Roses for Valentine’s Day
By Angelina Odone and Elaine Ching
Volume 2 Issue 4
February 10, 2022
Image provided by Good Housekeeping
In any high school, there is bound to be drama. And Salem High School is in no way different. There’s always bound to be some sort of love triangle. And in this case, it involves some of the smartest people at their school. Hi, I’m Decennia Jeong, and I’ll be telling you about these idiots at my school who annoy everyone with their antics. Well, some of them are more annoying than others. Firstly, there’s my best friend, Adaline Chu. I love her, but she can be extremely petty when someone upsets her. That certain someone would be Ezra Popescu, an egotistical, talkative maniac. And along with him comes his silly little girlfriend, Cathy August, another annoying fool who has no common sense. Sadly, a ton of academic knowledge is wasted on them. They have no common sense, and they’re severely oblivious.
Adaline Chu is a brilliant girl who’s interested in social studies and dreams of becoming a history teacher. This doesn’t require her to work that hard in school, but she does it out of pure vengeance for Ezra Popescu. He, too, doesn’t need to work that hard, and he wants to be a graphic artist. He, too, has a deep hatred for Adaline. Ever since meeting in the sixth grade, they’ve had an academic rivalry. One that requires them to be horribly mean to each other. For example, Adaline calls Ezra “Egotistical Eggo,” “Eccentric Eyesore,” or “Eerie Earthquake.” Any of the few, but never his real name. As for Ezra, he too has many unkind names for his rival, “Annoying Addie,” “Agonizing Abomination,” and “Arrogant Angel.” Of course, they also call each other a few censored names that I won’t say out loud. As for Cathy August, she wants to be a pediatrician, so she is justified in taking her studies very seriously. She and Ezra have known each other since they were five. They’ve been friends for practically forever but have only just started dating during freshmen year. Considering it’s now their junior year, they go out on vintage movie drive-ins and are annoyingly clingy in the hallways, so much so that they’ve gained the reputation of “never been seen alone.” Due to the relationship status of Cathy, she also has a deep hatred for her boyfriend’s rival, Adaline - given the fact she’s extremely smart and Cathy has suspicions about her potential relationship with her boyfriend.
While we could go through their whole lives, I would dare to say that the most interesting and annoying encounter of the trio was on Valentine’s 2019, pre-covid.
It all started like any other day. During the first period, it was announced that the juniors and seniors would be let out for a special competition revolving around a charity for the Pediatric Hospital of Salem. I looked over at my best friend, Decennia, and we both looked at each other, thankful that today won’t be another day filled with AP classes and listening to the “never been seen alone” couple throughout the whole day. The class president, Bethany Rivera, also talked about how seniors will be going door to door asking for donations, while the juniors will be going to local stores and asking for sponsorship. Two people from each grade: if they gathered the most money by 4 p.m. that day, they will be granted an invitation to the hospital’s charity dinner and a trophy to be shown at the school. I look around our AP Art class, don’t judge me, I’m good at art, and I needed a GPA booster to beat Eccentric Eyesore, deciding who’s the biggest competition. Immediately my eyes landed on good ol’ Egotistical Eggo and his girlfriend, Cathy. And to my surprise, they aren’t as chatty as usual. They actually seem kind of sad and quiet. Must be trouble in paradise. I don’t actually mind Cathy, but she’s practically connected to the hip to Eggo, so she’s annoying by association. While the rest of the announcements finish up, I whisper over to Decennia.
“We’re totally partnering up for this, right?”
“Obviously. It’s not like they won’t let us choose teams, knock on wood.”
I give her a thumbs up and go back to listening to the announcements. Once they finish, our tired teacher, Mr. Daniel, is gathering some papers. I’m assuming they’re for the competition and not some new art project. He stands up and begins talking.
“As you all know from the announcements, you’ll be allowed to leave class right after the first period ends. However, until then, I will be announcing your partners and handing out the papers needed to complete this contest.”
I shot Decennia a dirty look, insinuating that she didn’t knock on wood hard enough. She just shoots back a shrug and mouths, “Can’t be that bad.” Mr. Daniel starts reading the names off his list. I wouldn’t mind most of the people in this class, except for a few.
