Rags to Reluctant Riches

Submitted into Contest #131 in response to: Write a story that includes (or subverts) the enemies-to-lovers trope.... view prompt


African American LGBTQ+ Drama

This story contains sensitive content

Note: tw//: Potential verbal abuse. Hinted toxicity in relationships, Physical violence.

Nova uncomfortably shifts from foot to foot to take the pressure off the balls of his feet, ignoring the pinch on his toes from the black-polished, hard bottom dress shoes. He holds his stem-glass -that was offered to him by a passing waiter- in a delicate left-hand grip as he taps the rim with his right. Smiling, he distractedly takes a sip of the amber liquid, before his expression shifts to a grimace at the burn that goes down his throat. 

He coughs slightly, his fingers subconsciously tugging at the collar of his white, button-down shirt as he takes in the high-society party from his place beside the pristine table of desserts. He faintly hears the tapping of all the fancy shoes under the melodic violins and cellos from the band that had been playing for the last hour and a half; can smell the caviar and black truffles that act as the seasoning for the hors d'oeuvres on passing trays.

The ladies wear shiny pearls with opera-style gloves going up the arms in various shades of colors. Meanwhile, the gentlemen wear black suit jackets with cufflinks that make a click sound whenever they shake hands with another gent. 

Everything is so bright, so colorful, and so expensive; he loves it. He takes careful sip, before leaning back against the gray, stone pillar behind him with a content sigh and closed eyes.

“Oh, dear, there you are!” a familiar voice exclaims. Sennen, his love of the past year. 

He smiles at the sight of her. 

Her sienna-brown skin seems to glow from the overhead lights. Her calming green eyes lock with his nervous brown. Her black, curly hair is pulled back into a loose bun, stopping at her shoulders because she decided to get a haircut last week. She wears black silk gloves; a dark blue floor-length, off-the-shoulder sleeve dress with a shimmery, waist down tulle; and black heels.

There’s a smiley, older couple right on her heels. The amber woman wears a simple, knee-length black dress: silver flats; and a necklace with a silver ring on it. Meanwhile, the man wears a black striped suit with a silver button down; black dress shoes and-

 ‘A yellow smiley-face tie?’ Nova quirks an amused eyebrow then takes another sip from his glass.

It doesn’t burn as much but maybe that’s because of the heat he feels on his cheekbones at the sight of Sennen.

‘Maybe, I should mingle,’ he muses. ‘it could help me get a better feel of Sennen's day-to-day work in the Design Department, since she doesn't mention it much.’

“Nova, Nova!” Sennen snaps her perfectly manicured nails in his face to get his attention. He startles slightly before letting out an embarrassed chuckle and sheepish smile. His palms feel warm; And, he just knows that soon his shirt is going to have stains that will take several washes, and cups of bleach, for it to ever look the same again.

“Y-Yes? Um, what were you saying?”

The couple exchange a confused glance then focus back on him.

Sennen glowers at him.

“I was introducing you to Mr. and Mrs. Dowel. They sponsored this whole event,” she vaguely gestures to the party happening around them with a smile that looks more like a grimace. The couple doesn’t see it.

“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry. Hm, I spaced out there for a second. I'm Nova,” he shakes Mr. Dowel’s ochre-brown hand first. There’s no “click” when their sleeves brush, but his shake is firm. His toothy smile from before is back. Nova’s lips quirk up in response before turning to Mrs. Dowel. Her smile doesn't show teeth; yet, her eyes show warmth and fondness. Her handshake is more delicate, but still self-assured with low cut, silver-painted nails. He oddly feels like hugging her.

“It's nice to meet you both. It's a beautiful set-up.”

“Aww no, this is nothing. When I was your age, it was way more...interesting,” Mr Dowel winks; Mrs. Dowel smacks his arm playfully with an exasperatedly fond eye roll. “Well, the parties that I wanted to attend. They were a bit less stuffy.” 

“Sounds like a rush. Is that how y'all met?”

  “Please call us Roger and Jessica. And, honestly no, it isn't. We knew of each other since we were kids; but, never ran in the same circles, until we were older teenagers. It was something else, honestly! So, there I am all dolled up at this fancy party that's being hosted by some business-friend of my dad. I was left to my own devices; but, there weren't many girls to talk to, and the boys weren't too friendly. I ended up stumbling outside; and there he was. Laying across a garden bench with a book and two cans of soda. Wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a sunhat. No shoes at all! He looked up at me and smiled. Then promptly asked if my feet hurt ‘in those awful shoes’. I was shocked! And a little sad because I liked my outfit.”

“I really did start to panic when she looked like she was going to cry. Worst feeling, I tell you.”

“So, then he said, ‘No wait, I'm sorry! Please don't cry. I just meant that your shoes look painful to wear. You look perfect! Very beautiful. Please don't cry!’ He was so nervous. I smiled so stupid! And, he froze, and I said-”

“-these shoes really do hurt.” Jessica smiles at Roger with a snap and finger point.

