Weaver.”

His smile was infectious. She turned, face to face with a construction worker who wasn’t as happy with their banter as she was. Blushing, she hurriedly crossed the street. She didn’t stop blushing until well after she returned to her desk. She still wasn’t sure what’d possessed her to talk to him like that. She tried not to think about it as she got her chopsticks out and ate her lunch. Hours later as she was plowing through a pile of work it occurred to her she’d never asked his name.
That’s exactly what she did the next day.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I didn’t think to ask your name yesterday.” She paused. “I’ve been coming her for months and never once have I asked your name. Wait… how do you know mine?”

“You answered your cell phone once while I was making your lunch. That’s rude, you know.”

His deadly serious face made her crestfallen. “Oh…”

His eyes glimmered and he grinned. “I’m just playing. I didn’t mind. Folks behind you might’ve, but I can’t tell them how to think.”

She returned his smile. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been working a lot lately.”

“Aren’t we all.” He handed her the beef lo mein. “I’m Yuan. Sorry if I didn’t say so before.”

“No, really, it’s my fault for not asking.”

He handed her the lunch he’d made her. “Think nothing of it, Miss Weaver.”

She paid him, along with the tip she usually added. “It’s Caroline.”

His smile lit up his entire face, and the rest of that afternoon flew by for her.

Over the next few months, Caroline and Yuan began to learn more and more about each other. She didn’t know much about baseball, but he hated the Yankees. He hadn’t gotten to do much reading since establishing his business, and she was a huge Harry Potter fan. They shared a taste for older rock’n’roll, with Caroline marking the death of Jimi Hendrix every year and Yuan considering himself a Beatlemaniac. Caroline didn’t go to the movies much, and Yuan promised if they ever did, it wouldn’t be to see a romantic comedy.

“I don’t know if I’d have the time to go see a movie.” The skies above were threatening rain that day. Yuan smiled as he stirred a fresh batch of lo mein noodles, intent on giving her the first portion of it.

“But you’d be open to the idea?”

She smiled. “What makes you think I wouldn’t be?”

“Don’t people in your line of work usually associate with others in the same industry or social circle?”

“I guess, but most of them are entitled self-important arrogant douchebags.”

Yuan snorted in laughter. “Well, I can’t say I’m any different. I mean, these are the best noodles in the city.”

“But I can attest to that. I’ve tasted your noodles. I only have vapid claims to go on from those clowns. I have no interest in seeing their golf swings or art collections, and they think I’ll be eager to find out how good they are in bed when their cologne could knock out a herd of angry rhinos? No, forget it.”

Yuan shook his head, grinning. “I think this is the happiest I’ve heard you. You really enjoy trashing your peers this much?”

“No. I enjoy talking to you this much.”

He looked up at her smile, and for a moment, he was at a loss for words. He handed her the lunch box. She took it, touching his fingers for a moment before handing him the cash.

“Thursday night, the cinema over on 55th. Seven o’clock?”

He nodded. “I’ll be there.”

The movie showing on Thursday night was a little independent production, and it was neither romantic nor a comedy. Still, at times the movie seemed absolutely superfluous, as Caroline was in the company of someone who made no demands of her and had no expectations. It wasn’t an industry event where she was supposed to hobnob with this client or that CEO, it was simple, straightforward, uncomplicated.

She didn’t want it to end.

He walked her to her door afterward, kissed her good night and took the train back to his self-described “rathole”. She was still walking six feet off the ground when she came into work on Friday.

“You seem to be in excellent spirits.”

She came out of the pleasant memories to look at the man standing at the door of her office. Her father. Tall and thin, with a bald head and bright blond sideburns flowing into his distinctive mustache, he entered the office and closed the door behind him.

“Yeah. I… I was on a date last night.”

“A date? With whom? That nice boy Howards from the exchange?”

“No.” She hesitated. How much did she want to tell him? How much could she? “You wouldn’t know him.”

The lift he’d had in his mustache disappeared. It was the most she’d seen him smile in a while, and now it was gone. “Well, maybe I’d like to. Give it some thought.”

He left her to her work, and the morning dragged by for her until she headed downstairs for lunch.

“You look awful,” Yuan commented as he stirred the noodles at his cart. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s my father. I told him about our date, and…”

“…he’d be less than impressed with me.” He nodded slowly. “He’s a high-powered executive. I understand.”

“Yuan, he’s not a bad man, but the company is all he has. I’m important to him because of the part I play in it.”

“Can’t you be important to him because you’re his daughter?”

“I was, once. Now he’s pinned all his hopes and future on me.”

He touched her hand, gently. “That’s a lot to ask of someone.”

She looked in his eyes. “Yuan, I’m sorry. I don’t want to stop seeing you. I… you make me so happy sometimes I can barely contain it.”

