The writing prompt for September is:
The writing prompt for September is:
I almost didn’t see the note. But then, my vision always tended to narrow when rain clouds started moving in. I barely managed a wave to Ian as I barreled out of the mall proper into the enclosed parking lot. He might have said something about seeing me the next day. Or maybe he told me to be sure to check Jack Stewart’s car. I couldn’t be sure. That’s the problem with not listening—even if you do have a good reason—you miss things that are hard to make up for later.
Lately, it had been a fair trade. Avoiding all conversation with Ian had been key to my sanity. If we never talked, I could pretend I had never seen the hungry looks he gave every time he walked past the Dough or Dye while I was at the registers. Looks that had nothing to do with the store’s brightly colored donuts. I could even pretend that he really did walk past the store when I wasn’t there; that he hadn’t been going out of his way for weeks to see me at work.
Ian and I had worked in the same section of the mall since he’d been hired to hand out fliers at Hot Topic a few months ago. We had a couple of years’ history before that too. He was my friend. And I was his. But lately, when he thought I wouldn’t notice, I’d seen Ian looking at me like I was an answer to something–some deep want he hadn’t even let himself fully acknowledge.
And sometimes, if I let my mind drift too far, it felt like Ian could answer that same thing for me too. If only I could figure out how to move from being friends to that something more.
But I couldn’t.
Not before a weightless feeling a lot like falling pulled me back and made me ignore Ian instead. I told myself that if I didn’t listen for just a little longer everything would stay the same without my ruining anything at all.
Walking out of the mall that day I was keen to get to my bike and get home before the rain started. That immediate concern pushed all thoughts of dealing with Ian out of my mind.
The mall’s parking lot looked the way it always did hours after the five-o-clock rush ended with hours to go before the late-nighters or early risers would come. A few cars sat scattered throughout the lot, forlorn and hinting at the lives inside the building. The cars belonged to all sorts of people: Kids who caught rides from friends after a movie, store managers working strange hours, night-shifters marking time until they could finally close up and go to karaoke or margarita night or whatever it was you did after work when you were perpetually nocturnal.
Then there was Jack Stewart’s car–hardly a surprise since it had been without tires for over a year. Sucked for Jack Stewart. But it made my life a lot easier.
With the car being a fixture in the lot and the color of a particularly nasty sunburn, it made a great landmark to use to park my bike when I worked my shifts at the Dough or Dye. Before Jack Stewart’s car parted ways with its tires and took up residence in the parking lot it could take me a full fifteen minutes to figure out where my bike had gone at the end of the day.
Jack Stewart’s car was old. If it weren’t hideously decrepit with more rust than paint, it would probably be a classic. If Steve McQueen really did need a fast machine the way that song says, chances are he’d want Jack Stewart’s car. Or he would if the car had tires. Obviously. I still wasn’t sure about cars or driving and even I felt a small thrill every time I saw the car’s smooth curves and sleek lines.
Jack Stewart stayed remarkably calm about the whole thing. He never explained what happened to the tires or why the car now lived in the mall parking lot. But he never threw a fit about it either. Jack Stewart didn’t talk much. Lack of information never stopped me from wondering about Jack Stewart’s car and its tires though.
The day I saw the note I was contemplating the possibility of Jack Stewart’s tires being collected to pay an obscure but pressing debt when I stopped to really look at the windshield. Something had changed. Although he never made any effort to move the car or replace its tires, Jack Stewart kept an eye on his car. The windshield always gleamed but that day it looked strangely cloudy. Milky, even.
At first I thought someone leaving from the hardware store had spilled paint. Except only the windshield was obscured. Then I realized it was covered almost completely with writing scraped on with soap the way used cars always have their prices marked in the sales lot.
Except Jack Stewart’s car wasn’t marked for sale or priced to buy. The windshield read: “Every time I say, ‘Let’s get together sometime,’ I secretly hope you’ll say ‘Why not now?’ But you never do.”
I stared at the writing for a long time before I got on my bike and pedaled away. The part of me that watched too many crime dramas every weekend worried about that note being for me. The part of me that secretly pined for Captain Wentworth worried about that note being for anyone else.
