|Offer Him Roses
Author: James Hampton PM
Annalee Rutledge, fourteen, doesn't know why there's a boy soldier from the Civil War hiding in her family's barn, especially since the conflict in which he fought ended almost one hundred and fifty years ago. What Annalee does know is that she loves him—and she's going to do whatever it takes to keep him safe. 7 of 10 now posted.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Fantasy - Chapters: 14 - Words: 26,378 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 17 - Updated: 05-14-13 - Published: 01-29-13 - id: 3096536
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Annalee had expected her grave-cleaning session on Monday to be about the most boring thing she would do over spring break this year. Tuesday, however, brought an activity she found just as unexciting, if not more so: visiting the Greene Island skate park, a little collection of ramps on a fenced-in concrete slab, at the edge of a water oak-studded public park. She always felt uncomfortable when she went there, as if she were an intruder, and indeed that was what she considered herself. After all, Annalee knew nothing about skateboarding and didn't care to learn; but her two same-aged friends—Kara Waverly and Melissa Harper—had insisted on going, even though they, like Kara, weren't much interested in skateboarding themselves; they just wanted to ogle the guys who were. Annalee found their behavior a bit tiresome, but she went along with them anyway; it was either that or stay at the house, alone.
Kara's boyfriend practically lived at the skate park. The boy's name was Shawn Hudson and he was there so much that Annalee sometimes wondered how he was able to find any time for Kara. She suspected he didn't find much, given the hours he put in here.
If Kara was there to ogle one particular guy, Melissa was there to ogle pretty much all the others. She was adept at concealing her interest, Annalee had to admit; she could carry on a fairly decent conversation even as she observed the skaters in her peripheral vision.
Annalee took pride in not being an ogler; she just hadn't figured out what, exactly, she was when she accompanied her friends on trips like this. She had known Melissa all of her life and Kara nearly as long; they were close, she wanted to think, but there were times when she was seized with a burning jealousy: of Melissa, because of her flowing blond hair, bronze skin, and long, smoothly muscled legs; of Kara, with her reddish-brown locks and slender waist, because she was the daughter of a man who had made a small fortune in real estate, a fortune he was pleased to lavish on his eldest daughter. In her grimmer moods, Annalee pondered the notion that Melissa and Kara liked to invite her to come to the skate park because she made the two of them look even better by comparison—as if they needed help in the first place.
They wouldn't do that.
The boys in the park mostly ignored them as they prepared to sit down on one of the several stone benches arranged nearby. Shawn—a tall, lanky kid with dark hair and even darker eyes, who seemed to be in a state of perpetual brooding—sailed up to Kara on his board and pecked her once, briefly, on the lips before returning to his friends among the ramps. He said nothing, or at least nothing, Annalee could hear, but the kiss certainly seemed to satisfy Kara, who, with her flushed cheeks and the distant, dreamy look in her eyes, appeared as if she might faint from sheer joy.
Then a male voice, all too familiar to her, called out, "Hey—is that Annalee?"
She felt sure he knew the answer to that already.
"Jonathan," Kara mumbled, as if Annalee needed to be told.
And, yes, here was: Jonathan Ross, zooming toward the three girls on his board but only focused on one of them. He was Shawn's best friend; wherever you found one, you typically found the other. He was as tall as Shawn, maybe even taller, and just about as thin. But here the similarity ended. As Shawn was dark-hued and somber, Jonathan was all light and good cheer. His hair was a fiery reddish-blond, his eyes cornflower blue. He had moved down from Savannah last year, but his outgoing personality had earned him fast-track admission into the social milieu of teenagers living on Greene Island. From the start he had shown Annalee an inordinate amount of attention, all of it friendly, maybe a little too friendly, and she was still trying to figure out whether she liked that attention or not. He loved to say her name, so much so that sometimes she felt as if he were making fun of it—and her. For example, Jonathan seemed to have in his head at least a few lines from almost every Top 40 song since the 1960s, and delighted in singing these revised song fragments with Annalee's name inserted in them, always loud enough for others to hear. But she reminded herself that often guys expressed affection toward their guy friends through teasing, some of which she thought was pretty harsh. She suspected at least some of the boys on the receiving end of that teasing would have agreed with her, but chose to grin and bear it because they understood that if they were labeled overly sensitive it would only invite further ridicule.
So she was pretty sure he did it because he liked it her.
But did she like Jonathan Ross back?