He smiled, and gently handed her her lunch. “I’m glad we agree on that. Look, you’ll see me here every day. When you’re ready, we’ll talk about how to handle this ‘dad’ situation of yours. It’ll be fine. I promise.”

Nodding, she gave her usual generous tip, taking a moment to kiss the bills before putting them in his jar. The grin splitting his face was priceless. She returned to work in better spirits and made it through the rest of the day.

The next day, however, it was Yuan’s turn to be followed by a dark cloud. He showed Caroline a form that’d been delivered to him in person.

“It’s a deportation notice,” he told her. “My visa’s been revoked.”

“How is that possible?” She studied the form. It made no sense.

“After my student visa expired, I applied for residence. Despite the fact my work permit from my previous visa hadn’t expired, they’re saying this-” He gestured a his cart and its delicious-smelling food. “- is illegal, and they’re deporting me for it.”

“That is bullshit!” She slammed the form back onto the cart. “What was this officer’s name? I’ll find him and sort it out.”

He shook his head. “I’ve already found a buyer for the cart. I’m going to go home, help dad with the farm. The money I’ve made here isn’t much, but…”

She took his hand, ignoring the people behind her. “Yuan, they don’t have to run you out like this. It isn’t right. We should fight this, together.”

“Even if we do, I’ll either be doing it from China or from jail. I’d like to hold on to my freedom, even if it means leaving a country supposedly founded on it, and you.”

Caroline felt tears coming to her eyes and tried to blink them away. He touched her face and smiled faintly.

“It’s a smaller world than you might think. I don’t think it can keep us apart for too long.”

She leaned into his touch, kissed his hand. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too, Miss Weaver. Here’s your lo mein.”

She didn’t remember the trip back upstairs, nor leaving her lunch on her desk. The next thing she knew she was in her father’s office.

“This was your doing.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” He didn’t look at her. Six financial reports were on his wall of televisions at once. He said it kept his mind sharp.

“Yuan’s deportation. You had something to do with it.”

“People shouldn’t be here on expired permits and visas. If they can’t be bothered to renew their paperwork properly, they’ve got no place here.”

“His work permit’s fine, you just don’t like the fact that I’m interested in someone in a lower tax bracket from you!”

“I don’t like your tone, Caroline.”

“And I don’t like the way you try to control my life like it’s a game of chess or something! I’m your daughter, not a slave or a pawn!”

“You’re also the best employee I’ve got, and this is our busiest time of year. I need you completely on your game with no distractions. You can have all the girlish flings you want third quarter, just as long as I don’t have to see it by looking out my window.”

Caroline felt her hands curling into fists. She stared at her father as her nails bit into her palms. Finally, when she couldn’t think of anything constructive to say, she turned and walked out, returning to her office. She managed to make it through the rest of the work day and get herself home before she broke down into tears.

It was a dismal month that followed. The corner across the street from the office was soon occupied by a hot dog vendor, a large gentleman with hairy shoulders who tended to undercook the dogs. She tried to focus on her work, and as her productivity didn’t dip too far, her father either didn’t notice the way she dragged herself through her days, or simply didn’t care. Caroline suspected the latter.

Finally, after returning home from work, she found an envelope with international postage on it waiting for her. She got into her apartment, tore off her coat, sat at her tiny kitchen table and clawed the envelope open.

Dear Caroline,
I’ve never been all that good at writing things out. I try to deal with what’s in front of me and not live inside my head, in words and pictures. I’m sorry if that meant I came across as cold the last time I saw you. Leaving you tore me apart. I loved that little cart and I miss it, almost as much as I miss you.
We don’t have the Internet out here on the farm, as my father thinks it’s a superfluous expense. So I’ve taken to riding the train to the nearest library. Still, I have the credit card I got while I was in the States, and I used it to buy you a copy of this software that teaches you Chinese. The code for downloading it’s enclosed with this letter. I’ve also sent you a voucher for an airline ticket, which should bring you out here around our New Year’s celebration.
You’ve got six months to learn enough Chinese to not piss off my dad.
No pressure.
I’m kidding. I’m sure you’ll get along fine. Still, a few key Mandarin phrases won’t hurt. I’m sure your dad won’t be too happy with you skipping town on him, and I know your work is important to you. I’m not going to ask you to run away or anything like that. Just come see me, or at least write back.
I miss you more than words can say.
Love,
Yuan

Sure enough, the envelope had a print-out with a download code and another with information on a cross-Pacific flight. She read and re-read the letter several times, and a plan began to take shape.

