This is a bit more experimental than my usual works. Expect this story to be sporadic and weird - I just have an idea, and I want to see how far I can get without a complete outline like I usually use. I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know what you think!

Be kind and stay spooky, everyone.

-Inky


In the dressing room of an old-fashioned nightclub called the Smoldering Bloom, softly fogging with the outside air seeping through a broken window, a box sat open on a vanity. It was a red velvet-lined box tied with a white ribbon - silk? - and a pink cushion sat at the bottom. Nestled in the cushion, cozy and patient, sat what appeared to be a beating, bleeding heart.

Rose hadn't touched it yet. She had opened the box with a restrained curiosity, but now she stared at it with concern, red mouth pursed and her bottom lip caught between her slightly-biting teeth. She couldn't look at anything but the heart - so dark a red it was almost purple - and puzzle over it, contemplating it like a particularly tough question she didn't know the answer to.

Finally she sat back enough to pull her hands from her lap. Rose took off a glove, black and imitative of satin, and hesitantly pressed a finger to the heart. It was warm and wet and it shuddered under her touch, and she pulled away to look at her hand. A single spot of dark red eased down her finger. For a single moment she considered licking it, then felt a pang of disgust at the thought. This was a person's organ, if not an alarmingly convincing prop, and it was most definitely blood on her finger. She grabbed a tissue from the little box to her side and wiped her finger off as best she could. There was a slight tint of red, but it was hard to see on her brown fingers, especially in the light. As satisfied as she could be, Rose put her glove back on and swallowed.

There was a note attached to the package. She hadn't read it yet; she'd heard the faint thrumming in the box and panicked, thinking there was some tiny animal trapped inside like a kitten or a bird. She wasn't certain if the heart was better or worse, but at least no small creature had suffocated in the package. She looked to the note - rolled up and tied in the same ribbon - and hesitantly reached for it.

"Finale?" She jumped and grabbed the box, shoving the lid on and sliding it under the vanity. She stood up as her manager peered in. "You alright in here?"

"Ah... I think so." She'd already decided to wait until after closing to tell Maisie what was in the box, but now a crisp white envelope was presented to her, sealed with wax. Her shoulders slumped. "Don't tell me."

"Yep." Maisie shot her an apologetic look. "Another one. Do you think he just copies the same letter over and over?"

"He doesn't. I read the first three." The first three of thirteen (and this made fourteen), she thought to herself. Every night Connor sent one of these, because apparently texting wasn't romantic enough for him. She honestly would have found it romantic if she hadn't already told him no. "I gave him the one date he kept asking for, and it was horrible. You'd think that would be enough."

"You'd think," Maisie said, pushing back a faded blonde curl. "You're on in 10. All ready?" Rose nodded, and Maisie smiled that business smile of hers. "Good. The crowd awaits their Girl Finale."

"Can't be much of a crowd on a Tuesday night," Rose said with a small smile of her own, but the door was shut before she heard a response. She sat down and, despite her apprehension, opened the letter from Connor.

My Girl Finale,

Ugh, already off to a rough start. She hated being called "My" anything, and she'd told him that at the party they'd gone to. Twice, in fact.

I realize by now you probably have no intent of responding to these the traditional way. I want to apologize if my letters have proven overbearing, but it is far easier to put my thoughts down through pen than by phone stylus.

"God, you write like an asshole," she said aloud to nobody in particular. He didn't speak like this, certainly not to her, and everything about the note so far felt frustratingly phony. She could believe he wanted to talk to her, yes, but sorry about being pushy? Connor didn't do sorry, not from what she'd seen.

I've written my thoughts to you before, but I'd like to put just a few down again for context, in case this is the only letter you find time to read. I realize a party at Edengreen was not the most prudent of choices for our first date. I was enthusiastic, perhaps even elated that you'd said yes to dinner, and I suppose I leapt before I looked.

"You introduced me to your mom as soon as we got there,"she said, again accepting the silence around her, "and you didn't tell me it was with your upscale closed community friends." She was fairly sure one of their earrings would have been enough for her to pay a year's rent. Rose wasn't comfortable around the cozy rich, the ones who weren't famous for anything but still had enough money to act like they were.

I can't ask for a second chance at a date, certainly not yet, but I was hoping for another period of your company. I'm going to the Edengreen house this weekend with some old college friends, and I would love for you to stay a night with us. It will be considerably less pressure than the party, I promise.

"Up in a gated community, overnight, with nobody I know and a man I turned down for a second date? Not very likely." She dropped the letter in the vanity drawer with the others - because of course he'd once asked if she kept them - before looking back up. The other note - the one from the box - was still sitting there, waiting.

It can't be any worse than his, can it? She thought, looking at it. A small swallow - and a silent prayer - and she picked it up. It slipped easily out of the ribbon, and she unrolled it to find two words at the top.

LOVE ME?

"Finale, you're on in five! Get out here!" She dropped the note at Maisie's voice, and quickly stood again. She looked in the mirror once, adjusted her hat, and stepped out of the dressing room.

"I'm coming, relax! I'm ready to go." She pushed the box to the back of her mind, trying to forget the dull sound of the heart's beating as she left it behind.