The jury was still out on that one.
If only, Annalee often thought, he would just clean up a little—just a little—he'd be so much cuter.
On several occasions, after working up a sweat while skateboarding, he had come over to her and attempted to put his arm around her, not a good thing since, due to their height differential, her head rose to about even with his armpit. But worse than some occasional body odor—which was at least understandable following physical exertion—was Jonathan's apparent aversion to using Band-Aids. He was constantly suffering nasty scrapes from skateboarding, a number of which were visible on his forearms, elbows, knees, and even face, particularly his nose and chin—but never used a bandage to cover any of them up. Each week it seemed to Annalee that Jonathan had some new crater of ragged flesh on his body, big and round like a half-dollars, or a stretch of bloody furrows to exhibit to the world. She sat one desk over from him in English class and every so often would notice, to her great revulsion, the way some of his newer wounds glistened under the classroom's fluorescent lights. She almost felt she could reckon time by the progress his skin had made in knitting itself back together: how one injury was fresh and soggy, how another boasted a crusty scab, and how the scab of another still had fallen off to reveal a patch of delicate, rejuvenated pink skin.
He arrived in front of the girls, stopping with a heel drag that he made look as natural as breathing. He stared down at Annalee, a broad grin on his face.
"Hi," he said, not even acknowledging Kara or Melissa.
"Hi," Annalee responded, glancing up at him briefly, and then looking down at the ground. Yet she could feel Jonathan's eyes on her, and was sure he still wore that big dumb smile.
Jonathan let a few seconds of awkward silence elapse—well, awkward for Annalee anyway—before he followed up with, "How are ya?"
"I'm good." She did not make eye contact with him this time.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that."
Annalee did not reply.
"The top of your head looks nice today," Jonathan observed.
This remark got Annalee to look up again. "You've got the sun behind you. It hurts my eyes."
"That's not the sun. That's my natural radiance."
Melissa giggled; Annalee sensed she would rather Jonathan be talking to her right now, and by laughing at what really wasn't all that funny a line hoped to get his attention.
"Would you like to know how I'm doing?" Jonathan asked.
"I'm doing good too," he answered himself, "now that you're here to watch me."
"I just came with my friends," Annalee responded. She was starting to enjoy the banter; she couldn't help herself.
"Oh, Annalee," Jonathan sighed, shaking his head. "Annalee, Annalee, Annalee…"
Stop saying my name so much!
"You probably ought to get back out there," Annalee said, "and practice some more."
In other words, I'm telling you to go away—but I know that if I tell you to go away, it'll only make you want to bother me even more. And it's kind of fun when you bother me. So I'm sort of telling you to stay and go at the same time.
"Will you cheer for me if I do something really cool out there?"
"Why not? What have I ever done to you?"
"You're annoying me," Annalee said, although she was fighting not to laugh at the feigned hurt in his voice.
"How am I annoying you?" He sounded much too aggrieved to be serious. "I'm just trying to talk to you. That's all."
"Well, I don't want to talk right now."
"Why don't you want to talk to me?"
"Just go out there, please."
"Will you talk to me later?"
"Yeah, if I'm still here later."
"I'm not just talking about today. I'm talking about at school."
"Yes! Yes! Will you go now?"
"You said you'd cheer for me if I did something cool, right?"
"Okay, that's good—because I will. You just hang on. Get ready to be amazed."
He sped off again.
"He likes you," Melissa said.
"Yeah, I know."
"Do you like him?"
"No, not really," Annalee answered—At least not right now. But ask me tomorrow and I'll probably have a different answer. It changes from one day to the next. Sometimes it changes inside of a day, and sometimes then more than once.
But Melissa had only heard Annalee's spoken answer. She pressed her. "You don't? Not at all?"
"I mean, he's okay. It's just, like, he's not—I don't think he and I would be right together. You know what I'm saying?"
"Why wouldn't you two be right?"
"Because he's never serious, that's why," Annalee wanted to reply. "At least I've never seen him act serious. Everything's a joke to him, it seems like. If really he likes me, then he ought to talk to me seriously once in a while. I don't mind joking around—but all the time? Come on."
Instead all she said was, "I don't know. That's just how I feel."
"I don't think he'd be good for you, either," Kara interjected. "He's always clinging to people."