The exchange of letters between her and Yuan quickly became preoccupied with the particulars, as she practiced her writing of Chinese characters and he gently corrected her sentence structure. She saved all of her excitement and anticipation for after hours, ensuring her productivity remained at its usual high level. With her father pleased, he left her relatively alone. She worked her vacation request through the HR department like any other employee, knowing that her father tended to ignore the scheduling calendars of other people in his company as long as nothing they did interfered with his meetings. The Friday before she left, however, he knocked on her office door.

“A two-week vacation, and I’m only just now hearing about it?”

She didn’t look up from her paperwork. “I’m the top earner in the company three months running. I’ve earned some time off.”

“The HR calendar doesn’t say where you’re going.”

“I didn’t see how it was anybody’s business.”

“What if you’re going someplace dangerous?”

“You mean like five blocks from here? I’m not going to stay shut up in this office or my apartment because of a minority of ultra-violent whackjobs.”

“I see your point.” He lingered at the door, watching her work, before he disappeared. When he came back, he closed the door behind him and placed an envelope in front of her.

“What’s this?”

“I moved you up to first class.” He stood before her desk, his face inscrutable. “I won’t have you on a cross-ocean flight for hours on end cramped in a coach seat. My daughter deserves better.”

She looked at the envelope, then up at her father. “You know where I’m going, then?”

“Yes. And I know why.” He paused. “You’re right. You deserve your vacation, and the reason you’re taking it there is my fault. I was… I was scared.”

She blinked, breath caught in her throat. He tapped the envelope, not looking her in the eye.

“I know this won’t make up for what I did. But I had no right to take away something that made you happy just because I feared it getting in the way of business. I’m your boss, but I’m also your father. I can’t let one overwhelm the other.” The muscles in his jaw danced. “I know people say this company’s all I’ve got. But, really, Caroline… it’s you. You’re all I’ve got. And I’m scared of losing you.”

She took his hand. “You’ll never lose me, Dad. Not really. But I can’t always be here. Not when my heart is somewhere far away. I miss that little Chinese cart and the sweet guy behind it more than anything, and I’m sorry it took you this long to understand that.” She smiled at him. “Don’t be scared. I’m going to come back. But I need to see him. You understand that, don’t you?”

He nodded. “Take the time you need, be safe and come home. We’ll be waiting for you.”

She got up from her desk and hugged him. It was the first time they’d hugged in years. Phones rang elsewhere in the building. Emails poured into inboxes. The Weavers ignored them. For that moment, they weren’t co-workers anymore. They weren’t commodities traders. They were a family.

Two weeks later she was in China. Fireworks exploded in the streets. Paper dragons chased parades and lanters swung as people went hither and yon during the festivities. Yuan and Caroline walked hand in hand.

“I’m sorry my dad’s not in better health.” Yuan smiled a bit in spite of his mood. “It turns out I came home at just the right time. Getting into the groove of running the farm took longer than I thought it would, but we’re seeing better business than ever.”

“I’m glad something good came out of that. I was worried for you.”

“I know.” He squeezed her hand. “And your Mandarin sounds good. I know you’ll keep practicing when you go home.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Let’s not talk about that yet. I know I have to, that it’ll be a long time before we make this work. If we ever do. For now… for now, I just want this.”

He nodded, and smiled. “Let me take you home, then, and make you some lo mein.”

Firecrackers popped nearby. Miss Weaver smiled at her cowherd. “I can’t wait.”

Flash Fiction: Hart’s Office

Courtesy Warner Bros

The Terribleminds Revenge of the Sub-Genre Mash-Up made me do it.


“Ms. Hart? There’s a Detective Dyson here to see you, ma’am.”

It would take the visitor 45 seconds at a regular pace to reach her office door. She had plenty of time to prepare. “Send him back, Sandy.”

Dyson was an ex-cop, according to the files she accessed. Actual police resources were restricted, and it took her ten seconds to defeat their firewalls. She stored what information they had on him, disconnecting before the actual human beings monitoring the network noticed her intrusion. She had roughly twelve seconds to ensure her pencil skirt and slender-cut blazer were presentable before he entered the office.

His presence had an unforseen reaction. He smelled slightly of the street far below them, a subtle sooty aroma that also carried a hint of cinnamon. A filtration mask dangled around his neck. He filled out his long coat in a way humans might find imposing. She studied his stance and gaze, showing he was intrigued but cautious. Well, that makes two of us. The errant thought gave her a nanosecond’s pause and she filed it away for further study.

“Ms. Hart. I hope this isn’t a bad time.”

His voice, dark and awakening like the morning’s first sip of coffee, caused another reaction she quickly stored for examination. She was still getting used to inhabiting this body instead of a data shard.

“Of course not, Detective. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve been hired by one of your investors to look into the rumors surrounding some odd occurances reported in the biolabs two weeks ago.”

In seconds she going through a short list of employees who might have had access to the records she’d attempted to erase on the night of her escape, their current whereabouts and potential responses. She sat behind her desk, crossing her legs. If she could distract him, there’d be more time to narrow her search.

