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Authors: Stephanie Faris

25 Roses (2 page)

BOOK: 25 Roses
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Whatever happened last year, Kaylee’s message was clear. If I messed this up, I’d be messing up something that was really, really good before I got my little hands on it.

“Hi,” I said back, trying to remember the last time Kaylee had spoken to me. Sometime last year, as best I could remember, and even then I think the most she’d said to me was, “Excuse me,” because I was in her way.

“I would like to purchase seven roses,” Kaylee said, handing over a ten-dollar bill.

Seven roses. I held myself back from rolling my eyes. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where those seven roses were going. Seven roses for her seven closest girlfriends, otherwise known as the seventh-grade cheerleading squad. They’d all get roses for each other, and Ashleigh and I would spend the
morning handing them out to those same eight girls.

I held out the notepad and told her to write down the names and the message she wanted written on each card. She just stared at it.

“To Christina, to Faith, to Rosalia, to Claire, to Makayla, to Shonda, and to Ella,” she recited. Then she stopped to stare at me. “Aren’t you going to write this down?”

Sighing, I turned the notepad around and wrote
Kaylee’s friends
on the next seven lines. I’d list out all the names after Kaylee was gone.

“Message?” I asked, looking up at her.

“From Kaylee,” she said as though that should be obvious. She then rolled her eyes and stomped off.

“Wait!” Ashleigh called out. “You forgot your change.” She looked at me, waving the ten-dollar bill around. “She forgot her change.”

“Maybe it’s our tip,” I said. “Do you want to chase after her with it?”

Ashleigh thought about that a minute before putting it in the cashbox. No doubt she was picturing us walking up to Kaylee with three one-dollar bills, holding them out, and Kaylee looking at us like we were annoying her.

No, thank you.

I stared at the box in front of us, filled with blank cards. Two Valentine’s Day committee volunteers would get together after school to fill all the cards out for our grade.

On my notepad were the names of the few people who had bought roses in the past week. I’d been counting on a bunch of people showing up today. That wasn’t happening. If I didn’t figure something out, we’d lose this contest, and I’d go down in history forever as the girl who ruined the Valentine’s Day fund-raiser.

I imagined the look on my parents’ faces when they realized I wasn’t as good as Kellie . . . and never would be. Maybe I’d even lose my seat in the back squished next to Kellie’s projects, and have to walk to school. Probably not. My parents always said they were proud of me no matter what I did. But I knew parents were supposed to say things like that.

As I looked at the blank cards in the box, I suddenly realized how easy it would be to put names on each of those cards and attach them to roses tonight. I could afford it if I used some of the babysitting money I’d been saving for a new phone. I could slip it into the cashbox before I turned it in tomorrow morning. It would be worth every dime.

I rolled my pen between my thumb and forefinger,
staring down at the notepad in front of me. We’d write the cards based on what was on that notepad. What if, after Alex and Ashleigh rushed off to class, I said that I’d sold a few more roses? With so many people filling out cards, chances were nobody would notice the big chunk of names and messages at the end.

I could write whatever I wanted and nobody would know the difference. And I didn’t have to send them all to “Kaylee’s friends,” either. I could play Cupid and make sure that this year, Cupid’s arrow didn’t strike just the popular people. They’d be happy and I’d win the contest, showing that I could do something as well as Kellie and Kaylee for a change.

I smiled to myself. This year was going to be the best Valentine’s Day ever.

CHAPTER THREE

To: Ashleigh
From: Mia
I hope you don’t figure out I sent all these roses.

The next morning, I took a deep breath and stared down at the stack of roses on the rolling cart in the school office. I had a good reason to be so nervous. Before yesterday’s meeting, I’d snuck into the girls’ restroom to write twenty-five messages at the bottom of the list. Each message had been from a “secret admirer,” and those names had ended up on twenty-five cards. I’d checked to make sure they were all there while we were loading up the cart before school. I didn’t even want to think about the trouble I’d be in if I got caught. Could I get in serious trouble? Would I even be in trouble, since I’d paid for them out of my own pocket?

I just had to forget about that and hand them out.

The bell rang, signaling the beginning of homeroom. Time to roll.

My heart pounded as I opened the door and Ashleigh pushed the cart through. She had no idea one of those roses was for her. I’d made sure hers was on the bottom.

Homerooms at Stanton Middle School were organized by last names alphabetically, making this a piece of cake. We’d organized the roses by last name. We headed toward the classroom where the
A
s through
C
s were and knocked.

“I think Cupid’s here,” the always-cheerful Ms. Michaletz said as she whipped the door open and waved us in. Both Ashleigh and I were wearing red, knowing everyone would be watching us.

Two of Kaylee’s girls and four people receiving fake secret admirer roses, including Gillianni Carter, were in this homeroom. Gillianni was pretty, but she hid behind long, straight hair and baggy clothes. She had this
I don’t care
look about her that tended to scare people off. But she didn’t scare me.

I gave Faith and Shonda theirs first, taking in their smug smiles before looking over at Gillianni. She seemed to almost shrink into the background as she stared sadly down at her notebook. I knew if anyone asked her, she’d say she
didn’t want a rose, but we all wanted roses. Nobody wanted to sit back and watch everyone else get attention. I knew the feeling.

We handed out six more roses—mostly from girls to boys they were going out with—until all that was left were the four secret admirer roses. I handed two to Ashleigh, and I took the other two, including Gillianni’s.

First there was a rose for Sun Patterson, a girl everyone called “Bucktooth” behind her back because of her long front teeth. As I walked slowly toward her, the two roses clutched tightly in front of me, she watched with a hopeful look on her face. I clearly remembered sitting across from her last year, when she had that same hopeful expression. That expression had fallen when one of Kaylee’s friends had smugly continued on past to give the rose to someone else. Not this year.

