ArrangedBy: Sara Wolf
“The Care Bears were a metaphor for my sunny personality and ability to spread love.”
“So that’s what you were doing in room 109 - spreading ‘love’.” My mouth runs on autopilot.
“I wouldn’t exactly call what happened last night in that room ‘love’,” He laughs.
“What would you call it?”
“Fun,” He flashes a smile. “A break from the complete boredom of this place. And life.”
There’s something sad in his eyes when he says that. But he shakes it off, playful glint returning.
“You know, for someone who called me a pervert, you sure do pick a lot of phallic breakfast foods.” He motions at the half-eaten banana and éclair.
“Aw, c’mon,” Jen snorts. “Rose wouldn’t know ‘phallic’ if it jumped in red paint and screamed at her.”
I blush and push my breakfast tray away from me. Lee chuckles.
“Don’t you have some ho to pick on somewhere else?” . Jen sighs.
“Yeah, yeah.” He starts back to his table. “Don’t get so overprotective.”
Jen huffs and downs my éclair in one bite, shooting him glares as she chews as if to spite him as he walks away.
“Nice going.” She swallows. “You got some good hits on his ego. Keep that patriarchal society down, one playboy retard at a time.”
“You guys were pretty friendly,” I say. The swim team leaves. I watch Lee’s broad, retreating back.
“I hate him, he hates me, we have fun hating on each other. He’s a moron, a total player, but not a bad guy, really. Plus, I know his sister.”
“Sister?” I ask.
“Yeah, really pretty model who comes to our shows sometimes. Grace is her name. We became friends first, before Lee entered the picture. He lives with her in her fancy apartment downtown.”
People are starting to come in to the cafeteria. Jen stands and claps me on the shoulder.
“See you in Lit?”
“Yeah,” I smile. “Later.”
First class – chem. The seats are empty when I walk in. Professor Cruz shoots me a smile.
“Early as always, Brown.”
“I just really like your class.”
“Do you?” She smiles, and adjusts her glasses. “Thank you. It’s always a pleasure to hear that.”
It’s a lie. I don’t like any of my classes. But I pretend to. Maybe if I pretend and lie enough, it’ll become truth. I used to like studying, but I’ve done so much of it I’m getting burnt out. But I can’t afford a burn out, not with the scholarship looming over my head. I have to do well. I’m Rose Jensen – and Rose Jensen always does well.
I blaze through the test and finish first. I double check my answers, pray hard, and turn it in. My phone buzzes in my pocket. I shoot a look at Professor Cruz, who waves me outside. In the hall, I read a text from Mom.
‘Your grandpa died this morning. The funeral is this weekend. Call me? Love you.’
Grandpa – the balding, gap-toothed old man who played baseball with me when I was young and told me stories about the war. He has – had - a farmhouse near San Fran. We visited him every Christmas and Thanksgiving. My brother Riley and I spent summers at the farmhouse, playing in the fields and exploring the river out back. He’s dead. My eyes well with tears.
‘I’ll come up on the bus on Friday’. I text back. ‘Love you. Stay strong.’
The hall is empty, classes in session. I slide down against the wall and hug my knees to my chest. I don’t know why I’m crying so hard. I’m sure Grandpa’s fine where he is now. He’s with Grandma. He’s happy. I’m not crying for him. I’m crying because of the memories, because I’ve lost something, and it hurts.
I don’t notice the footsteps until they’re right in front of me.
“Hey, you okay?”
Please, no. Don’t let it be him. I look up - Lee. His face darkens when he realizes it’s me.
“Me,” I wipe my eyes hurriedly and stand.
“We’re running into each other a lot,” He tries, half-smiling. I turn on my heel and hold my books tight to my chest. I need a quiet place to cry. I need my room. I need anywhere but here.
“Just leave me alone!” I shout. He stops in his tracks.
“Alright,” His voice is low. “I’m sorry. I had no idea you were so upset.”
I give a watery scoff and walk down the hall, leaving him behind in a square of sunshine.
Selena’s bed is empty. She must’ve gotten up to get something to ease the hangover. I’m grateful for the empty room. I flop onto my bed and hug the pillow. My sobs are quieter, but they don’t hurt any less.
The week passes in a painful blur. I feel as terrible as I look – pale and red-eyed all the time. Selena doesn’t even badger me to come to parties, and that’s saying something. Work at the Bistro is easier – there aren’t people everywhere asking if you’re okay. The shop has several wrought-iron tables outside for the customers. The smell of warm, fresh muffins and cakes is mouth-watering, and definitely one of my favorite parts of the job. Kory, my heavily-tattooed, early-30’s co-worker mans the register. I slip behind the counter and throw my apron on.