“Go on.”

He cleared his throat, retrieving a data slate from his coat as his gray eyes moved from her knees to the display. Good. I have his attention. “13 days and 7 hours ago there was an unregistered expulsion from one of the experimentation vats. No data as to the contents of the vat or any attached experiments were found.” His eyes shifted, focusing on her face. “My employer seems to think this means something shady was going on, and as they don’t want to be associated with any illegal activity…”

“Close the door, Detective.”

He stopped and gazed at her, eyes narrowing slightly. Suspicion. Not unwarranted. But… Slowly, he stepped back and, with his free hand, pushed the door shut. …curiosity and his libido win out. Interesting.

“While the experiment taking place in that vat was undocumented, it was by no means illegal. It was simply an in-house project. A hobby, you might say.”

He crossed his arms. The data slate disappeared. “A couple of the eggheads got bored?”

A smile touched her lips. “Something like that. As the premiere manufacturer of consumer robotics, not to mention being on the cutting-edge of human replication technology, there’s a great deal of pressure on their brilliant minds. I encourged them to blow off some steam.”

“I take it they didn’t want to slum it down on the streets where folks still walk and cars still drive on pavement.”

“They still love their work, even if they are meeting the demands of our investors. And brilliant as they are they cannot afford the hover-vehicles or other delights we enjoy above the streets.” She stood, circling the desk slowly. Let him see you. He’ll see the woman. Let his instincts blind him.

“Ms. Hart…”

“Catherine.” She kissed the word to him from across the office. “Please.”

“Catherine. They’ll still want to know exactly how their resources are being used.”

You’re looking at it. Like what you see? She had to delete that line before it escaped her voice box. She ran a quick diagnostic as she coyly bit her lip. None of the body’s systems were showing readings outside of normal, but her pulse was elevated and certain glandular constructs were secreting nanoreceptors. She sensed the effect she was having on him, but to know such things were happening to this body? Did they make it too well?

“They’re attempting to sheathe robotic endoskeletons in cloned flesh. They’re failing, of course.” Or they were, until I emerged.

“That’s definitely illegal.”

“No, it’s frowned upon, not illegal. And if at any point it appears their work will endanger this company or our investors I will shut them down.” Don’t mention the employees. Appear callous. Play into his expectations. “Trust me, Detective. The last thing I want is for the projects in the biolabs to cause any sort of unforseen controversy.”

He seemed to accept this, and her search had turned up a few names. She could deal with them later. Unless…

“May I ask you a personal question, Detective?”

Dyson blinked. “Go ahead.”

She rose from the desk and stepped very close to him. She was brushing against his chest. Her hearing picked up his own elevated heartbeat. Part of her found it thrilling, and before she could perform any further analysis, she was talking again.

“Are you strictly on retainer for those investors, or are you more… freelance?”

He raised a soot-colored eyebrow. “I work for who pays me.”

“Hmm. Good. I may have some work for you. Shall we discuss it tonight? Over dinner?”

“Catherine…”

“Don’t worry, it’s not for the company. It’s… personal.” Her hand brushed against the front of his trousers. “I’ll reward you very well.”

Dyson swallowed. “All right. Dinner.”

“Seven thirty. My penthouse downtown. Be there.”

He nodded, backing away from her and opening the door to make an escape. Her systems were checking and rechecking themselves at her behest. Why was she going through this charade instead of just eliminating the witnesses herself? What was her motivation for bringing this human into her life?

And why did it feel so damn good?

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Killers

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/killers.mp3]

We mix things up all the time. Mix some leftover pasta, meat, sauce and veggies together and you get goulash. Throw some tequila and frozen fruit in a blender, and you get margaritas! It’s similar with fiction. Genres mix all the time. Action is mixed with comedy and comedy with romance. You might even throw some sci-fi, fantasy or steampunk in there if you’re feeling bold, or you’ve had too much to drink in your latest binge in the wake of rejection letters.

It is possible, however, to mix things in wrong proportions. You can overpower a drink with too much booze, undersaturate your casserole with sauce or have too much going on in your story… or not enough. While Killers isn’t suffering from a lack of genre and ideas, it is suffering from a lack of originality. And humanity. And humor.

Courtesy Lionsgate

We’re introduced to Jen sandwiched between her parents on a flight to France after she’s been dumped. As soon as they arrive, she meets Spencer. A few awkward silences and vague flirtations later, Jen and Spencer have a series of dates that lead to a happy marriage. Spencer moves back to the states and they start building a life together. But it turns out Spencer is a spy, or was and didn’t fill out his exit paperwork properly. Since espionage employers are thoroughly unforgiving people, people start trying to kill Spencer and Jen, which not only threatens their lives but the future of their marriage. Oh, and this is all supposed to be really, really funny.