Mom was at a comic convention all week and Dad was still at work when I got home. It was hard to fit in school and my job at the mall. Sometimes it felt like I lived alone, perpetually out of sync with everyone else I knew.
The skies opened as I locked the front door, making the house feel especially large and especially empty. I turned on all the lights along my path to the kitchen as the rain made it darker and darker outside.
I ate dinner standing at the kitchen counter and wondered what a TV police detective would do about the note on Jack Stewart’s car. Then I went upstairs and re-read how Anne Elliot reacted to Captain Wentworth’s letter. It felt like a solution to dealing with the note on Jack Stewart’s car might rest somewhere between the two if I could just find it.
My mom always said the definition of narcissism was believing everything was about you or meant for you. In a world so vast, she said, it hardly seemed likely. She never said that about me–she hated that kind of parent. She said it more about characters we saw on TV or in the news. Very rarely about Dad when he got it in his head that he was the only one who could re-catalog the entire audiobook collection at the library on a holiday when the rest of the staff got to be at home with their families.
My mom’s definition of narcissism wasn’t the real definition, of course. But thinking about Jack Stewart’s car I couldn’t help but wonder who else the note could be for. No one else parked near it, as if disappearing tires were contagious.
I was the only one who gave Jack Stewart’s car a second glance. Except that wasn’t true anymore, I guessed. At least one other person had seen it. Maybe they’d seen me too.
The next day I walked by Ian in his usual spot passing out fliers in front of Hot Topic. He always spent the beginning in front of the store. Later, when the last of this stack disappeared, Ian would start walking the mall floor. When he finished with that stack, he’d return to the storefront.
He wore glasses, wire-rimmed not thick black plastic, and his dark hair stopped well before it could get in his eyes. His jeans fit but not tightly. His T-shirt was a solid, cheerful sort of green. Wholesome like an apple or a checkered tablecloth. If anyone but Ian’s sister managed the store he would have never been hired.
Ian waved the pile of fliers at me as I passed. I waved an imaginary stack of papers back at him as he said, “Hey Fiona.”
I smiled back and kept walking as I wondered about Jack Stewart’s car and the note. I didn’t think about how much thought I’d put into my pink top or my grey and pink dotted skirt which I had worn even though biking home from the mall in a skirt is a huge pain. I also did not think about the extra time I’d taken pulling my hair off my face with clips trying to show off the last of the red highlights I’d gotten from the summer sun.
Ian was in the middle of his shift and I was late to my own thanks to the day’s history class running over, so I told myself this didn’t really count as avoiding him.
I didn’t stop to ask what he had said to me yesterday. I didn’t mention Jack Stewart’s car.
I told myself it was because I didn’t have the time, but it probably had more to do with the note being the start of something. As I walked down the long hall to Dough and Dye I pulled the rest of my hair into a ponytail. I felt Ian’s eyes on my back the whole way.
Ian was long gone by the time I left that night. His sister had been known to close the Hot Topic early if the store was dead. Or she had a more pressing engagement.
As I crossed the parking lot to my bicycle, I paid special attention to Jack Stewart’s car. The windshield still looked white but as I retrieved my bike, I saw the note had changed. Now it said: “How I feel about you isn’t likely to change. What are you afraid of Fiona?”
I tapped my fist against the hood of Jack Stewart’s car before I picked up my bike. My hands felt shaky the way they did after I stayed up until four in the morning typing a paper for my AP Lit class. I’d had the exact same jitters the first time I felt Ian’s eyes on me. And the first day I admitted that I saw the way he looked at me now. And it terrified me for reasons I couldn’t even understand.
Now I knew the notes really were for me. It wasn’t narcissism–my mom’s kind or any other. The notes on Jack Stewart’s car had been left for me. I even knew who they were from.
I’d guessed it yesterday. Probably, I should have expected something like this. Ian had always been one for grand gestures and movie moments. Of course he’d written the notes on Jack Stewart’s car.
Though he would never say it, I knew what else the notes meant. I was running out of time. Ian had already waited quite a while for me. The notes had an air of desperation to them as much as grandness. They were his big move.
