Contest #46 winner 🏆

 

They don't want to reconcile. They don't want to like each other. They can't even share a pen without fighting.

 

For the sixth time that morning, I separate the bunnies, stroke their foreheads, and whisper the universal mantra of bunny bonding: This is a happy warren. You are happy bunnies. Happy bunnies don't bite their friends.

 

"I think you should bond them at my place," says my sister. She sits behind the pen, her trademark Moleskine in her lap—black, of course; she wouldn’t be caught dead with anything beige. Ever since college, she's brought a notebook everywhere to jot down stray thoughts she can turn into stories.

 

Dandelion shuffles into a crouch, the picture of rabbit fury. She's our older bunny—a territorial, brown fluffy demon with devilish eyes, and I sense she's staked a claim on our house by virtue of being first. The newcomer, Blackberry, shifts uneasily. His ears tilt back.

 

"Did you hear me?" says Emma, tapping her pen against the notebook. "I said bring them to my place for a week. The brown bunny thinks she owns your house. They'll fight less on neutral territory."

 

I grunt in reply. She's not supposed to be in my house, offering unsolicited advice. In fact, it's the first time I've seen her in months. But with everything going wrong with the bunnies and her impeccable sense of timing, I'm not surprised she picked today to drop by for a visit.

 

I grab lettuce off the counter. Emma ruffles Blackberry's fur.

 

"It's only two hours away. You haven't visited in forever."

 

I think of Emma's publications, the messages from her blog that assail my inbox daily: book signings, interviews, a never-ending stream of rave reviews. I imagine what her walls must look like—writing trophies, book covers, her four novels on display. It's a far cry from my poor selection of scattered drafts and manuscripts, most of them unfinished, all in various states of disrepair.

 

"I'll think about it."

 

"You said that last year."

 

"It's been a busy year. Lots to do at the firm."

 

"Oh yes, your steady job."

 

"One of us needs a steady job. I have a husband, a house, and two rabbits to provide for. Not that either of the fluffy demons appreciate it. Isn't that right, Dandelion?"

 

Emma sighs. "Just… think about it, okay?"

 

#

 

Two days later, I'm more than thinking about it. I'm at my wits' end.

 

It's a gamble, bonding rabbits. Like throwing together two people who might have nothing in common and asking them to be best friends. It's universally accepted that buns are better off with a companion, and that with hard work and persistence, most duos eventually accept each other. But every interaction between Blackberry and Dandelion seems to make matters worse.

 

My husband and I let them cool off for a bit. We put them in pens side by side, swapping their homes daily, hoping they'll get used to each other's scent. With all the nipping, stomping, and growling, our living room feels like World War III.

 

When I'm not at work or stopping fights, my phone dings with work emails and messages from Emma. Her fourth book's a rousing success. On her blog, the heroine stares defiantly at me from the cover, taunting me with purple eyes.

 

Still, I don't pick up the phone, don't reply to Emma's increasingly annoyed texts. I hold out for as long as possible, until the day when, through some absurd gymnastic feat, Dandelion leaps the fence into Blackberry's pen and almost mauls him.

 

I text Emma that night. You win. This weekend. Prepare for a bunvasion.

 

#

 

The drive is surprisingly sanguine. The bunnies sit in the same carrier, but they seem too terrified by the car ride to do more than shift unhappily next to each other. My phone, amazingly, doesn't buzz once. My boss has been encouraging me to take a vacation for months now; perhaps he's actually decided to stick to his promise of not pestering me until I get back.

 

I've only seen Emma's new apartment in pictures, and I'm struck by how sparse it is, how bare of decoration. It's like a temple to a god of minimalism, a far cry from how cluttered she was when we both shared a room—though thinking back on it now, most of the clutter was mine.

 

"I Marie Kondo-ed everything last year," she explains. "After my boyfriend left."

 

"Oh."

 

"I didn't have much to begin with. Most of it was his."

 

Tufts of hay escape the carrier and drift onto her spotless floor. I should probably feel guilty, but I don't.

 

"Hmm," she says. "Let's bring the bunnies to the living room. We can set up a pen."