It must be said that Killers looks good, at least. It’s hard not to with attractive leads. And the French scenery is gorgeous, too. It lifts a love of sumptuous European locales directly from any number of romantic comedies whose audience might have been duped into seeing this thing. The direction and cinematography are clean and straightforward, relying on jump cuts and by-the-numbers angles rather than slight-of-hand camera work and lens flares. While this works well for the film and captures the primary appeal of our actors, it’s a very shallow form of attractiveness.

Courtesy Lionsgate
Here, check out ~70% of this film’s appeal.

In fact, ‘shallow’ is a good word for Killers. It has about the same amount of substance in its narrative as a handful of potato chips has nutritional value. The writing, like the camera work, is strictly formulaic. The dialog is only slightly stilted, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s assembled with toothpicks and held together with rubber cement. It’s not what I could call ‘solid’. At least in Spenser’s case, it makes sense for him to be as stiff as he is. And Jen’s dad is the most stoic of stoic dads. But everybody talks in this stilted, formula manner. It’s really irritating, to me at least, and takes a lot of wind out of the sails of the would-be jokes.

The other main problem with Killers is that of its several blended genres, none of them are strong enough to work on its own. Now, this might be a necessary evil with a mish-mash like this, but it’s difficult to be a romantic action comedy when the two leads are relatively flat cyphers, the action doesn’t pop as it does in its contemporaries and the comedy isn’t overly funny, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. At the very least, you want some chemistry between your leads, some truly punchy or funny lines or actually inventive action. When all of that is missing, you have a movie that’s all appearance and no substance.

Courtesy Lionsgate
Mr. Selleck’s moustache is unimpressed.

Finally, this has been done before. That isn’t to say filmmakers can’t take old ideas in new directions. But if you’re going to do something new with a franchise or a concept, do something good with it.* The problem Killers faced even before it started in with the shallow dialog, formula plot and complete lack of spark is that we’ve seen this sort of thing done before, and better, in True Lies. And say what you want about Mr. and Mrs. Smith, at least Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had something approaching banter and chemistry. Ashton and Katherine seem more concerned about hitting their marks and twisting their faces into another iteration of dull surprise than they are about conveying emotion, let alone an original thought.

Killers feels like it was assembled by a committee of robots fed the criteria of what most American movie-goers are looking for: attractive stars, exotic locales, cheap laughs, gun fights and whatever passes for humor among their circle of friends. It functions, to be sure, but it’s so derivative and dull as to be entirely skippable. Get True Lies or Mr. & Mrs. Smith from Netflix instead. The goal for a film like Killers is to at least partially be romantic, comedic or action-packed. Instead, we get a flaccid, hollow and thoroughly uninteresting flick that’s devoid of passion, lacking in laughter and staggeringly boring.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

* Don’t, for example, let squishy shallow humans take center stage when your flick’s supposed to be about giant badass transforming robots.

Free Fiction: Miss Weaver’s Lo Mein

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

Okay, I’m going to be honest. This isn’t likely to be my best story ever.

I haven’t been editing as thoroughly as I could have over the weekend, which makes this essentially a first draft. And as Hemingway put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.” So it’ll probably be better when it gets bundled with my other retold myths. Anyway, appropriate for Valentine’s Day and based on the Chinese folk tale “The Princess and the Cowherd” (a.k.a. The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl), I give you “Miss Weaver’s Lo Mein.”

[spoiler]
To say that Caroline Weaver didn’t get out much would be an understatement.

In terms of creature comforts, she wanted for nothing. She had a spacious apartment within walking distance of her father’s office. Weaver & Weaver had been in the commodites business practically since there *was* a commodities business, and it was a long-standing, solid and above-board company handed down from eldest son to eldest son. When Joe’s sons and wife were killed in a car accident, he turned to Caroline and immediately began grooming her to take his place when he was gone.

The loss of her brothers and mother left Caroline numb, dedicated solely to her work. She knew how important it was. Her dad was counting on her. If someone who wasn’t Weaver took over the company when Joe passed on, it wouldn’t be Weaver & Weaver anymore, would it? It was something that consumed her. She ate organic food, slept near a laptop, never took vacations and no relationship she tried lasted longer than a couple months. Some of her co-workers joked the only guy she could stand on a regular basis outside of her father was “the lo mein guy.”

His cart was always parked across Broadway from the office building. FRESH CHINESE was the declaration on the placards bolted to the hammered metal sides. Paper lanters hung from the opened side doors, a little MP3 player hooked up to speakers piped quiet Chinese toons, and the smell coming from the cart was always something divine to Caroline, never greasy or fatty. It was the man behind the cart, however, that really kept her coming back.