“So, then, I took off my shoes and sat on the bench. He sat down, slid me the unopened soda, reopened his book and started reading it out loud. And that stapled our beginning. We went on dates. Some were perfect and others were downright dreadful!”

“We had tons of disagreements about the dumbest things.”

“Nevertheless, that spot became a constant. And, it was worth it in the end,” Jessica says wistfully with a smile. “We eventually married, and built on top of our familial wealths. And, the rest is history.

“Yes, it is,” Roger agrees, his eyes never leaving Jessica's face.

Nova smiles.

“Your love story is beautiful. I bet it'd make a great Valentine's editorial!”

“Nova!” Sennen exclaims, smacking his arm. She crosses her arms, her face twisting into a scowl.

“What?” he questions in confusion, his brown eyes meeting her angry green as he rubs his arm. “What's wrong with-?”

“I'm sure that the Dowels don't want to be badgered by your newspaper,” she says in a clippy tone. Nova frowns.

“I was just,-” Nova is interrupted by a sienna-brown hard landing on his shoulder.

“Hey! Sennen, I thought I saw you over here. You look beautiful. Nova.” Nova rolls his eyes at the voice of the new arrival. Ordell.

Ordell is tall, but stocky with glasz eyes that were usually framed by thick, black glasses. His dark-brown locs are stylishly messy with a beard to match.

He worked in the marketing department, designing beautifully detailed covers and font displays. He is pretty level headed, kind, and generally an all-around-nice-guy for most part; but, Nova could see through that a mile away. Ordell was always around, acting like he wasn't extra friendly towards Sennen when he didn't even acknowledge her at all before they started dating.

Nova hates him.

Nova side-eyes the hand on his shoulder as Ordell smiles at Sennen before noticing the couple.

“Oh! Hello, didn't see you there! I'm Ordell,” he says, unwrapping his arm from around Sennen to shake both their hands.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dowel. It's nice to meet you.”

“Oh wow, I-I never thought I'd meet the founders!” Ordell exclaims with nervous excitement. “I love your work. It's so amazing. We actually use some of your techniques in the marketing department!”

“Really? That's nice to hear. Everything is on the up and up, I presume?”

“Yes sir.”

“Call us Roger and Jessica, dear. And that's good to hear; so, don't be so nervous. Relax. As a matter of fact, Nova here mentioned an editorial about us,” Jessica says conversationally.

“Really?” Ordell asks.

“Uh, yeah,” Nova clears his throat. “I write freelance articles for the local paper on the side. I thought it'd be interesting to mention Jessica and Roger here for Valentine's, like a couple's interview.”

“Side job? What's your main job, if I may ask?”

“I work in the filing room. Sorting, filing, and basically keeping documents in order. Nothing too exciting.”

“Hey now, don't sell yourself short. Misplace a folder, shred the wrong paper, wrongly mark off something and It's all up in flames,” Roger snaps his fingers, “like that. Besides, the filing room has a very nice relaxing atmosphere, at least in my experience.”

“You worked in the filing room?”

“Sure did! My dad wanted me to build some experience; so, I sorted papers, then took off from there.”

“That's very ambitious.”

“Thank you kindly. But, enough about us. This is a dinner party. Drink. Eat. Mingle. Have some fun.”

So, they did.

They drank.

They ate.

They mingled.

But, Nova wasn't having a lot of fun.

Sennen kept changing the subject; Ordell was a charming douchebag that just wouldn't leave; and his shoes still hurt. Nova's smiles began to turn brittle as the hours ticked by. Eventually, Roger and Jessica headed off to dance. As soon they disappear into the crowd, Nova hurriedly takes off his shoes and loosens his tie with a relieved sigh.

“What are you doing‽” Sennen hisses, looking around frantically to make sure nobody sees them.

“Taking off my shoes…?” Nova quirks an eyebrow at her.

“Put them back on. And fix your tie.”

“No. They hurt my feet and the this stupid tie is constricting.”

“Nova,” she says, tightening her grip on her glass with a lip curl. “they're just shoes. Why are you acting like a child?”

“Hey guys-” Nova cuts Ordell off to match Sennen's glare with one of his own.

 “No,” he repeats louder, unknowingly drawing attention to their corner. “Why are you being so awful to me? These shoes hurt, okay? I fuckin'hate them! And this tie! And you wouldn't even let me get a word in with the Dowels!”

“Because you brought up your stupid newspaper!”

“And they seemed perfectly fine hearing about it!”

“Yeah, sure they did,” Sennen rolls her eyes; Nova grits his teeth.

“You always talk about me being better and upping my levels, and when I actually try to do that, you cut me down! Why?”