“Decennia and Lola.”
“Max and Jason”
“Cathy and Jojo”
I glance over at Eerie Earthquake and Cathy, and to my surprise, they don’t seem that upset.
“Sofia and Samuel”
“Hannah and Hank”
My adrenaline and annoyance rise as I realize there aren’t that many names left. Most of the people I would hang out with are gone, but I would do anything to not have to work with him.
“Harry and Sanna”
And those are the last two names other than ours. To my disappointment, Mr. Daniel announces the last two names.
“And last but certainly not least, Adaline and Ezra.”
Great, just great.
“Well, class, remember that this is not some fun day off, as you are raising money for a great cause. So don’t use this as a romantic getaway from your academic troubles. Please try to win this contest. And don’t forget to finish your sixth piece for your portfolio! Now you should all meet with your partners.”
Decennia shoots me a remorseful look as she gets up to meet with Lola, a nice kid who’s known for drawing extremely detailed portraits. While I groan and get up to go meet the eyesore of a guy. I take my time and walk extremely slowly, hoping he just asks to switch our partners, so he can be with Cathy, and I can be with Jojo.
By the time I sat down, Cathy’s gone. Surprising, but maybe they’re just playing by the rules. He just looks at me, except he looks tired; he doesn’t look like his usual annoying, ambitious self.
“Soo, we’re partners, and clearly neither one of us wants to have to work with each other, so I was thinking that I could switch with Jojo, so you can work with Cathy, and I won’t have to work with you, and that’s probably the best idea given the fact that both of us will be happy and-”
“Stop rambling, please.”
“Look, I don’t think the school wants us switching partners since it’ll just be easier if they already know the teams since they’re predetermined. Plus, this makes it easier for them to assign the invites.”
“Okay, but we hate each other.”
“We would also both hate being punished by the school.”
“So, we’re a team then?”
“Trust me, it’s not exactly my favorite pastime to have to partner up with you, Arrogant Angel.”
“I know. It must truly bother an eyesore like you to have to work with someone as great as me.”
“Well, someone clearly doesn’t understand oxymorons.”
“I know; you can’t even admit it, Eggo.”
“At least I come up with better nicknames than a waffle brand.”
“You just don’t deserve anything that requires creativity.”
“You just can’t come up with anything better.”
“You know I could...must we go over every achievement I’ve had-”
Just when I was about to flaunt all my awards and titles on them, I was interrupted by the bell signaling we were allowed to leave and begin our contest. I stood up and smoothed down my light pink ruffled dress. I chose it for today; it fits appropriately, I would believe. I picked up my messenger bag. Thankfully, I don’t have to stop by my locker, so we have plenty of time to get a head start. I watch him pick up the backpack, and as he puts it on, I notice his sweater has a Bugs Bunny head on it. And he has the nerve to call me “generic”. Thankfully, today is warmer than usual, so neither of us has coats. I walk out into the hallway and grab the papers for the contest, and he follows suit. We pass by the complaining ninth and tenth graders, thanking whatever god there is that I’m a junior. While we’re walking, he starts the conversation, “So, since we’re going to be going to multiple places, I would assume we should take one car? I know I can barely stand being next to you, but this way, we would save energy, and it would just be easier overall”.
“Fine, but only for the environment.”
I walk to school anyway, so it’s not like I had a choice, but he doesn’t need to know that. We head out into the parking lot, where he leads me to a small, blue Toyota with an array of decals on the back window. Most of them are cute; at least he seems to have good taste in car decals.
He slides into the driver’s seat while I slide into the passenger seat. I flip down the mirror as a reflex and check myself. My heart earrings and necklace are in place, as is my red headband and my white cardigan isn’t out of place either. Luckily, my eyeliner is also still in check. I notice him looking at me with an annoyed expression. “What? Have you ever seen anyone make sure they look presentable? I know you can be stupid, but I would think you would pick up on this typical human habit, no?” I say since clearly, he doesn’t intend on starting the conversation.
