“Hey”, he sneers out the side of his mouth. “Hey!” a little harsher, a little breathier.
I wait for it, the blush. The agonizing flush I can never stop. I stare straight ahead, eyes on the board, palms and pits producing a trickling sweat.
“You know, you gotta have…the ugliest nose I’ve ever seen.” he hisses.
I shift forward and put my hands flat on my desk. Perspiration mixes with Comet dust overlooked by the janitor and forms a balmy paste over my flattened grip.
It’s Valentine’s Day and there’s a buzz in the room. Girls are giggling, glossing lips, guys are shuffling shoes, checking the clock.
My flower will come and I’ll be vindicated. He’ll see how wrong he is to taunt me. He’ll realize someone doesn’t think of me as ugly.
The Carnations are a big deal; a yearly tradition. They are three dollars of hard-earned pocket money so selecting a recipient is serious business.
Boys send them to girls, girls send them to boys and friends, to one another. Most are fired off anonymously; the only ones signed stemming from legit daters and official best friends. No one else dare be so outwardly presumptuous.
“You probably think you’re gonna get a flower, don’tcha?” he jeers.
I try to lift my hand discreetly, bringing it up to block my apparently hideous nose and my now stinging eyes. I will not cry in front of him, but the smell of the Comet coming from my grit-covered hand is burning my nostrils and losing me my battle.
“You think you can hide that big banana?” he laughs. “Good luck with that. Good luck with that and that greasy skin of yours.”
I like to think it’s the fumes. My eyes brim and I know he’ll be glad he’s gotten to me, regardless of cause.
“Are you crying?” he mocks.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see his knee bouncing up and down. His leg jostles a mile a minute causing the frayed hem of his jeans to swing back and forth.
Although tears are the last thing I want him to see, they do make him back off. No one wants to be responsible for making someone cry in class. It meant a trip to the office and a call home, neither popular consequences.
I tilt my head and stare through the window. Outside is bleak. It’s been a particularly cold February and the wind is whipping through the trees. I swallow the lump in my throat and long to be out there. Outside in the blustering gales coatless would be better than having to sit here, enduring him.
Attempting to pay attention to the lesson being taught, I try not to think of my chemically transformed skin, my nose or my imminent flower. I’ve almost accomplished all of it when there’s a knock on the door causing an eruption of excitement amongst the other students.
I simply freeze. What if it hadn’t worked? Or worse, what if I had somehow messed it up and it wasn’t anonymous after all? The sweat amplifies and my heart close to stops.
“You’re getting greasier by the second, loser.” he says in a snide tone.
My eyes are glued on the flower bearers. I can’t look anywhere else. They’re shouting out name after name above the din and after what seems an eternity; mine is the only one hanging in the silence that has suddenly filled the room.
As hard as it is to have all eyes on me, I lift my cement-stiff body out of the desk and force my heavy legs to move towards the front of the class.
As I get closer, confusion sets in. Two flowers are being held out.
“Do you want me to pass one to someone?” I whisper, my face flaming with prickly heat.
“Nope, both for you…lucky,” the girl says a little meanly, “I didn’t get any.”
It shouldn’t have, but it made me tingle inside.
The tingling shrouds the walk back to my desk and shields me from the stares and snickers. I sit down in a trance-like state, eyes stuck on the blooms laid out in front of me. Their sweet aroma replaces the smelly Comet, their pastel shades swapped for the unicolor scheme outside.
A legit Valentine’s Day Carnation. I do a quick mental check; no, I’d only sent myself one. I was sure.
“Two?” I hear him burst, “I don’t believe it.” he almost sounds wounded. “You sent those to yourself,” he guesses, “It had to be you! Who else?”
My face sears and my throat tightens. He’s managed to break through my bubble and yank me back to miserable reality. Only reality has changed. Someone thought of me…someone liked me.
The bell to end the school day rings and he gets up quickly, “See ya later, freak show.”
I wait for everyone to leave, their chatter slowly quieting as they file out one by one.
I want to pack the flowers in my bag without the other kids watching. I want to make sure they come home safe, unscarred.
As I swing my legs, now light, around the side of my seat, something catches my eye, a small square of flimsy paper. It’s pink. I recognize it instantly and my heart skips a beat as I quickly look around. If anyone has seen it, I’ll be the laughing-stock of the school, the butt of every joke, as opposed to now, the butt of only most.
Everyone is gone and I steal a moment to breathe a big, deep breath.
Reaching down to grab the Carnation receipt, my fingers fumble over the waxy paper. As I bring it closer to my face, I realize it doesn’t belong to me. My name is boldly printed in the recipient’s box sure enough, but the printing’s not mine. It’s his.
© 2012 The Wrought Writer