 

#

 

Her living room is bare, even the walls.

 

It could be worse. It could be plastered with her book covers.

 

We set up a pen in the center of the room and release the rabbits. Shell-shocked after the car ride, Dandelion crouches low to the floor. Blackberry wanders back and forth, sniffing the boundaries of the pen. At least they're no longer trying to kill each other. Small miracles.

 

My sister dabs some banana on Dandelion's forehead to entice Blackberry to groom her. They face off, but no fur flies.

 

"It's a start," I say.

 

"For sure," says Emma. She looks me up and down. "Can't believe I got you out here. It's been—how many years since you visited me?"

 

"Only two."

 

"Only." She snorts. "Now that you're not constantly working, maybe you can write."

 

I grab Dandelion before she can take a chunk out of Blackberry's side. "Hm."

 

"It'll be like the old days. When we used to sit together, brainstorming ideas."  

 

"I haven’t written in ages."  

 

"Why not? I loved your stories. I thought you even had a manuscript written at one point. What happened to it?"

 

It's collecting dust in some corner of the cloud. But I can't tell my sister that, can't tell her why I gave it up. Can't tell her that we brainstormed together a little too often—and yet, somehow, not often enough—such that somehow, by perfect accident, our thoughts tracked down similar paths. A girl without magic in a magical world. A fantastic idea, a great premise—

 

And she published hers first.

 

"I want to see it," Emma says. Her voice grates on my nerves. "I think you should dig it out. I can help polish it for submission."

 

"It's not good enough to submit."

 

Dandelion nips Blackberry's bum. I pull them apart. "This is a happy warren. You are happy rabbits. Happy rabbits don't bite their friends."

 

"Don't shout at them. You're stressing them out. Let's split them up and grab dinner."

 

"Wait. Not just yet." I suck in a breath. "If we split them each time they get nippy, they'll learn that nipping gets them away from each other. We have to teach them to deal with each other."

 

"Sounds like children." Emma looks at me over the rabbits. "What was wrong with your novel? Even if it still needs some work, there's an easy solution. It's called 'editing'."

 

I glower.

 

"Okay, you're not feeling this novel. Fine. Write something new!"

 

"Why are you pressing this?"

 

"If I let you avoid me each time I bring up writing, you'll keep on avoiding me. Just like the bunnies."

 

"My writing's not that good. Not like yours."

 

"Oh yes, I'm so wildly successful! It's why I have no partner, and a house that's filled with nothing."

 

I stare at her, shocked at the bitterness in her voice.

 

"Get over yourself, Stacey." She tosses lettuce at the rabbits. "And let me see that frigging novel."

 

#

 

I don't send her the novel. She doesn't bring it up. We dance around each other, limiting our conversations to superficial things—the rabbits, the weather, which pastry she should bake next.  

 

But something has changed. I no longer spend my day glaring at her blog posts. She leaves the obnoxious Moleskine notebook in her pocket, instead of whipping it out each time I enter the room. We shop together, and I help her choose some pictures for her walls. She tells me about her crappy ex who dumped her right after their anniversary. We get drunk off Moscato in her kitchen and brainstorm ideas for revenge.

 

It's not until Saturday, the day before I'm supposed to leave, that Emma brings up writing again.

 

We are babysitting the bunnies in the living room. It's been a tranquil session so far. Only one clump of fur has flown, and Dandelion is quiet. Perhaps she no longer feels threatened, now they're on neutral ground. Perhaps Blackberry is finally wearing her down.

 

"It doesn't have to be a novel," Emma says. "It doesn't even have to be a novella. Just write something. Anything. You used to love writing. You were great at it."

 

I frown at the bunnies.

 

"What if you start small?" says Emma. "A short story. Nothing fancy."

 

"Hm."

 

"Go on." She presses a pen and a notebook into my resisting hands. "I'll watch the bunnies. I think I can keep them from killing them for an hour."

 

She's right about one thing; the rabbits aren't killing each other. As I watch, Blackberry hops forward and licks Dandelion's face. She sinks to the ground in contentment.

 

"I'm serious." Emma waves at the rabbits. "I think we're past the worst of it."