“I’m just amazed at how a person can be so self-absorbed that they don’t hear their partner asking where they want to go first.”
Oops. I blush out of embarrassment because I certainly wasn’t expecting that.
“Oh, um, sorry about that.”
He sighs and then manages to speak in the most annoying voice, “It’s fine, but would you mind answering the question?”
“Sure, let’s just go to the main street and work our way out from there?”
“No, everyone will be there.”
“If you weren’t going to follow my advice, why even ask me?”
“Well, I thought you would have good advice, but clearly, I was wrong.”
“Aw, you had some respect for me! I’m flattered,” I say in the most sarcastic voice I can muster.
He rolls his eyes and responds with, “We should start with the stores that are the farthest away from here and work inwards.”
“Fine, your car, your rules.”
It isn’t the greatest idea in existence, but I don’t really care that much. As much as I hate him, he can be smart. Of course, he’ll never know I feel that way about him. We drove in silence until I started fidgeting with the radio. I flip stations, but I can’t find any that seem to be playing good music. I just shut it off and go through my bag until I find my headphones and connect them to my phone until he interrupts me with a snarky response, “Oh come on, Annoying Addie, I know you’re rude and unbearable, but I would think you wouldn’t listen to music when you’re hanging out with someone?” I snap back with, “We’re not hanging out, and I don’t hear you speaking, do I?” He’s quick to respond with, “Fine, let’s play a game.”
“We can alternate in asking things like our favorite foods, colors, teachers, etcetera.”
I’m perplexed given the fact that I don’t think he has any interest in me, but I overcame it and started the game, “Okay, I’ll start, favorite teacher?” I ask.
“How can you not have a favorite food?”
“I love all food; I can’t just choose one.”
“Why do you call me eyesore?”
“Because we don’t like each other?” I wasn’t expecting anything too personal, and I’m confused as to why they’re asking this now but offer the most obvious answer.
“Oh, well, you don’t mean anything like Uhm, it’s not like I’m ugly or anything, right? Well, you don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to, but I was just wondering since it’s been eating at me inside for a while and none of my nicknames for you relate to your physical appearance since that would be extremely rude and um, I just wanted to ask you.”
Does Ezra actually take my insults to heart? All this time, I just figured that it was in one ear and out the other, but, clearly, it’s affecting him. I actually feel bad for him, but just this once. “Look. When I insult you and call you names, I don’t actually mean it. Especially not ‘eyesore.’ I only mean it when I call you egotistical.”
He doesn’t respond, but I can see a sense of relief in his expression. I truly thought he didn’t actually take the insults seriously. I mean, we’re enemies. I assumed it was obvious that we would be mean to each other in every way – it’s just how things were. Does he seriously care about what I think?
He doesn’t say a word to me for the rest of the car ride. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or if he was just stuck in his thoughts. Whatever it was, it doesn’t matter. I was just happy we only had a few minutes until we arrived at our destination.
We finally make it to our first stop: a small plaza right outside of Salem. We get out of the car and walk to the nearest store, which is a tiny boutique. We step into the store, which is very pastel, and decorated with the cutest Valentine’s Day decorations. I step in front of him and walk up to the owner.
“Hey, kiddos, what can I do for you guys today?”
As I begin to recite the introduction, I had come up with on the car ride, Ezra cuts me off.
“Good morning, ma’am. We’re juniors at Salem High School, and our school has challenged us to obtain sponsorship from stores around the city. We are supporting the Pediatric Hospital of Salem. All you need to do is sign here, which will be physical proof of your support. You will also be delivered signs and other ‘decorations’ that will encourage shoppers here to support the cause.”
The lady’s face lights up with a smile. “Well, I’d be delighted to support your cause!” She takes his pen and fills out the form.
We thank the lady, and as we walk out of the store, I roll my eyes. Of course, he had to steal my thunder like that. I planned out exactly what I was going to say, but I shouldn’t act surprised that he decided to take the lead rather than me.
We walk down the sidewalk to the next store, and as we’re walking, a question arises: what’s going on with him and Cathy? They were acting so weird around each other in class earlier, but I didn’t want to ask anything. But now I was curious. And the more I thought about it, the more curious I became.
