Dana sat down heavily on the park bench. She was significantly late for what was sure to be a long and stressful day at the office. People were probably looking for her already. Her phone was buzzing in her pocket like an increasingly angry hornet. She visualized herself standing up, marching into the office, and dominating the day. But today she simply couldn’t.
She looked up at the grey tower of glass and concrete stretching to the sky. There had been a time, years ago, when she had loved working in such an imposing building. From almost anywhere in the city she could find her skyscraper. But today the tower appeared drab and soulless to her; its enormity seemed oppressive, not exciting.
Five minutes and then you’re going to pull yourself together, she told herself. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the feeling of the sun on her face. But her mind kept drifting back to the projects she needed to complete, the emails she needed to send, the—
“Hey,” a voice drawled. “Would you mind watching this for me for one second?”
Dana opened her eyes. A twenty-something blonde man was pointing to large hiking backpack with a blender balanced on top of it.
“Back in a sec.” The man turned and jogged toward the fountain in front of her building. He pulled off his t-shirt, folded it on the edge of the fountain, and then put his flip flops on top. He turned and winked at her and then jumped into the water.
Dana was so caught off guard that she laughed out loud. In fifteen years, she had never seen anyone swim in the plaza fountain. And sure enough, the blue-blazer security guards were milling about, looking unhappy. Before they could decide what to do, the boy climbed out and walked back over to her, shaking the water out of his shaggy hair.
“Thanks,” he said. “That felt great.”
The boy grabbed the blender and slung his pack over his shoulder.
“I’ve got to ask: why are you carrying a blender around?”
“Doesn’t fit in the backpack.”
Dana cocked an eyebrow, and the boy smiled crookedly. “Okay, okay, I got evicted this morning.”
Dana flushed. “I’m really sorry. Do you have someone you can call?”
The boy laughed. It was a high, clear, completely unworried sound.
“Don’t sweat it. So, anyway, the Vermicious Knids are playing a show over at the Bowery tonight. Wanna come?”
Dana found herself laughing aloud again. It was perfectly absurd. The boy was soaking wet, homeless, probably twenty years her junior, and he wanted her to go see some band on a Tuesday?
The boy smiled, and she felt something in her chest uncoil. He is cute, she thought. “Well,” she said, drawing the word out for several seconds.
“Awesome!” he said. His face lit up; his eyes were sparkling. Dana couldn’t help but feel flattered, until she realized that his eyes were literally sparkling in the sunlight. She stood up quickly and peered into his face.
“Just hold still.”
The boy stared back, and then slowly stuck his tongue out of the side of his mouth. Yes, Dana decided reluctantly, they were definitely sparkling.
“Damnit, you’re a manic pixie dream boy, aren’t you?”
For a moment, the boy’s sunny exterior cracked, but then he forced a laugh.
“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Dana peered at him. The boy smiled valiantly for a few more seconds, and then his face collapsed.
“I hate that name.” He slumped onto the bench.
“Was I really acting that melancholy? Oh, this is so embarrassing.” Dana buried her face in her hands.
After a moment, she noticed the sobs. She opened her eyes. Golden tears were running freely down the pixie’s slack but beautiful face.
He looked at her helplessly. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Dana shook her head. She had never heard of a depressed pixie.
“You don’t get it, do you? I exist only to teach others to rediscover the wonder they’ve lost. If I’m not summoned by an—” he shot her an apologetic look, “unfulfilled person, I’m barely even alive. Being summoned is different but just as bad. These days, most women — like you — know enough to recognize us, and think we’re horrible clichés. It’s pretty hard to teach someone to marvel at life’s fleeting joys when they’re annoyed and self-conscious. So after a day or two of frustrated agony, I fade away again. The worst is when I actually succeed. Just when things are going well, just as I can see life flooding back into my companion, just when I’m starting to fall in love — I fall in love every time — they don’t need me anymore, and I vanish back into oblivion. I never see them again.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, listening to the sound of the fountain and the leaves rustling.
“I’d trade places with you any day,” he muttered.
Dana tilted her head to the side. He had a point. Whatever was wrong with her life, she wasn’t a supporting character; she was the lead.
She put her hand on his shoulder. “Hey, it’s not that bad. The sun is shining, and we’ve got a Verisimilitudinous Kids show tonight.”
The change was immediate. The pixie hopped to his feet, the 10,000-watt smile back on his face. “Really, you want to go?”
She chuckled. “Yeah, why not. Let me just tell work I’m taking the day off.”
She dashed off a terse reply all, and then powered her phone off.
“That’s done.” She felt better already. That one act — turning her phone off — felt like a symbolic step toward self-emancipation.
“So, what should we—”
She stopped midsentence. “Hello?” she called. But the pixie was already gone.
Tyler Young is a Midwestern lawyer by day, fiction writer by night. His work has previously been published by Daily Science Fiction. When he isn’t writing fiction, he is usually at a zoo or museum with his wife and two children.