 

I take the notebook from her. The pen feels odd in my hands—heavy, unbalanced.

 

"Not fantasy," I say. "I can't do that anymore."

 

"Then write about bunnies. I bet no one other person in the world could write about bonding rabbits the way you could."

 

I walk to the kitchen and sit at the table, stare at sparse walls, breathe in the faint scent of cake and vanilla. I can do this. Can't I do this? This is silly. I'm not a writer. I'm not Emma. I'm too rusty, too old, too practical.

 

"How are the bunnies?" I shout.

 

"They're fine!" Her voice wafts toward me. "Stop procrastinating. I'm setting a timer for an hour, and I expect something written when it goes off."

 

I chew the pen, but my mind is still blank.

 

It's silly. There was one point in my life when I would have given my big toe for the free time to write, but now, faced with a blank page, all I can think of is how useless I am.

 

My pen falls to the page.

 

It's nonsense at first, utter garbage, writing I would be ashamed to see ever aired in public. But as I press on, the rustiness fades. Slowly the sentences turn more coherent, more thoughtful—nothing to be proud of—but at least I am writing. I have something, instead of that awful blank page.

 

I scribble and scribble, picking up speed, the words flowing more and more freely. Pictures fly through my head, thoughts and scenes; conversations flow like a video reel. I think about rabbits, and I think about Emma, but most of all I think about all I haven't said and how to best say it.

 

Cramps seize my hand as the thoughts finally slow. Ink stains my fingers, blotting the page. The pen's nearing the end of its life. I flip back to the beginning, where the writing was shakiest. The timer rang long ago, but it doesn't matter—I now have the perfect opening, the perfect start.

 

They don't want to reconcile. They don't want to like each other. They can't even share a pen without fighting.

 

I walk back to Emma. The bunnies are a puddle, snuggled against one another like they've been friends all their lives. Dandelion gives Blackberry a lick. Blackberry flops happily.

 

"Well?" says my sister.

 

"I think we're past the worst of it," I say, and I hand her the notebook.

 

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152 likes 103 comments

22:19 Jun 26, 2020

I ADORE the double meaning of "pen" in the end. Excellent, tightly-woven story. Well done!

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22:52 Jun 26, 2020

Oh my gosh - I think you may be the first person to have noticed this! Yes, it was deliberate, and I'm so excited somebody noticed! Thank you!

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21:03 Jun 26, 2020

Wonderful job! I love the incorporation of the rabbits, it adds another layer. I also like how in the end the character gives up and just writes. Deserved win!

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22:51 Jun 26, 2020

Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed the story, especially the rabbits - my husband and I have been struggling for weeks because our bunnies won't get along, and writing their eventual reconciliation into the story gave me hope that it might someday happen for real! :)

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16:42 Jun 26, 2020

What a beautiful story! "This is a happy warren. You are happy rabbits. Happy rabbits don't bite their friends." This line made me cry and laugh at the same time. Cry because the repetition of it stood out to me, and I felt the narrator's exasperation, and it was a great idea. I really liked the story, but I would have loved to hear more about those bunnies!

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22:58 Jun 26, 2020

Thank you! To be honest, I was laugh-crying as I wrote that part! We've been trying to bond our two rabbits for the last couple weeks, and I've lost track of how many times these words have been uttered with varying degrees of exasperation and annoyance. (And sometimes with swear words for good measure!)

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06:23 Jun 27, 2020

Hah! Sounds fun, and I would love to get some rabbits, (they're honestly so adorable but also evil sometimes) but currently it's not possible right now, sadly. :( Also, I love your writing and I would really enjoy reading your feedback on my writing, if you have the time!

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20:47 Jun 27, 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I had two rabbit sisters at one point and this brought back memories! Beautifully written. Congratulations on your well deserved win.

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21:19 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you!! I'm so glad you enjoyed the story! And I love how many current and former rabbit owners are coming out of the woodwork - we don't know many other bunny owners in our area, so it's great to meet so many people who are familiar with their sassy ways :)

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08:37 Jun 28, 2020

Yes they have wonderful sassy ways! I used to use mine to tell me the weather forecast; they would wander out of their hutch when it was going to rain! Hope to see more rabbit stories in the future.