“Did something happen between you and Cathy?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know; you just seemed a bit cold towards each other in class earlier. It was odd since you guys are always connected at the hip. It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me; I mean, I’m decent enough of a person to respect your privacy, whether or not we get along.”
“Wow...such a rare sighting. You...being nice to me? I’m shocked. I didn’t know you were capable of such a task!”
I roll my eyes at that. “You’re avoiding my question.”
He laughs. “It’s nothing. We’ve just been having slight problems, lately, that’s all.”
I quickly glanced at him. The laughter and certain tone threw me off, but everything else said otherwise. He and Cathy were definitely not fine. But I wasn’t going to ask again because I didn’t want it to seem like I cared. Well, I didn’t care. Or at least that’s what I told myself.
We walked into the next store: the ice cream parlor. I check to make sure that I have my wallet just in case I end up wanting a scoop or two. When we walk into the store, the man greets us immediately with a huge smile on his face. “Mornin’ you two! What’s a young couple like you doing out so early? Shouldn’t you be at school?”
I almost fell backward at that comment. Ezra laughs. “No, sir, we’ve actually come to ask you for your-” “-for your support and sponsorship in supporting the Salem Pediatric Hospital. Our school has challenged us to go out and ask for the shop owner’s support. All you need to do is fill out this form, and we’ll deliver you all the supplies needed to showcase your support to all your customers.” I hand the man the form, and as he fills it out, Ezra mutters to me, “It’s actually the Pediatric Hospital of Salem.” I give him a death stare. “Oh no! Now the shop owner will never know what I was talking about!” Ezra smiles, and we turn back to the man.
“Have a great day, sir!”
“You too, kids.”
“Wait a second. While we’re here, can I get a scoop of chocolate in a cup?” I was not leaving without ice cream.
“Great idea. Can I get a cookie dough scoop?”
“Coming right up!”
“You brought the money?” I ask Ezra. “I think I have my card in my pocket.” He searches through all his pockets and looks at me worriedly. “I think I forgot it in my locker.”
“Can you please buy it for me? I swear I’ll pay you back when I get the chance.”
“Fine,” I say, annoyed, “but only because the man already scooped the ice cream.”
I pay the man, and we make our way outside. We make our way down the sidewalk, and we enter all the open stores as we walk. Every store, we say the same thing. We ask the shop owner for their support, they say yes, we give them the form, and we leave.
We finish off the plaza in a matter of forty-five minutes. To be fair, it’s a relatively small plaza. As we head back to the car, I start to rethink all these years. Maybe Ezra isn’t as bad as I’ve always made him out to be. Maybe he’s just annoyingly smart. Always beating me at everything we did. I just wanted to win at something, and it forced me to paint a really bad picture of him in my head.
To be honest, he was quite fun to be around. And I definitely meant what I said about not being serious about the whole “eyesore” thing. I can’t think like that, though. I have to resist. Because if I don’t, everything I’ve worked so hard for in the past five years will be put at risk.
As I come back to reality, I notice Ezra staring at me in a confused way from the driver’s seat. He had been staring at me like that for the last few minutes because I was just standing there.
Whoops. I open the door and hop into the passenger’s seat.
“I suppose you’ve decided to join me in the car finally?”
“I suppose I have.”
We drove in silence. After a few minutes, he breaks the silence with something I never actually thought that I’d hear.
“Cathy and I broke up.”
“Yeah. I don’t know if you could tell before today, but there have been some tensions. She was a bit possessive, and anywhere that I went, she went. Anything I did, she did. Y’know, there are some things that people just want to keep for themselves. TV shows, music artists, books, all of that stuff. If I liked something, she also would miraculously decide that she liked it, and she’d pretend it was a coincidence. If I was ever somewhere without her, she would question me for hours on end – and I’m not even exaggerating. It wasn’t fun. And anyway, somebody else captured my attention. I didn’t want to lead her on and make her think I was still into it when I wasn’t.”
