Florinda strolled down the narrow isle between the gray and white benches and the round and square brown tables. The octives were separated by years. The juniors were much louder than the seniors, who have all had a year more to gain a higher level of self-control and maturity. Little bits and pieces of conversations floated passed her, mostly about who was dating who, who stole whose boyfriend, what happened last night at basketball practice, and which teacher was the bitchiest. Finally, she reached the trash bins and clanked her multi-colored food tray on the inner edge. Crimson sauce slowly dripped down like syrup. Florinda wrinkled her nose and placed her tray delicately on top of the ever-growing pile. She tossed her silverware in the blue plastic tub, making the soapy water solution splash lightly. The middle-aged blond washing the dishes glared icily as it missed her, her look of contempt confirming Florinda's best friend's, Anna's, theory that the cooks all hate the students for more reason than jealousy of their youth. Florinda smiled innocently in retaliation and, walked off on the other edge of tables and chairs, students and other students.
"Linda!" someone called out, as if in greeting. Curious as to who it was because only her closest friends called her that, Florinda turned.
"Dude, you know her?" Jake asked, his light blond curls shining in the overhead light. The other boy nodded, still staring at her as if she were a new person, someone he'd never met before. Florinda squinted, her big brown eyes confused. A moment later, she brightened and grinned. "Hi, James," she replied, late. James, a tall, dark and handsome-ish kind of guy, had tanned skin, brown eyes, and black hair that was just long enough to curl over his eyebrows, which he raised, pretending to be hurt. "Took ya a sec to remember me, huh?"
Florinda tucked back a stray lock of her long, waist-length, dark brown hair behind her ear. "Not remember, recognize," she returned automatically.
"Ahh," he said, attempting to be sly. "And, it's Jim, now."
Florinda pursed her lips. "Is it?" she asked.
"Yep," he confirmed.
She took all her hair in both hands and swept it up in a pony tail, so neatly, no bumps remained. "Well, you're still James to me."
"Florinda, don't you have somewhere to be? Like, away from here?" Seth demanded mockingly, his spiked brown hair sticking up from his head like bristles.
"Shut up, man. She's actually talking," Jake ordered, kicking Seth in the shin under the table.
"Asshole," Seth called him and turned to Florinda, waiting for her to leave. James watched them, wondering how things would turn out, an amused expression on his face. Florinda, making good eye contact, said, "And the itsy bitsy spider killed them all." And Seth turned away, creeped out. His face turned into a dark scowl as he said, "Do you try to scare people?"
She sighed and began stalking off into the crowd of tables, but James grasped her forearm and she whirled around, glaring. "You know, Seth, you shouldn't be scared. At least not of me. So don't waste your energies. When opportunities arise, you might need them. Besides, there are much, much worse things to be afraid of, like that spider." She turned again. "And you," she started, narrowing her eyes, "you should be careful. You don't want to get lost. I mean, it is your first day here." And with that, she left, leaving a trail of confusion in her wake.
Mark, the silent spectator of the table, his brown hair gelled in a popular style, laughed briefly. "I think that means you're too easily intimidated. Phobic. Niiice." James nodded agreeing. "She didn't mean anything by it; she'd never hurt anyone."
Seething, Seth replied through gritted teeth, "I wasn't scared."
The school had a good-sized library. There were various brown glossy wooden tables scattered about strategically. They were either rectangular or circular in shape and each had four matching chairs. There were several wooden columns filled with books of different sizes, colors, and titles. There were lots of posters on the walls telling people to read, each featuring a celebrity with a book. There were the Simpsons, Jay Leno, Micky Mouse, Elvis, even Oprah. Jake and Florinda sat in the far corner, on the old orange carpet. Faint swishes when someone opened the neon yellow doors occurred often. Florinda stared off into space dreamily, her eyes shining in the poor light. In her slanted lap lay a thick spiral notebook, a pink mechanical pencil latched in the wires.
"Hey," Jake said, tapping her leg lightly, "are you okay?" With that, she seemed to come back down to earth. "Yes," she replied, leaning her head on his shoulder. He nodded. "Good. So how are we going to do this?" To be more comfortable, he slipped his arm around her, and she fell into the crook of his elbow. He grasped her notebook and set it on the floor beside him.
"We research tonight and work on the poster tomorrow?"
Jake grinned. " Told ya you would solve all. I call history and culture."
Her eyes narrowed. "Y'know what?" And she shifted, so as to face him. She placed her tiny hand on his and her fingers slowly crawled up his arm.