I had to decide now if I wanted to make a move of my own. I leaned my bike back against the side of Jack Stewart’s car and walked toward the mall entrance.
The Dough and Dye supply room was stocked with everything I would need. My favorite supervisor, Carla, was on duty. She liked me so I didn’t even have to sneak the supplies out as I had planned.
It took a surprising amount of effort to clean soap off the windshield of Jack Stewart’s car. As I scrubbed at it with paper towels and window cleaner, I wondered how Ian had managed to replace the first note so quickly.
I stared at the clean windshield for a long time as I waited for it to dry. I expected to feel the same dread, the same irrational panic, I’d been having around Ian for weeks.
Instead, I found I couldn’t remember why I’d been afraid in the first place. I still stood on the edge of change. It just didn’t feel like I’d be falling now. As I opened a fresh bar of soap, I realized Ian had taken the exact same risk. I didn’t know where this note would lead. Neither had Ian when he wrote, “Every time I say, ‘Let’s get together sometime,’ I secretly hope you’ll say ‘Why not now?’ But you never do.” on Jack Stewart’s car.
I carefully wrote out the letters of my own note on the glass. The soap stuck at every stroke, requiring much more pressure than I had expected. When I finished, I rubbed the soap off my hands as best I could and threw away the stub of soap I had left.
Wiping sweat from my forehead, I stepped back to admire Jack Stewart’s car and my handiwork. The windshield on Jack Stewart’s car now read: “I’m off tomorrow. This is me saying, ‘Why not now?'”
“I saw who put that note on your car,” Frankie Perez says to me, breaking our sixteen year silence. I look up, not because I’m interested in what he has to say, but mainly to acknowledge that I heard him loud and clear, and that I really don’t care.
“Did you hear me?” he asks.
I stare at him blankly, trying to hide any confusion that may be registering on my face. Why was Frankie Perez speaking to me? Our school’s rebel without a cause spoke to no one, ran with no particular crowd, didn’t give a damn about his good or bad reputation.
“I said, I saw who put that note on your car,” he repeats as if I’m dense, dumb, or deaf.
I shrug, not caring about the note, what it says, or who put it there. I know very well who put that note on my windshield, and I could guess what it said. But Frankie Perez doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know that I don’t care, not anymore. He doesn’t know that promise I made to myself two months ago.
He doesn’t say another word to me, he simply pushes past and makes his way to his desk directly two seats behind. I return to my book, but it’s useless. Whatever focus I have is now gone.
Suddenly all I can think about are the notes. The notes that are currently taking up residence in my glove box, all sixty of them. Soon to be sixty-one. For two months random notes started appearing upon my car’s windshield.
At first I had no clue as to who was leaving them, and why they were harassing me due to the notes were either typed or made up of tiny cut out magazine letters. My only thought was whoever was doing this had way too much time on his or her hands.
But after a while the culprit became very apparent to me. Maybe she was just lazy, but she wanted to be found out. I recognized the writing right away, after all I had at least ten birthday cards filled with the same writing. Birthday cards promising a lifetime of friendship, through thick or thin.
I toss the book I am trying so desperately to read into my open shoulder bag that stands near my feet. I hoist the bag up and over myself, and silently slip out of home room. Though, I really don’t have to slip out quietly. A marching band could precede me and my home room teacher Mr. Jericho wouldn’t notice. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his students whereabouts, it’s just that he is eighty-seven years old and practically deaf.
I walk causally through the empty hallways, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, making my way to the farthest corner of the school, the North quad. Besides housing most of the freshman home rooms, it also houses the world’s grimiest bathroom. That fact would have deterred me from using it, but there was one very important reason why the bathroom that really wasn’t more than a cold, concrete box was my hiding spot. No one ever used it. It was my own private oasis.
I walk in expecting someone to occupy one of the three stalls. As always I’m left alone. I shut and lock the door behind him looking for some privacy
I sit with my back to the door and sigh heavily.
“How did I get here?” I say to no one in particular, obviously. I close my eyes tight against the harsh flourescent lights, and think back to two months previous.