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12:36 Jun 28, 2020

Weather forecasting rabbits! Better than any weatherman. I love it!

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15:48 Jun 28, 2020

😆😆☀️🐇

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21:10 Jun 27, 2020

Amazing job! Fast paced and addicting to read :)

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21:20 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it!

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20:23 Jun 27, 2020

I love the blend of humour and seriousness in the story. I also like the way the writer juxtaposes the lives of the sisters and the lives of the bunnies.And, the relationship between the sisters improve when the bunnies find a more meaningful relationship. Congratulations.

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21:21 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you so much! The juxtaposition between the two relationships was what I was going for, and I'm glad it came through in the story!

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15:46 Jun 27, 2020

What a fun but meaningful story! I loved how there were double meanings all over it. Very creative and a good win!

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21:29 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you! It's crazy how the mind works, because some of the double meanings didn't even occur to me until I was editing it!

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22:40 Jun 27, 2020

Oh lol that's fun though! If you wouldn't mind giving me suggestions on my stories I would really appreciate it :)

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15:18 Jun 27, 2020

I don't have the words to say how much I loved this. But one thing I could say: Thank you. I needed this.

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21:41 Jun 27, 2020

I'm so glad you liked the story and that it brought you joy! <3

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15:05 Jun 27, 2020

Such a creative take on the prompt! Love the bunnies :) Congrats on the win!

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21:42 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you!!

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14:37 Jun 27, 2020

Aww this was so beautifully written - well done! I loved the way you worked the bunnies into it and how they were working through their problems as the MC was. It was just really sweet and wholesome from start to finish. Congrats on the win, it was very well deserved. :)

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21:50 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you!! So glad you enjoyed the story and the parallels between the bunnies and the sisters!

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12:57 Jun 27, 2020

Great writing. Good story, and use of animals interestingly novel. Thanks for the great read.

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22:01 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you! Animals might be my favorite way to spice up a story. Then again, as a rabbit owner, I admit to being biased. :)

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10:25 Jun 27, 2020

Congratulations on your win! I thoroughly enjoyed the story - so sweet and I could see a parallel between the bunnies beginning to bond and the character becoming more comfortable with the pen and paper as time went on. A feel-good story all round! :)

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22:02 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the story! :)

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18:14 Jun 26, 2020

Congratulations! Beautiful story. I loved its rhythm and the characters.

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16:39 Jun 26, 2020

At first, I thought, How can a story about bunny bonding win? but as I read through, my heart slowly melted away into the story. Much deserving win. Keep it up.

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10:16 Jun 30, 2020

Wow, this is such a well-written story! Congratulations! :)

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13:25 Jun 30, 2020

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it! :)

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15:03 Jun 29, 2020

Love this, really well written!! I love double meanings so my favorite part was the ending ... "They don't want to reconcile. They don't want to like each other. They can't even share a pen without fighting." I felt like this line was about the sisters AND the bunnies :) The word 'pen' really stood out to me - double meaning! Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I interpreted it.

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18:49 Jun 29, 2020

No, you're totally right! That is how I intended it! And thank you so much for your kind words - I'm really glad you enjoyed the piece!

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12:28 Jun 29, 2020

Great job! It was very easy to read and the message touched my heart. It's not easy to dig up something you have buried deep inside you for so long. But with the courage from others and from yourself, you can do anything.

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18:31 Jun 27, 2020

Who thought writing about bunny bonding could be so interesting? This was such a sweet simple story but with so much depth. Definitely deserves the win!

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21:25 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it!

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08:43 Jun 27, 2020

Wonderful, you really deserved the win :)

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22:02 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you! :)

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05:25 Jun 27, 2020

Amazing story! I'm a bunny lover, so this story was quite the read. I also love the writing style, and I hope to see more from you!

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22:09 Jun 27, 2020

So great to meet another bunny lover! I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and I'm definitely planning to write more stories with bunnies in the future. (They just sneak in somehow, whenever I'm least expecting it!)

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