The final bell rang.
There were only a few students in the first-year class at Sister Carissa Literary School for Girls, and we were off for the weekend. We told our teacher good night, then gathered up our things and headed out into the cold. It was that time of year, when the sun was already dying as the day’s classes ended. We were glad the dorm was a short walk from the school building. The full dark of night would come on soon, but we would already be snug and warm in our rooms, looking forward to the next two days of freedom.
I won’t bother them tonight, I thought. My two friends had been more than supportive, letting me bother them whenever I wanted. It was their loss too, they said, and it was easier for three people together than one or two alone.
All the same, I had overstayed my welcome. I had been in either Maggie’s or Lorelei’s room every night this week. Those two had no alone time, and I didn’t want to rob the lovely couple of any more opportunities for making out or other fun things. I should handle this by myself.
Thinking these things, I opened the door and stepped into my room, flicked out a hand to hit the light switch. That’s when I saw the love letter on the floor.
I stood there, hand still on the doorknob, and stared at it. A plain white envelope with a pink heart-shaped sticker on the flap. It lay face-down not far in from the doorway, as if someone had slipped it under the door while I was away.
“Well,” I said. “Can’t say I expected that.”
I moved into the room, careful not to step on the envelope. The door fell shut behind me, and I dumped my school bag on the bed. I stood over the letter, looking down on it.
I tried to make sense of this. An envelope sealed with a pink heart sticker. That had to be a love letter, right? This school was full of girls, and any of them might have girly stationery. Most of us accessorize our tablet computers a month or two into the school year. We might slap cute stickers on the back, glue plastic gems on the front bezel, or tie lanyards to the sides. But a letter slipped through the crack under the door? If anyone wanted to tell me something in writing, they could just email me. Unless they wanted to write me without giving up their own identity. Paper was still better at that than computers.
“Yeah then,” I said. “This must be a love letter.”
This was the second most ridiculous thing that had happened to me in a week. I didn’t want to deal with it. By all rights, I should pick up this letter, crumple it and toss it in the trash. Even better, I should take it back to the faculty office and ask to use their paper shredder. Better still, I should burn the stupid thing, then take the ashes outside and let them spread to the winter winds.
“Great ideas,” I said, reaching down for the letter. “I’ll do all of that, in order.”
I did none of that. Instead, I took the envelope in both hands, then sat back on the bed.
“Who would this even be from?”
At Carissa’s, the other girls my age were already involved. Homewrecker’s had done horrors to the human population, so only four seventh-grade girls had enrolled this year. Everyone else at this school was older than me. That was flattering in a creepy way, but what would an older girl see in me? I was hardly the most mature kid on campus. That title belonged to my friend Lorelei Brandt, who was quiet, brutally smart and spoke two languages. There was also Magdalene Paige, who had the cute-nervous-tomboy thing going for her.
“Yeah,” I said. “Must be a mistake. Probably meant for one of them.”
I turned the envelope over, saw the front of it. Two words were hand-written there, in neat lettering.
I rolled my eyes, let out an annoyed groan. That was the absolute last thing I wanted to see.
“Now I’ve got no excuse.” I hooked a finger under the flap and pulled it open, tearing the pink heart sticker. There was a single piece of college-ruled paper inside, folded into thirds. I pulled the paper out and unfolded, careful not to rip it. The page was covered in the finest handwriting I had ever seen, all in black ink from a nice pen. Every letter was justified on the ruling, as if the author had never forgotten the letter-shaping lessons hammered into our heads in second grade.
I took a deep breath, and started reading.
I’m sorry to do it like this. I really wish I were strong enough to come up to you and say right to your face, “Hey, I’m in love with you.” But I’m not. I’m not brave with my feelings like you are. That’s part of what makes me like you so much. Both how little you care and how much you care. I don’t know what I’m trying to accomplish by writing this. My mind has been spinning with you, and I had to let it out somehow. Now that you’ve read this, I guess I’ll stand back and watch you like I have for the last couple of months, and see how you react. If you’re not interested, then say so. Tell everyone you got this love letter and you totally wish whoever wrote it would get run over by a truck. I’ll hear about it, and I’ll be heartbroken, but I won’t bother you again. But if you ARE interested, then say that instead. Tell your friends you’re curious who I am. I’ll hear that too, and maybe I’ll scrape together the courage to come talk to you.