Annalee made no answer, because she didn't consider Kara an unbiased observer. While Kara had never come out and actually said she disliked Jonathan, there was often a subtext to the remarks she made about her boyfriend's close rapport with Jonathan that led her to believe Kara was maybe, just maybe, a little bit jealous. But Annalee had never quite summoned the courage to ask.
Suddenly, from across the skate park, Jonathan's voice boomed: "Hey, Annalee! This one's for you, babe!" She looked in his direction and saw him standing in front of a crowd of boys, who he had apparently gathered to watch whatever feat of skateboarding prowess he was about to attempt. He gave her two thumbs-up.
He's so stupid. But in the face of such ridiculous, almost cartoonish, enthusiasm, Annalee was unable to repress a grin of her own.
And then, his face suddenly serious, Jonathan spun round and took off toward a ramp.
I hope he falls.
She did not really want him to fall, of course. It was just one of those ugly random thoughts that cross a person's mind from time to time.
Annalee had time to overhear that the move Jonathan supposedly intended as a tribute to her was something called a laser flip. Annalee did not know what a laser flip was, nor any other kind of flip in skateboarding parlance—but she expected to be mildly impressed.
The skateboarders who inhabited this park seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to knowing how badly one of their peers had been hurt. If a guy had only suffered an embarrassing tumble, then the others were free to laugh and jeer as he picked himself up off the ground. If he was really injured, was barely moving or not at all in the moments afterward, then they rushed to him, and, should the situation warrant, got help.
This afternoon, in the aftermath of a spectacular crash, they rushed to the prone form of Jonathan Ross. Annalee's distance was such that she could not see much of what went wrong, and probably wouldn't have been able to figure it out even if she were closer, but it seemed that after his feet left the board so it could do a 360 degree spin in the air, he misjudged where—or maybe when—they would come back down again. Whatever happened, the board popped up between his legs, unbalancing him, and he pitched forward onto the ramp, with his forearms and then his head slamming onto the unforgiving concrete. He lay still, facedown, as the crowd surged toward him.
Melissa and Kara sprang to their feet; Annalee, at least for a moment, was too stunned even to move. But she quickly regained her bearing, and hurried toward Jonathan along with the others.
"Are you okay?" she heard Shawn asking Jonathan. His voice was concerned, urgent, but not panicked. She admired his composure.
Please don't let him be hurt, she prayed. I didn't mean that, about wanting him to fall. Honestly, I didn't. Even if I thought I did for a split-second, I didn't.
"Yeah…yeah," she heard Jonathan say then. His voice was creaky. She imagined he was in terrible pain. She peered around the other kids and saw that he was conscious and able to move, albeit very slowly.
She breathed a great sigh of relief.
With a little assistance from Shawn and another boy, Jonathan was able to get to his feet. But he was done skateboarding for the afternoon. As he limped out of the park, with Shawn still supporting his weight, he glanced in Annalee's direction.
"Yay," the girl said softly, balling up her hands and waving them slightly in the air.
Annalee Rutledge learned a hard lesson that afternoon about words and actions could be misinterpreted by others. She intended her mock cheer to be taken as a compliment; that she appreciated his try and that, even if it hadn't worked out, she was going to cheer for him anyway. But the hurt, bitter look he gave her—and the near-murderous one she got from Shawn—suggested neither boy saw it her way.
What they saw, Annalee realized almost immediately, was mockery, as if she had cheered his fall.
No, no, wait, that's not what I meant!
And not only the two boys, but the rest of the group, seemed to share that view. Some ugly remarks were muttered in the crowd, and suddenly Annalee no longer felt unwelcome here. She felt unsafe.
Even Melissa's tone was rough. "That was cold, Annalee."
"I didn't mean it like that," Annalee protested. "I was just, you know…"
I don't know what I was doing—because I'm a moron.
By now Shawn had gotten Jonathan to a bench and helped him ease onto it. Annalee yearned to go over to Jonathan—once Shawn left, naturally—and tell him she was sorry, tell him what she really felt, but she didn't. The emotions of the moment were too raw.
I'll wait, she decided, but I'll make it up to him. I'll be really nice to him the next time I see him. I'll apologize. I'll explain everything. I'll fix it all. I can do that. I can.
A moment later, as a sullen Annalee watched Jonathan get to his feet and start out of the park—walking rather than riding his skateboard—she hoped he might glance in her direction so she could smile at him, maybe give a little wave. She hoped, as well, that he might smile back. But he didn't. He never so much as looked behind him.