Out of all the things that I expected him to say about him and Cathy, that was not one of them. I knew that they’d had their fair share of fights throughout the years, but they always made up in the end. I guess this was their last straw.
We continue down the main road. After about ten minutes, I begin flipping through the radio stations. I finally came across a good song – “Message in a Bottle.” It’s a great song, but it definitely did not fit the situation and mood of the car. He hums along to the song. At least I can tell he’s got good music taste.
We pulled up to the larger shopping center. It’s a bit further away from our school, so there aren’t any of our classmates here. This shopping center was huge. The best part was it was all our territory to work with. We decided to split up, so we could cover the whole area in half the amount of time. Once we finish that shopping center, we move on to the next, and we keep using that strategy until it’s time to return to school.
On the way back to school, we counted how many shops we had. We counted thirty, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but once we got back to the school, we realized how much that really was. Everyone else had around half of what we had, with the closest to us being twenty-four.
We met Bethany Rivera in the main office.
“Congrats, you guys! You’ve won the challenge!”
“I guess that means our strategy worked!” I say to Ezra with a smile. “That also means that you two get to go to the hospital’s charity event tonight!” Honestly, I totally forgot about the event. I was too caught up in the fact that I was actually having a good time with Ezra. Bethany gives us all the details about tonight’s event. “It begins at 7:00 p.m. sharp. Don’t be late!” We say goodbye to Bethany, and we begin to walk to our lockers. He gives me a smile. “I actually can’t believe we won the challenge.”
“Same. And out of all people, I could’ve won this with. Who would’ve thought that we would actually make a pretty great team?”
“Good point. And I actually had a lot of fun today. I think I was wrong about you, Addie.” He rummages through his locker and hands me the money he owes me. “You don’t have to give me the money. It was only a few bucks; it really doesn’t matter.” He gets his money back. “So, I guess I’ll see you tonight, Ezra?”
“Are we on a real-name basis now?”
“I guess we are.”
When I got home, I found that he had slipped the money into my bag when I wasn’t looking.
It took me a little while, but I managed to perfect my makeup, and I slipped my lilac-colored dress on. Not too fancy, but nice enough that I won’t look out of place. Ezra was picking me up – for the environment.
He pulls me up to my house, and I wave goodbye to my family. I struggle a little bit to walk down my driveway in my heels. I’ll get used to it – I figure I should just sit as much as possible during the event, so I don’t embarrass myself. I hop into the passenger seat of his car.
“You look really nice,” he says to me, which I really appreciate.
“Thanks, it took super long to get ready, though. You look incredibly nice yourself.”
“Thanks.” He pulls up the address of the venue on his phone.
We talk and laugh as we drive, and it feels like we’ve been friends with each other forever. Funny how that checks out – I quite literally hated him this morning.
We pull up to the venue – at 6:58 p.m., just on time.
We walk up to the entry, and we tell the people our names. As we find our seats, he begins to say something, but he gets cut off by someone on the stage, beginning the ceremony. The speaker begins to announce people’s names – people who have made large contributions to the hospital. Eventually, the speaker announced our names. We follow the lead of everyone else, and we stand up and wave. It felt nice to be applauded and praised for something.
The ceremony only lasts about twenty-five minutes, and then they begin to serve food. Everyone was mingling with the people at their tables, but for us, it was only the two of us. Ezra begins to say what he is saying before the ceremony begins.
“Do you remember when we were in the car, and I was telling you about Cathy?”
“Yeah, how could I forget?”
“Remember how I said that there was someone else who had been on my mind?”
“Well, I know this sounds a little weird, and I probably should’ve saved this for the end of the dinner, so I don’t make anything awkward, but it doesn’t matter now. I know we have had a rivalry for years. But the person who I have been thinking about lately is you. I didn’t want to think anything of it at first because I thought that nothing would become of it anyways – I assumed you thought I was the absolute worst person ever, but after today I don’t think you think of me like that anymore, so I figured that-”
“After today, it’s hard to deny liking you, but I think I do, and I think I have for a while now. I just mistook my feelings of attraction for hatred.”
He smiles at me and holds out a bouquet of roses. I return his smile, and he puts his hand on mine.