I close my eyes... and I can see you. Your bright yellow hair, tied in a ponytail. Your mischievous grin. The always-burning fire in your eyes. I can hear your voice, declaring your plans to take over the world, challenging the teachers and the older students. Just the thought of you hurts. How would you look with your hair down? How would you feel in my arms? What would your lips taste like on mine?
This must be the worst time for you to hear all this. I’m so, so sorry about Bianca. I know you two were close, and I can’t even imagine how that must feel. I know this makes me a horrible person, writing this letter so soon after. I just thought, if you wanted a shoulder to cry on, I’d love to be that shoulder. I can’t replace her, and I wouldn’t try, but it might make the hardship easier to have someone who loves you nearby.
So, it’s your move now. Remember – if you let me, I’ll do everything I can to make you happy.
I looked at the letter, shocked. I let it rest in my lap, staring into space as I processed what I had just read.
An older girl had a crush on me. She had known about me and Bianca, and had stayed away despite her feelings. I didn’t know how real those feelings were, but I couldn’t doubt their intensity. How else would a girl with perfect handwriting write a meandering love letter? She must be so wound up in her own emotions that it seemed like a good idea, and she was desperate enough to feel like she had no choice.
I like to think of myself as a decisive and proactive person, but I was beaten here. What should I do, if anything?
I should ask for help. There were two girls I could ask for an objective point of view, even though I didn’t want to bother them. Best to compromise – I would check to see how much of an annoyance I was.
I set the letter aside, then turned around and grabbed my school bag. I pulled out my tablet and flicked at the button on the side, bringing the screen to life. With a few gestures, I accessed the contacts and composed an email.
I know I said I’d
leave you two alone tonight, but something happened.
I hit the send button, then waited. I let my neck go limp, resting my forehead on the bed covers. There was a bit of Bianca’s smell, so I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply.
This should hurt. Remembering her should hurt.
It hadn’t, not yet.
My tablet made a chirping noise. I looked up, saw a new email displayed.
Don’t you even worry for a second. We said we’d be here for you, and we meant it. What’s up?
I hit the reply button and shot another email back.
I got a love letter.
The response came within seconds.
Get over here right now.
Tablet under one arm and love letter in hand, I knocked on the door to Maggie’s room. The door cracked open, letting warm light into the hallway. A girl’s face poked out, framed with uneven brown hair.
“Delivery!” I said, holding up the letter. “One order of soap opera drama, payment by COD or duel to the death.”
Maggie didn’t react to my non sequitur jokes anymore. She took it for what it was, the weird girl next door saying hi.
“Hey,” she said, pulling the door open. This revealed the tall and pretty girl standing nearby, with her wavy black hair and straight-cut bangs. I shoved the letter at her.
“Here you go, Lorelei,” I said. “Take this and read it out loud, in French.”
Maggie reached up and snagged the letter. Shame that was. I’m always trying to get Lorelei to talk, since it’s so hard to do.
“Not now, Cheryl,” said Maggie, giving me an irked look. “This is serious. Get in here and sit down.”
“Fine, geeze.” I went past them, plopped myself down on the bed, then set my tablet in my lap and pretended to click on things. I acted casual, but the edge in Maggie’s voice meant more than either of us would admit. She had just been starting to enjoy a night alone with her girlfriend.
Maggie sat at the writing desk, held up the letter and read through it. Lorelei closed the door, then stood by and read over her shoulder.
“Um, wow.” Maggie finished reading, then held up the letter to let Lorelei see more closely. “This is pretty heavy. Either this is the world’s worst prank, or someone really likes you.”