I would have never been caught dead in this bathroom. Two months earlier I had friends, friends I cared about and who I thought cared about me. Two months earlier when my life was damn near perfect.
But life isn’t perfect, it’s often ugly and messy. Especially when you superstar basketball player breaks up with you very publicly in the middle of the caf. He said he met someone else, a prep school skank who he “connected” with on levels that me and him just didn’t. In layman’s terms, she put out and I didn’t. I thought my friends would rush to my side, would comfort me, and tell me what a loser he was for dumping such a great gal in such a harsh way.
But they didn’t rush to my side, they didn’t comfort me. When I made my way to our table, they quietly picked up their trays and left me standing there, mascara streaking down my cheeks. I ditched the rest of the day, curled up in bed, and cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up the following day, something had changed. I was over my ex boyfriend, over my ex friends, and over the person I was. I pretended to be someone I wasn’t for way too long.
I didn’t wait around for Kenzie to call. I didn’t wait around for her to tell me get dressed so we could hit the mall for some serious retail therapy. I didn’t wait because deep down I knew she wouldn’t call.
That was the day I stopped caring. Stopped caring about what people thought of me, stopped caring about the things that weren’t worth caring about, stopped caring about the people I once cared so much for. I didn’t care that I wasn’t good enough for their group.
I realized in the midst of tears and anger the night before that my friends really weren’t my friends. The girls I shared secrets with, were people I suddenly couldn’t trust. The girls I thought would always stand by me, were suddenly no where in sight. And why? Beecause I no longer had a cool basketball player boyfriend.
Instead of hitting up the botiques I once longed for, I found a Good Will store. I bought low ride bell bottoms, flannel shirts that would make Kurt Cobain green with envy, a wicked pair of eggplant colored t-strap Doc Marten’s, and tons more. I grabbed from every rack around me.
“Can I donate some clothes?” I asked the woman manning the register? She looked up from the trashy romance novel she was reading, dog-eared the page and looked me over. She judged me instantly, a rich girl rebelling. But this wasn’t a rebellion it was a revolution!
“Honey, look around you! Everything is donated,” she snarled back.
I heaved my findings on the counter, she rang me up. I went back to the dressing room that was really nothing more than a closet covered with a shower curtain I was certain was see through. I changed as quickly as possible, hoping no one would catch a flash of flesh.
On the way I dropped the one hundred-dollar jeans, the polo shirt worth a small country, and the oversized sunglasses I once cherished.
“Donations,” was all I said as I flew out the door, letting the bells chime behind me.
I stopped off at a bakery a few store fronts down from the Good Will. The window boasted a pumpkin spiced donut that I couldn’t resist. I’m a sucker for anything pumpkin spiced. As I chased the first donut with a tall glass of whole milk the girl behind the counter brought over another donut.
“You look like you could use another,” she said placing the plate down on the wooden table.
I pulled out a few crumpled dollars from the new hoodie I was wearing.
“It’s on the house,” she said, winking, and returning to her station behind the counter.
“Thanks,” I said, but she didn’t turn around, didn’t acknowledge it. As I left the empty bakery I slipped a five in the tip jar.
When I got home that night I cleared out my closet, throwing articles of clothing this way and that, replacing the Lauren polos with Veruca Salt t-shirts and Abercrombie fitted skinny jeans with already broken in black cords. The flip-flops, wedges, and sparkling heels flew out of the closet and into the heap on the floor. They were quickly replaced with second-hand Doc Marten’s, and several black pairs of practically new Chuck Taylors.
This closet full of Good Will clothing represented the girl I was on the inside, the girl who was itching to come out, the girl I finally unleashed. I walked into the bathroom that was connected to my oversized bedroom, picked up a pair of scissors, and began hacking off chunks of hair.
When I walked into school the Monday after my revolution that’s when the stares, the whispers, and the notes started.
I must have fallen asleep propped up against the bathroom door. When I wake, the lunch bell is ringing. I’ve missed Chemistry and American History. I pick myself off the floor and unwillingly leave my bathroom sanctuary. I make a bee-line for the North parking lot where my midnight Chevy Malibu is parked.