"What?" he asked, watching her hand.
"You should really watch out." Her fingers continued to inch. They reached his shoulder. "Because you never do know when someone's going to come by and," she took her other hand and flicked his nose, causing him to jump, "flick you in the nose."
He laughed, loving every bit of her impish grin. "I'm sorry," she said, kissing his nose.
"Oh, you shouldn't have done that," he whispered, pulling her to him, his arms securely wrapped around her. She sighed, leaning into him. "Do you like me, Jake?"
He took a deep breath. "You know I do. Don't ask questions to which you already know the answers to," he chided her. The bell signaling the start of their lunch period rang out and he let her go, awkwardly. He snatched up her notebook and stood, his free hand held out to help her. She took it.
Jake plopped down in his little brown chair, his stomach slightly full, his blond curls touseled. His forehead creased with concern as Florinda approached, her big brown eyes rimming with tears. Gracefully, she sat on the exposed corner of the chair he was straddling and threw her slender arms around his neck, her dark wavy ringlets spilling over both their shoulders. "What's wrong, Linda?" he immediately inquired as he laid a comforting hand on her back.
"Anna and Jill were making fun of my dress, so I came over here." Then, as if just remembering something, she added, "Is that okay?"
"It's fine," he answered. "Why were they making fun of you? I think you look really nice." And she did. Florinda wore a long white dress with several frills. It was sleeveless and the neckline was cut like a regular tee-shirt. The dress made her look delicate, and gave her light skin color. Her pantyhose gleamed, and her white heels slipped off her tiny feet, and clattered to the floor. "I don't know," she returned, her wounded pride showing in her voice. Jake whispered in her ear, "Well, Linda, don't let them get to you. You look very pretty, and so does the dress."
"Yep," he said, glancing at James, who was staring at them.
"Thank you," she said, kissing the crook of his neck. Seth, watching as he chatted with Mark, raised an eyebrow at her. Jake's shoulder twitched, sensitive. Florinda slid off his chair; in her absence, Jake temperature dropped a few degrees. She stood two feet from the table and danced, shoeless. Her dress lightly fanned out beautifully with every twirl she made. She smiled, her skin seemed to glow.
"Y'know, I really think we should be sticking money down her bra," Seth sneered.
Mark reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a five. "Will you do whatever I want?" he asked innocently.
Florinda rolled her eyes and grabbed Jake's hand, tugging him with her as she ran past the trash bins and down the hall leading to the gymnasium. Plaques with pictures of past seniors who were excellent on the school's teams lined the right side of the hall, followed by the concession stand for the games. On the left side was the door to another hall and then the trophy case, with its many banners and gold plated awards shining in the overhead light. She pulled a hard left and immediately a right, Jake at her bare heels. She stopped abruptly before the wall, and spun him around, pressing his back to the announcement board. The girls' locker room was dark, sports backpacks and duffelbags lined the wooden benches in front of the isle lockers. The isle lockers were blue and gold chain metal. The combination locks protruded from them. Other lockers, mostly smaller cubicles than the isle ones, which were twice as big and rectangular, lined the walls near the shower room. Floor grippers were inserted on the smooth cement floor to the doorway of the shower room, and the shower room itself was tiled with tiny orange, yellow, and beige squares. Florinda kissed Jake, her hand running up his hunter green Lucky brand tee-shirt. His muscles were cleanly defined and smooth. She claimed his lips with hers, and a dire need for him developed, her hormones sky-rocketing towards horny. He kissed her back, plenty of times, delightedly. "You know," he whispered, "you're a really good dancer. Wanna go to the winter ball thing?" She giggled. "Of course."
Jake glared at his reflection in the mirror of his bathroom. He looked perfect -- minus the tie. His hair laid just right, his black suit was crisp and clean. His button-up white shirt didn't have one crease or wrinkle. He smelled good, too. A faint smell of Candies had blossomed when he sprayed once and walked through the disintegrating mist. So what was it about the tie? It was a dark green, and Florinda had asked him to wear it. "So we don't clash for pictures," she'd said. Right now it looked like one big knotted blob that stuck out like a sore thumb. He attempted another wack at untying it -- and made it worse. "Bitch!" he yelled at it in frustration.
"Am I?" Florinda's voice rang out from the doorway behind him. Jake jumped in surprise and turned. He gasped and she grinned. "I suppose that means I look good, yes?" His expression matched hers, for it was contageous. "Yeah."