This year I stopped in front of her and, with a huge smile on my face, handed one of the chocolate roses to her. I’d written something about her pretty eyes—light blue with long, perfect eyelashes—on the notepad. Those eyes almost seemed to twinkle as she took the rose and set it down on her desk. She was probably waiting until later to open the card, when people weren’t staring at her.

Now for Gillianni. I didn’t know her all that well, but I’d never forgotten the time she’d stood up for me. It was second grade and we were at a school roller-skating party. Three of the girls, including Kaylee’s “girl” Christina, had tripped me, then stood over me laughing. Gillianni skated over and faced off with them, telling them to stop being such jerks.

As I walked toward her, she still didn’t lift her head. She was staring down at an open notebook on her desk, probably studying or something. Either she was convinced I was going to someone else or she didn’t want to get her hopes up. I kept my gaze on her as I approached, rose held out in front of me.

Even when I was standing in front of her, she didn’t look up. I had no other choice. I set the rose down on the desk in front of her and stepped back. No way was I walking off before I saw her reaction.

Slowly she moved her head until she could see the rose. She stared at it, her expression blank. I waited for her to reach out and take it, but finally I had no choice. I had to go.

“Mia,” Ashleigh whispered. Everyone turned to look at me.

I backed away from Gillianni, who had returned her attention to her notebook again. She’d look at the card on her chocolate rose as soon as she thought nobody was watching
her. She’d look at it and smile for the first time probably
ever
. That was what I told myself, anyway.

I turned and headed back toward Ashleigh. She was already rolling the cart toward the door, the stack of roses looking as high as it had been when we walked in here.

The next class was stocked with Kaylee’s friends. Including Kaylee, there were six of them. It wasn’t so hard to hand roses to them now that I knew other people were getting them too. Like Alex, who was seated at the very back of the room.

Part of me wanted to give Alex his rose first, but I knew him. He didn’t care if he got a rose or not. What Alex was doing was watching me with a big smirk on his face. He was laughing deep down inside because I had to do this. I’d make a face at him, but everyone was watching.

Kaylee got twelve roses. Seven were from her friends, two were from boys she’d probably never even noticed, two were from girls who were kissing up to her in hopes of becoming her friends, and one wasn’t signed. Ashleigh took care of handing those over while I handled the rest of her friends. There was nothing fun about giving roses to that group. They fully expected it. But the other people, like the girls who got flowers from their boyfriends, were more than
worth it. Their eyes lit up, and they looked like they wanted to jump up and down.

Because Ashleigh finished first, she was the one who handed Alex’s rose to him. I turned around and there she was, standing in front of him. He stared at the rose like it was some kind of foreign object and finally reached out and took it. As Ashleigh made her way back to me, I found myself frowning at her. Alex was her friend too, so I guess it was selfish for me to want to be the one to hand it to him. There was no way she could know I was the one who sent it.

I glanced back at him as we rolled out of the room. He was reading the writing on the card attached to the rose. I had to fight back a smile as I remembered what I’d written.

Once I was in the hallway, I paused for a second to think about what I was doing. There was a good chance this was going to work. I mentally patted myself on the back. If I pulled this off, that meant I could finally win something like Kellie always did. If our grade could win the lock-in, I’d be a hero, for sure. And I was boosting everyone in the process!

We barely had time to hand out the rest of the roses before the final bell rang. As we walked out of the last homeroom, I was still holding Ashleigh’s rose. I’d grabbed it off the cart to make sure she didn’t see it until I was ready.

We were in the hallway, surrounded by people rushing around us, when finally she turned to look at me. That was when she saw the rose I was holding.

“You forgot one?” she asked. She looked at the classroom door we’d just exited, as if judging whether or not we could go back at this point.

“It’s yours,” I said, holding it out to her.

Of all the roses I’d given out, that was the one that was the most exciting. Just to see her changing expressions—from boredom to confusion to hope to excitement—was worth all the trouble I’d gone through writing all those names and messages. This was definitely the best idea I’d ever had.

“You mean it’s for me?” she asked, still not reaching for it.

I thrust it toward her. “Take it. I’ll get this cart back to the office.”

I couldn’t bring myself to stand there while she read the card. I guess I felt like she’d figure out I’d written it if I was standing there.

“Wait.”

I was several banks of lockers away when I heard Ashleigh calling for me. She was rushing to catch up.

“Who wrote this?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I played totally dumb. Maybe that
wasn’t a good idea. It had only been a few seconds since we were talking about the rose, after all.

“Who sent this rose to me?” she asked. “And these words. They’re beautiful. Who bought this rose for me?”

My footsteps faltered a little, but I kept rolling the cart. “I don’t know,” I said quickly.

“You have to know,” she said.

This time I looked over at her. I nearly ran over someone before quickly straightening the cart again. She knew. I should have known she’d know. We were BFFs. BFFs knew each other’s cheesy writing.

“All the seventh-grade cards were sold by either you or me,” Ashleigh said. “It wasn’t me, so the person had to have bought the flower from you.”

Oh. Great. That was something that hadn’t occurred to me. I’d been so stressed about getting the flowers sold, I’d totally spaced on this part of it.

“It was on the cart,” I said. “I don’t know where it came from.”

Not the best cover story, but I didn’t have much time. Plus, I wasn’t very good at lying.

Ashleigh thought about that a minute before speaking.
“He must have bought it from one of the other grades. I guess anyone who liked me would know we’re friends, so that makes sense. I mean, the guy couldn’t walk up to you and tell you he was my secret admirer, could he?”

BOOK: 25 Roses
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