“Probably a prank,” I said, not looking up from my tablet. “Some of the older girls don’t like me.”
“I don’t know. It’d have to be one of those ‘ha ha, only serious’ kinds of pranks. I mean, look at this.” She pointed to the letter in Lorelei’s hands. “What would your lips taste like on mine? Ouch. I don’t see someone saying that without meaning it.”
“You fail to respect the cruelty of our upperclassmen,” I said. “Every word and deed is finely crafted to cause maximum suffering in we poor whelps.”
“What will you do?” said Lorelei. Her voice is clean and cold, soft and smooth. It’s a treat, hearing her talk. She makes every word count.
I looked up. “Not sure. Part of me wants to find who wrote it and slap her head through the wall, for many reasons. But I’ll probably just ignore it.”
“That might be best,” said Maggie. “This is the worst time to get a love letter. Not only is the contest happening, but... well.”
She didn’t need to say it. We were all thinking it, had been living it this past week. Thinking about it, I let out a bitter laugh.
“That must be it,” I said. “That letter is someone’s submission for the contest. I can’t think of anything more fictional.”
Maggie shook her head. “I really don’t think this is fake—”
My tablet cut her off, letting out a chirp. I looked down, saw I had a new email.
“Such a burden, being popular.” I was glad for the distraction. With two clicks, I opened the message. “Oh, hey. It’s from the council. What fun.”
“The council?” said Maggie. “What’s it say?”
I read it aloud.
The faculty recently brought a serious issue to the council’s attention, an issue that directly concerns you. For the sake of a safe learning environment and your continued participation at this school, we must ask that you meet with the council. We are in session for an hour after classes today. If you are not available at this time, please reply with your schedule for the next two days, and we can convene again at the right time to see you.
Please reply ASAP.
Student Council, Sister Carissa Literary School for Girls
The email ended with a signature image, based on the school’s logo. I looked up, waiting for my friends’ reactions.
“Sounds like you’re in trouble,” said Maggie. Lorelei nodded.
“I can’t think what for.” I said. “I haven’t lipped off to any teachers or punched anyone in at least five minutes.”
“Then maybe the Battery is trying to get back at you for something,” said Maggie.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Don’t call her that. No one calls her that.”
“Only the people who don’t like her.” Maggie took the letter from Lorelei, walked over and held it out to me. “You’re one of those, unless you two made up behind my back.”
I took the letter, folded it up so I wouldn’t have to look at the writing. “I don’t dislike her. She’s the one who hates me, god knows why. Make one comment about the council being a useless bunch of blowhards who want to be backstabbing politicians when they grow up, and suddenly I’m a public enemy.”
Maggie smirked. “And you don’t even see why that might upset them.”
“It’s their problem if the truth hurts.” I stabbed at my tablet, composing a reply. “I’ll go see them right now.”
“You want us to come with?” said Maggie.
“No. I’ll go alone. They need to know tonight was not the night to bother me. I have a contest entry to write. That complaint won’t make much sense if it looks like I’m hanging out with friends.”
I sent the reply.
“There.” I held up the tablet, admiring my work. “Simple, yet many meanings. At first it sounds obedient. Then it sounds threatening. Then it sounds sexual. All these and more can be yours, if the price is right.”
Maggie tilted her head at me. Sometimes my references are too obscure.
“Old game show,” I said. “Back when people thought it was fun to spin big wheels on TV. Look it up sometime.”
I stood, shoving the love letter into my pocket and taking my tablet under one arm. I headed out of the room.
“I’ll really try to leave you two alone for the rest of the night,” I said. “In return, I want wild things happening twelve seconds after I’m out the door. I’ll know if you don’t.”
Giving them no chance to object, I went out into the hallway and pulled the door shut behind me. They didn’t need my permission to snuggle, but a friend’s encouragement might get things started that much faster.
“Besides,” I mumbled as I headed out of the dorm. “Someone in our grade should get some.”
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