“Because, you could do so much better. Earn better! Provide better! Be better!” she counts it off on her fingers.

“Did it ever occur to you that I like where I'm at? I like my job and my life. I'm fine, we're fine!”

“I don't want 'fine', I want great! And you aren't it!”

“Well then, maybe you should go date someone else!”

“I have!” Everything seems to pause as she throws her drink in his face.

He gasps, keeping his stinging eyes closed at the wetness rolling down his face.

“Sennen, what the fuck!” he hears Ordell angrily exclaim before he feels a hand wrap around his wrist. “Hey Nova, don't open your eyes okay? I'm goin’ to get you some napkins or a towel,” he hears his footsteps scamper off.

Nova pulls up the bottom of his shirt and hurriedly wipes his face, blinking against the burn in his eyes. Nova stares at Sennen, who looks remorseful yet moreso embarrassed at the airing of their dirty laundry to their gossipy coworkers. He feels a pressure building behind his eyes.

“We're done then,” he whispers, turning away.

“Nova, I-” he shakes off her hand, leaving her words, their coworkers' judgemental faces, and Ordell’s napkins behind as he runs out of the room.

He doesn't know how it's been or how lost he is; but, he shivers as a breeze sweeps across the fancy balcony he's sitting on. He wishes he grabbed his jacket in his haste to escape his now-ex.

“Hey.” Nova startles, turning to see Ordell... with thick towels and tons of napkins. He looks away, hunching in on himself. He tries to subtly wipe away some tears. He hears Ordell shuffle closer, until they're side by side. He lets out a wet laugh as Ordell offers the entire bundle to him. He wraps a towel around his shoulders, like a cape to ward off the chill.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“There's nothing to talk about, especially not with you.”

“Me? I didn't do anything! It's not my fault that you-!”

“That I what‽ Don't live up to people's expectations? Sennen's? Yours?”


“Don't deny it. That's exactly why we didn't work. I wanted to move in; but you said you needed some space. I respected that. And, when I thought we were ready to try again, you point-blank shot me down, swiping it off the table entirely!”

“I wasn't ready! At least, not at first; but, then you said we were moving too fast!”

“I never-.”

“Yes, you did! That day Frell got fired. I heard you in the break room, talking to Tifa! Does ‘everything's moving so quickly, maybe I should put us on hold ‘til he's ready.’ ring any bells?”

Nova's eyes widen.

“Oh my god,” he drops his head into his hands. “That wasn't about you, you idiot! I was talking about adopting a puppy. And, I was going to run it by you at a lunch you cancelled!”

“A puppy?”

“Yes. Because you mentioned wanting one. It was going to be a surprise.”


“Yeah, oh.”

“If it's worth anything, I'm sorry.”

“I'm sorry too.”

Nova shivers again before a weight covers his shoulders; Ordell’s jacket. He burrows into its warmth with a hum of appreciation. 

“Why,” Ordell hesitates. “Why did you let Sennen treat you like that?”

“Like what?”

“You know what I mean. She walked all over you. She literally threw a martini in your face!”

Yeah, not a fun experience,” he chuckles in self-deprecation. “it wasn't always like that; but, along the way, we started drifting apart. And, social status became so important to her. She started wanting me to change way too much about myself; so, I asked her to do the same. Everything turned into a fight somehow. 

...But, I guess that gives you a potential shot.”


“What do you mean 'huh'? You like her, right? I mean you always show up when she's around; you compliment her whenever you see her around the office.”

“That's not because I like her.”

“Of course it is, why else would you be hanging around? There's no other reason...” he trails off as Ordell stares blankly at him. He points at Ordell then at himself; Ordell nods with a smile.

“I seriously just thought you were trying to step on my relationship! I really disliked you for that.”

“Seriously? that wasn't the case at all. Sennen's great- was great. And being around her was the only way to be around you. Sorry for the implications,” Ordell apologizes sheepishly. The silence between them is oddly warm.

“Man, we are something else, huh? Can't believe we were so stupid.”


“Welp, I really should go get my shoes and leave. It's goin' to be pretty rough tomorrow, might as well get some sleep,” Nova offers back Ordell's jacket before walking towards the door. His hand on the handle.

“Is there a shot for us? To try again?” Ordell blurts out. Nova pauses, glancing over his shoulder.

“I was just under the impression that you liked my now-ex girlfriend, until a few minutes ago. This,” he motions between them. “is too much, too soon. I can't.”

“...I understand.”

“I do hope you find your happiness though,” Nova declares.

“What if you are my happiness? Hypothetically speaking.”

“Then maybe we'll find our way back to each other one day, hypothetically speaking, of course,” they both chuckle. “Goodnight, Ordell,” he gives a small wave and smile.

Ordell waits until he's out of sight.

“Goodnight Nova. I love you,” he says, his words carried away on the breeze.

February 02, 2022 18:35

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