Once outside I stand in front of my car, staring at the note. It’s written on pastel pink paper. She’s slipping. This note isn’t as clever as all the rest. I slide on top of the car, snatch the note, fold it neatly, and put it in my hoodie pocket. I take out my brown bagged lunch containing a cherry vanilla cola, a granny smith apple, a small container of honey roasted chunky peanut butter, and a Twinkie.
I sit on the hood of my car and eat my lunch, enjoying the silence. The lot is a deserted sea of cars. No one ever eats their lunch out here, mainly because it isn’t allowed. I finish my apple and peanut butter first, purposely saving the Twinkie for last.
“Is this seat taken?” Frankie Perez says suddenly appearing before me and my car. I don’t respond. Instead, I move the crumpled brown bag away from the spot next to me as to indicate he is free to sit if he wants to. He slides smoothly next to me.
“I hate eating in there,” he says attempting to make conversation. I nod in agreement. The cafeteria is gross.
“You know, I left a french fry on the ledge of the chalkboard freshman year. It’s still there.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“As a sort of science experiment. I pride myself on being somewhat of a science wiz, you know.”
“I didn’t know.”
“You never bothered to get to know that is.”
“You never bothered either.”
He pulls a partially smoked cigarette from the folded cuff sleeve of his white v-neck shirt. He takes a puff or two, and then leaned back on his elbow. I take the Twinkie out of the bag, unwrap it, and break it in half. Noticing that Frankie Perez doesn’t have anything to eat, I offer him the broken off half. He takes it and smiles at me.
“What it say this time?”
“See for yourself,” I said taking the carefully folded note from my hoodie pocket.
“Nice flannel lesbo,” he read aloud, handing the note back to me. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly.
“I don’t need your sympathy.”
“I know you don’t.” He looks me square in the eye. “You shouldn’t be treated that way.” He slips off the hood and saunters away. He mutters something inaudible. I ask what he said, but he just keeps on walking, leaving me there confused and unnerved.
I head to lit class after lunch, the only class that is worth my time. Within minutes of the bell ringing I sit in my assigned seat. I’m early, which is unusual for me. But I want to speak to Frankie Perez. Not just want to, but need to. Besides home room this is the only other class he and I share. But he doesn’t show. Not when the bell rings, not even when Mr. Haiber hands back our In Cold Blood essays at the end of class. Any other day this wouldn’t have bothered me. But today, it does.
Frankie Perez is AWOL. I don’t see him, not even a glimpse in the hallway for the rest of the day. When I push and shove my way to my locker, I find yet another note. But this time it’s not cruel, it’s not from her. On a scrap of paper with scribbled science notes on the back, the note reads:
“Call me. 732-171-1711.”
I know who left the note, Frankie Perez. But I don’t know why he left it, or why he wants me to call him, or why he’s even interested in talking to me. I dig around in my bag trying to find my cell phone that is most likely buried at the bottom of the bag. When I fish it out, it’s dead. It usually is. Why bother charging it when no one ever bothers to call.
When I get home I sit myself at one of the bar stools that surrounds the center island. I stare at the phone from my perch. I don’t understand why calling Frankie Perez is so enthralling, yet so nerve wracking. I’ve called guys before, but never a guy like him.
I pick up the receiver and dial. The line on the other end picks up on the second ring, as if someone was sitting by and waiting for the phone to ring.
“Hello,” I said tentatively, not sure who was on the other end of the line.
“Meet me at school, at nine sharp.”
“Meet me at nine sharp,” he replies before hanging up.
I’m restless for the rest of the afternoon. I pace my bedroom for hours on end. Why does he want me to meet him? And why at school? Why does Frankie Perez even care about me? At this point I’m not one hundred percent certain I’m even going to meet him.
But hours later I find myself walking to the school. I walk for two very specific reasons. One I’m not entirely sure of what exactly I’m meeting Frankie Perez for. And two, I’m sure whatever it is could lead us both into some trouble. The darkness outside is all-consuming, and it unnerves me. I quicken my pace, cut through a deserted parking lot full of overgrown weeds, take whatever shortcut there is to get to the school. When I get there twenty minutes later, Frankie Perez is waiting for me. I’m several feet away, and can’t make out any features, but I know it’s him.