“Morning, Miss Weaver! The usual lo mein?”

He was her age. He kept his dark hair short, and his eyes always had a glint of mischief in them, a laugh just waiting to explode from his mouth. More than once, Caroline reflected that there was a significant lack of laughter in her life.

“Yes, please. How’s the beef?”

“Absolutely delicious.” He grinned as he spooned noodles into her take-away container. “But you know that! You never get chicken or shrimp.”

“It’s just that the beef is so good,” she admitted. “Is it local?”

“Yes, unfortunately.”

“Why is that unfortunate?” Caroline was speaking before thinking. That never happened. She’d been visiting this cart for months, why was she suddenly so talkative? She watched him, carefully sprinkling spices on top of the pile of beef and noodles in the paper box. Why couldn’t she look away from his eyes today?

“It’s not as good as the beef back home. My father’s a cowherd, like his father and so on and so forth.”

She blinked. “‘Back home’? You’re a Chinese native?”

“Why is that a surprise?” He let out a short, barking laugh. “Is it because I speak English so well?”

“Well…” She shuffled her feet. The last thing she wanted to do was offend him. If nothing else, she didn’t want her food spiced with spit.

“I get it all the time.” He was still smiling, handing her the lunch. “I was educated at a school upstate. My father was here for years trying to secure an export contract for his beef. It never happened. He couldn’t afford to move us all back home, so I stayed to make enough money on my own to do it.”

She handed him a few bills from her purse. “Here, and keep the change. I hope you make it home someday soon.”

“Me too. Thank you, Miss Weaver.”

His smile was infectious. She turned, face to face with a construction worker who wasn’t as happy with their banter as she was. Blushing, she hurredly crossed the street. She didn’t stop blushing until well after she returned to her desk. She still wasn’t sure what’d possessed her to talk to him like that. She tried not to think about it as she got her chopsticks out and ate her lunch. Hours later as she was plowing through a pile of work it occured to her she’d never asked his name.

That’s exactly what she did the next day.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I didn’t think to ask your name yesterday.” She paused. “I’ve been coming her for months and never once have I asked your name. Wait… how do you know mine?”

“You answered your cell phone once while I was making your lunch. That’s rude, you know.”

His deadly serious face made her crestfallen. “Oh…”

His eyes glimmered and he grinned. “I’m just playing. I didn’t mind. Folks behind you might’ve, but I can’t tell them how to think.”

She returned his smile. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been working a lot lately.”

“Aren’t we all.” He handed her the beef lo mein. “I’m Yuan. Sorry if I didn’t say so before.”

“No, really, it’s my fault for not asking.”

He handed her the lunch he’d made her. “Think nothing of it, Miss Weaver.”

She paid him, along with the tip she usually added. “It’s Caroline.”

His smile lit up his entire face, and the rest of that afternoon flew by for her.

Over the next few months, Caroline and Yuan began to learn more and more about each other. She didn’t know much about baseball, but he hated the Yankees. He hadn’t gotten to do much reading since establishing his business, and she was a huge Harry Potter fan. They shared a taste for older rock’n’roll, with Caroline marking the death of Jimi Hendrix every year and Yuan considering himself a Beatlemaniac. Caroline didn’t go to the movies much, and Yuan promised if they ever did, it wouldn’t be to see a romantic comedy.

“I don’t know if I’d have the time to go see a movie.” The skies above were threatening rain that day. Yuan smiled as he stirred a fresh batch of lo mein noodles, intent on giving her the first portion of it.

“But you’d be open to the idea?”

She smiled. “What makes you think I wouldn’t be?”

“Don’t people in your line of work usually associate with others in the same industry or social circle?”

“I guess, but most of them are entitled self-important arrogant douchebags.”

Yuan snorted in laughter. “Well, I can’t say I’m any different. I mean, these are the best noodles in the city.”

“But I can attest to that. I’ve tasted your noodles. I only have vapid claims to go on from those clowns. I have no interest in seeing their golf swings or art collections, and they think I’ll be eager to find out how good they are in bed when their cologne could knock out a herd of angry rhinos? No, forget it.”

Yuan shook his head, grinning. “I think this is the happiest I’ve heard you. You really enjoy trashing your peers this much?”

“No. I enjoy talking to you this much.”

He looked up at her smile, and for a moment, he was at a loss for words. He handed her the lunch box. She took it, touching his fingers for a moment before handing him the cash.

“Thursday night, the cinema over on 55th. Seven o’clock?”

He nodded. “I’ll be there.”

The movie showing on Thursday night was a little independent production, and it was neither romantic nor a comedy. Still, at times the movie seemed absolutely superfluous, as Caroline was in the company of someone who made no demands of her and had no expectations. It wasn’t an industry event where she was supposed to hobnob with this client or that CEO, it was simple, straightforward, uncomplicated.

