Michael S. Crupi is attempting to satisfy his massive ego by studying creative writing in Orlando, Florida. He's a born and bred Jersey boy who's hobbies include the vast consumption of all forms of media and mastering the craft of self deprecation.
Leaving his home at the break of February thirteenth, music blasted into the young man’s skull from a worn-out pair of headphones. His early morning exodus had stopped a second before stepping on the box that laid at his feet. Each face was adorned with pink hearts and a healthy application of glitter. A note hung by an identically pink ribbon, sat atop the prize. It read simply, For you! in even brighter pink ink. Under the written directive was the imprint of lipstick matching the supple lips of a stranger. His heart skipped several beats.
Opening the box revealed a letter inside written in the same color and script as the tag. It smelled of perfume sprayed on generously for effect. The message was standard fare for anonymous love letters. It spoke of looking from afar and rising urges. They were the kind of words he kept secret within his notebooks. It was signed, The Admirer, with hearts dancing all around the letters. His face flushed redder than the ink while the note found a home in his backpack. The bus ride to school was spent in meditation. He had to find out who wrote the note. Then what?
Inside his locker was another message. It was taped behind the single coat hanger and read similar to the previous installment. A thousand, a million, thoughts raced through his head. Was this how he would find his first high school girlfriend? He couldn’t hide the innocent smile on his face, but those around him began to step away at the sight. With the melodic shield over his ears, he was oblivious to their judgment.
The rest of the day was spent in disregard of education with no song to supplement his focus. He couldn’t get the love letters out of his mind. He wondered if he should buy one of the anonymous carnations the school sold. There was no name on the letters so there was no one to address such a rose to.
As he retrieved his belongings at the close of the day, a scrap of paper lay at the bottom of the locker where his bag had been. One hand pulled the headphones over his ears and the other picked the parchment up. It read, Tomorrow. His heart leapt within its cage. There was nothing he could do but wait.
The next day, he strolled into school with a violet pool beneath each eye. How was he supposed to sleep? He had spent his elongated morning dressing the best he could. No band t-shirt ripping at the seams, beat up sneakers, or old jeans. He came in steamed slacks and a polo shirt that hung loosely off his frail frame. He walked in time with his morning playlist with a confidence he did not typically display amongst his peers. When he came to his destination, he reached up carefully to crack the code of his padlock and pulled the locker open. A torrent of trash came rushing out. A half-filled bottle, old homework, used napkins, pencils, pens, crumbs, and just one hairbrush fell out in sad little rush. There was no note inside. He stood there for a moment with his hand still on the latch as leftover iced tea soaked into his once clean shirt. Behind him an audience had formed to watch the show. He could not see the faces nor hear the crowd laughing. He didn’t need to.
A minute later he was huddled in the gap below the farthest stairwell he could find. It would have been easier if he could just cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. When he came out of his trance, he noticed a familiar girl had sat a few feet away. He must have seen her passing in the hall before, but he never saw her take that seat beside him. It was as if she simply appeared. His first instinct was to leave, but he was not sure why. He had been there first and deserved his solitude. Against his potent introversion, he spoke first.
He ripped the headphones off and said, “Uhh, hi.” The words were lined with leftover panic and adrenaline. A long pause followed his first attempt at speech. “What’re you doing?”
“Hiding from someone,” she said. Her voice was dull and her body slouched where she sat. In her hands was one of the carnations he had toyed with purchasing. A note was tied around the stem, but he could not read it from his angle. “What about you?”
“Hiding from everyone,” he replied. The answer came naturally.
“Hmm.” Her pneumonic passed and the two sat there in mutual silence without a word or sigh passed between. “Can I ask you for a favor?”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Can you take this rose? I mean, like off my hands? I feel like it’s too mean to throw away, but there’s no way I can keep it.”
“I can manage that. I just hope he thinks I’m pretty.” The remark was dryly delivered and came automatically. He expected nothing from it, but then the girl was trembling. She was giggling uncontrollably, in fact. Then she burst open and he was laughing all the same. The two held their sides as they mined humor from the vein of a worthless joke.
“I’m sure he’ll see something in you,” she said. A smile lingered on her lips as she spoke while her eyes were moist with the prelude of tears. The bell rang for homeroom throughout the flooded halls and students filed away. The girl was one such student who bolted from her seat under the stairwell. In a flash, she had vanished around the corner and left the young man holding a lone rose that was not his. As he sat embracing his tardiness he was oblivious to three things: the thorn digging into his palm, the headphones that had broken moments ago, and the fool’s grin he shamelessly wore.