I approach slowly, in case my instincts of who the shadowed is. I don’t want anyone other than Frankie Perez to know I’m here. When I’m closer, I’m certain it’s him. The beam of light streaming from the lone street light shines on his face, as if illuminating his perfectly sculpted face.
“You came,” he says instead of hello. A thread of shocked woven into his naturally steady voice.
“You said to meet you here at nine, didn’t you?”
“I did. But that doesn’t mean you would actually show.”
“It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t either.”
“You’re a lot braver than people give you credit for, you know that?”
“I do,” I answer nonchalantly.
“Well brave girl, let’s go.”
I don’t ask what we’re up to. I don’t question any of Frankie Perez’s motives, no matter how good or bad they be. I don’t question my own judgement or lack thereof. I just follow, trusting in this boy I’ve only really known for one day.
We stop just outside the gymnasium’s sealed doors. Through the open windows the sounds of ‘rah, rah, sis, boom, bah’ wafts out. I stop in my tracks, frozen with fear. Frankie Perez doesn’t notice I’m not longer at his side.
Through clenched teeth, I whisper “What are we doing here?”
“Do you trust me?”
I stare doe eyed at him, taken aback by his question.
“Do you trust me?” He prods on.
“Than do so,” he said turning his back to me, striding to the unlocked door. I quickly trailed him, and when inside the empty hallway, closed the door silently behind me.
“This way,” Frankie Perez says heading towards the janitor’s closet that’s located just feet past the gymnasium door. Frankie Perez knocks three times on the closed-door. From the other side I can hear someone shuffling about in the small room. The door opens and a taller version of Frankie Perez appears before my eyes.
“This is my brother Alex. Here’s the night janitor here.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say extending a hand to shake. He just looks at my pale hand and leaves it hanging there.
“Here,” Alex says shoving a few buckets and a few bottles of some identifiable liquids. “Now get lost before you get me fired.” He turns and closes the door behind him.
“Follow me,” Frankie Perez.
“Not until you tell me what we’re doing here?”
“Painting the roses red,” he replies with a slick smile. Before I have time to question what this actually mean, Frankie continues,”My brother rigged up fish line over and around the gym doors. All we have to do is full the buckets, lift them over the door frames, tie a part of the line to the door handles, and wait and watch.”
“What’s this red stuff?” I ask holding up a label-less bottle.
“Red food dye. It’s harmless if consumed, but will ultimately dye their skin.”
We set to work, I fill one bucket while Frankie fills the other. When both are full of the think red food coloring, I watch Frankie Perez finish knotting and hoisting. From inside the gym, I hear the coach calling it a night. Sneakers screech on the gym floor, shuffling from one point to another. Frankie Perez grabs hold of my hand, and pulls me to a dark spot just around the corner. A spot where we could see but wouldn’t be seen.
We wait for what seems like forever, but in reality is only five minutes. I silently hope and pray that the girls the red dye is meant for walk out first. As luck would have it the Roses walk out first, the three of them, gym bags slung over their shoulders, the arms linked to one anothers. Kenzie, Karman, and Kaycee.
The moment they step through the door, the buckets above topple over to the side, emptying the red, gooey contents on top of their heads. They’re shocked, frozen in the spot they stand in, dripping head to toe with red dye, and screaming. They spit, sputter, and curse. Furious that such a travesty has happened to them. The rest of the cheer squad point and laugh at them. I slap a hand over my mouth in a solid effort to keep my own laughter at bay.
As they begin to wipe away the excess dye I can see their pale skin has a deep red tint to it. Victory is sweet!
Frankie Perez begins to move, but I don’t follow. I too am frozen in this spot, wanting to see this unfold. But I can’t stay rooted there.
I hurry towards Frankie Perez. Together we walk down the dark hallway to the South quads entrance/exit. We slip out the door, and are greeted by the brightness of the parking lot’s street lights.
“Thank You Frankie Perez.”
“You’re welcome Kimberly Johnson.”
The writing prompt for August is:
“A note is left on a car for you.”