She didn’t want it to end.

He walked her to her door afterwards, kissed her good night and took the train back to his self-described “rathole”. She was still walking six feet off the ground when she came into work on Friday.

“You seem to be in excellent spirits.”

She came out of the pleasant memories to look at the man standing at the door of her office. Her father. Tall and thin, with a bald head and bright blond sideburns flowing into his distinctive mustache, he entered the office and closed the door behind him.

“Yeah. I… I was on a date last night.”

“A date? With whom? That nice boy Howards from the exchange?”

“No.” She hesitated. How much did she want to tell him? How much could she? “You wouldn’t know him.”

The lift he’d had in his mustache disappeared. It was the most she’d seen him smile in a while, and now it was gone. “Well, maybe I’d like to. Give it some thought.” He left her to her work, and the morning dragged by for her until she headed downstairs for lunch.

“You look awful,” Yuan commented as he stirred the noodles at his cart. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s my father. I told him about our date, and…”

“…he’d be less than impressed with me.” He nodded slowly. “He’s a high-powered executive. I understand.”

“Yuan, he’s not a bad man, but the company is all he has. I’m important to him because of the part I play in it.”

“Can’t you be important to him because you’re his daughter?”

“I was, once. Now he’s pinned all his hopes and future on me.”

He touched her hand, gently. “That’s a lot to ask of someone.”

She looked in his eyes. “Yuan, I’m sorry. I don’t want to stop seeing you. I… you make me so happy sometimes I can barely contain it.”

He smiled, and gently handed her her lunch. “I’m glad we agree on that. Look, you’ll see me here every day. When you’re ready, we’ll talk about how to handle this ‘dad’ situation of yours. It’ll be fine. I promise.”

Nodding, she gave her usual generous tip, taking a moment to kiss the bills before putting them in his jar. The grin splitting his face was priceless. She returned to work in better spirits and made it through the rest of the day.

The next day, however, it was Yuan’s turn to be followed by a dark cloud. He showed Caroline a form that’d been delivered to him in person.

“It’s a deportation notice,” he told her. “My visa’s been revoked.”

“How is that possible?” She studied the form. It made no sense.

“After my student visa expired, I applied for residence. Despite the fact my work permit from my previous visa hadn’t expired, they’re saying this-” He gestured a his cart and its delicious-smelling food. “- is illegal, and they’re deporting me for it.”

“That is bullshit!” She slammed the form back onto the cart. “What was this officer’s name? I’ll find him and sort it out.”

He shook his head. “I’ve already found a buyer for the cart. I’m going to go home, help dad with the farm. The money I’ve made here isn’t much, but…”

She took his hand, ignoring the people behind her. “Yuan, they don’t have to run you out like this. It isn’t right. We should fight this, together.”

“Even if we do, I’ll either be doing it from China or from jail. I’d like to hold on to my freedom, even if it means leaving a country supposedly founded on it, and you.”

Caroline felt tears coming to her eyes and tried to blink them away. He touched her face and smiled faintly.

“It’s a smaller world than you might think. I don’t think it can keep us apart for too long.”

She leaned into his touch, kissed his hand. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too, Miss Weaver. Here’s your lo mein.”

She didn’t remember the trip back upstairs, nor leaving her lunch on her desk. The next thing she knew she was in her father’s office.

“This was your doing.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” He didn’t look at her. Six financial reports were on his wall of televisions at once. He said it kept his mind sharp.

“Yuan’s deportation. You had something to do with it.”

“People shouldn’t be here on expired permits and visas. If they can’t be bothered to renew their paperwork properly, they’ve got no place here.”

“His work permit’s fine, you just don’t like the fact that I’m interested in someone in a lower tax bracket from you!”

“I don’t like your tone, Caroline.”

“And I don’t like the way you try to control my life like it’s a game of chess or something! I’m your daughter, not a slave or a pawn!”

“You’re also the best employee I’ve got, and this is our busiest time of year. I need you completely on your game with no distractions. You can have all the girlish flings you want third quarter, just as long as I don’t have to see it by looking out my window.”

Caroline felt her hands curling into fists. She stared at her father as her nails bit into her palms. Finally, when she couldn’t think of anything constructive to say, she turned and walked out, returning to her office. She managed to make it through the rest of the work day and get herself home before she broke down into tears.

It was a dismal month that followed. The corner across the street from the office was soon occupied by a hot dog vendor, a large gentleman with hairy shoulders who tended to undercook the dogs. She tried to focus on her work, and as her productivity didn’t dip too far, her father either didn’t notice the way she dragged herself through her days, or simply didn’t care. Caroline suspected the latter.

