Painting the Roses Red

“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?”

“Why what?”

“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.”

“Frankie Perez?”

“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.

“Y-y-yes.”

“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.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Nicole's Stories

One response to “Painting the Roses Red

  1. missprint

    I love the ending of this story. At first the title doesn’t make much sense and I kept waiting for some more overt Alice in Wonderland references. I loved seeing how everything came together by the end of the story and how the car and the notes played such an important role. It was interesting, as a non-driver, to see the car as a kind of haven for Kimberly and how the notes started to take that away from her.

    I wish we could have seen more about “the roses” before they were actually painted just to make the final outcome that much sweeter although I do appreciate why you’d want to focus on Frankie Perez and Kimberly–their dynamic throughout the story and how it slowly starts to change was one of my favorite things about the story.

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