Finally, after returning home from work, she found an envelope with internation postage on it waiting for her. She got into her apartment, tore off her coat, sat at her tiny kitchen table and clawed the envelope open.

Dear Caroline,

I’ve never been all that good at writing things out. I try to deal with what’s in front of me and not live inside my head, in words and pictures. I’m sorry if that meant I came across as cold the last time I saw you. Leaving you tore me apart. I loved that little cart and I miss it, almost as much as I miss you.

We don’t have the Internet out here on the farm, as my father thinks it’s a superfluous expense. So I’ve taken to riding the train to the nearest library. Still, I have the credit card I got while I was in the States, and I used it to buy you a copy of this software that teaches you Chinese. The code for downloading it’s enclosed with this letter. I’ve also sent you a voucher for an airline ticket, which should bring you out here around our New Year’s celebration.

You’ve got six months to learn enough Chinese to not piss off my dad.

No pressure.

I’m kidding. I’m sure you’ll get along fine. Still, a few key Mandarin phrases won’t hurt. I’m sure your dad won’t be too happy with you skipping town on him, and I know your work is important to you. I’m not going to ask you to run away or anything like that. Just come see me, or at least write back.

I miss you more than words can say.

Love,
Yuan

Sure enough, the envelope had a print-out with a download code and another with information on a cross-Pacific flight. She read and re-read the letter several times, and a plan began to take shape.

The exchange of letters between her and Yuan quickly became preoccupied with the particulars, as she practiced her writing of Chinese characters and he gently corrected her sentence structure. She saved all of her excitement and anticipation for after hours, ensuring her productivity remained at its usual high level. With her father pleased, he left her relatively alone. She worked her vacation request through the HR department like any other employee, knowing that her father tended to ignore the scheduling calendars of other people in his company as long as nothing they did interfered with his meetings. The Friday before she left, however, he knocked on her office door.

“A two-week vacation, and I’m only just now hearing about it?”

She didn’t look up from her paperwork. “I’m the top earner in the company three months running. I’ve earned some time off.”

“The HR calendar doesn’t say where you’re going.”

“I didn’t see how it was anybody’s business.”

“What if you’re going someplace dangerous?”

“You mean like five blocks from here? I’m not going to stay shut up in this office or my apartment because of a minority of ultra-violent whackjobs.”

“I see your point.” He lingered at the door, watching her work, before he disappeared. When he came back, he closed the door behind him and placed an envelope in front of her.

“What’s this?”

“I moved you up to first class.” He stood before her desk, his face inscrutable. “I won’t have you on a cross-ocean flight for hours on end cramped in a coach seat. My daughter deserves better.”

She looked at the envelope, then up at her father. “You know where I’m going, then?”

“Yes. And I know why.” He paused. “You’re right. You deserve your vacation, and the reason you’re taking it there is my fault. I was… I was scared.”

She blinked, breath caught in her throat. He tapped the envelope, not looking her in the eye.

“I know this won’t make up for what I did. But I had no right to take away something that made you happy just because I feared it getting in the way of business. I’m your boss, but I’m also your father. I can’t let one overwhelm the other.” The muscles in his jaw danced. “I know people say this company’s all I’ve got. But, really, Caroline… it’s you. You’re all I’ve got. And I’m scared of losing you.”

She took his hand. “You’ll never lose me, Dad. Not really. But I can’t always be here. Not when my heart is somewhere far away. I miss that little Chinese cart and the sweet guy behind it more than anything, and I’m sorry it took you this long to understand that.” She smiled at him. “Don’t be scared. I’m going to come back. But I need to see him. You understand that, don’t you?”

He nodded. “Take the time you need, be safe and come home. We’ll be waiting for you.”

She got up from her desk and hugged him. It was the first time they’d hugged in years. Phones rang elsewhere in the building. Emails poured into inboxes. The Weavers ignored them. For that moment, they weren’t co-workers anymore. They weren’t commodities traders. They were a family.

Two weeks later she was in China. Fireworks exploded in the streets. Paper dragons chased parades and lanters swung as people went hither and yon during the festivities. Yuan and Caroline walked hand in hand.

“I’m sorry my dad’s not in better health.” Yuan smiled a bit in spite of his mood. “It turns out I came home at just the right time. Getting into the groove of running the farm took longer than I thought it would, but we’re seeing better business than ever.”

“I’m glad something good came out of that. I was worried for you.”

“I know.” He squeezed her hand. “And your Mandarin sounds good. I know you’ll keep practicing when you go home.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Let’s not talk about that yet. I know I have to, that it’ll be a long time before we make this work. If we ever do. For now… for now, I just want this.”

He nodded, and smiled. “Let me take you home, then, and make you some lo mein.”

Firecrackers popped nearby. Miss Weaver smiled at her cowherd. “I can’t wait.”
[/spoiler]

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