Florinda looked beautiful; her long brown hair in wavy curls, her lips glossed subtly. Her green dress was spaghetti strapped, and showed a little cleavage, for it curved with her. The hem line dropped just above her knees.
"I'm sorry that I didn't really ask you if you liked green," and he interrupted her, "It's my new favorite color." She nodded. "And, I finally see who the bitch is," she said, advancing toward him. She took his tie in both her hands and twisted and turned many times till she jumped back, exclaiming, "Voila!" Jake spun around, staring at the double-winsor knot in the mirror. "Hey, thanks," he said, folding his collar over it.
"No problem. And just so you know, I didn't just walk right through the door, your dad let me in."
"Ahh," he said, turning back to her and placing his arms on her waist. "I wouldn't have cared either way," and he pressed his lips to hers.
His fingers played with the tiny silver locket dangling on a chain from her neck. It was round and a shiny little snowflake was engraved on the face of it. He opened it up to see the hollow circles, devoid of pictures. "Why do they make these things if they're too small to hold an actual picture?" he teased, snapping it closed. "Why? Because they are pretty, darling." He combed his hand through her hair. "I thought I was supposed to pick you up at home?" he scolded gently, snatching her hand with his free empty one. Florinda's lower lip stuck out and she pouted, "I couldn't wait."
"A likely story!" He kissed her again.
"Linda?" James called out, his black bangs overshadowing his eyes. He watched her turn at his voice and crack a smile.
He smiled wistfully and wrung his hands. "Where's your date?"
Florinda sipped her blue plastic cup with red-dyed punch quickly. "Jake's in the bathroom," she said.
The glittering disco ball that hung from the rafters suspended from the ceiling spun rapidly, casting orbs of light around the room. Many of the orbs showered both Florinda and James. Entranced, James asked, "Wanna dance?" She nodded. "Okay." And she set her cup down on the papered table. He led her through dozens of couples to the center of the room. As a fast song started, they began moving to the music, arms, legs and hips.
Jake stepped out of the hall just in time for the fast songs tail end. He was engulfed in the dancing shadows and dancing orbs; everything seemed to flicker around him. He caught sight of Florinda, dancing merrily with James, and the song ended. James planted a kiss on her lips and she pushed him away gently. Jealous anger seared through Jake, his fists clenching with a primal rage.
"Don't do that again," she snapped after she brought her hands up and pushed James back. "I -- I'm sorry," he said, and she shook her head. "Not again." She stalked off and leaned on the dark brick pillar. James's mouth stayed agape. His date, a short pretty blond glared back at him as he looked around for a way to the door.
Jake touched Florinda's arm and she frowned. "I suppose you saw that, didn't you?"
He sighed and slipped his arm around her. "Yeah. He seems like a real nice guy, doesn't he? Try to steal my girl?" he winked, catching her eye. "So you want me to go beat him up? I think I could take him."
She laughed. "No. He probably feels bad enough now. But thanks for attempting to restor my so-called 'honor.' I love it."
Jake wet his lips. "Did you know that it's true you learn something every day? I learned that 'fiddle' is a verb and a noun," he said proudly. Florinda giggled once more. "Come," she said, "you must dance with me." It was not a suggestion, nor a request; just a gentle demand.
When the chorus for the song came on, Jake's eyes lit up with excitement. "Linda, this is my soooong!" And he began mock-singing along with it. "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you."
"Stop!" she said, giggling uncontrollably. But yet he continued, "I know you were right, believing for so long. Oh, I'm all out of love, what am I without you? I can't be too late," and she lip-locked him before he could finish. After they pulled away, he said, "I really think that sometimes you kiss me just to shut me up." She looked up at him angelically. The song dragged on. "What are you thinking about?"
Mischeviously, she answered, "Guess."
"Oh. Well, I bet it's sex," he said, accentuating the word 'sex.'
She smiled, creating more laugh lines. "No. It was you. But now, y'know, I think I can picture both."
"Ah, Linds, you are great," he tittered.
During the next song, she leaned on him, still slow-dancing. "Jake?" she asked.
"In a while do you want to go somewhere and watch an old horror movie? Y'know, one where virgins live. Sluts die. That sort of thing?"
"Whatever you want."
Florinda nodded. "I'll be right back then. I have to use the bathroom," she said, pulling away.
"Hey, Anna?" Jake asked a few minutes after looking by himself.
The blond who had broken up with James an hour before snapped her eyes to attend Jake. "What?"
Jake combed the crowd with his eyes one last time before asking, "Have you seen Florinda? She went to the bathroom a while ago, and she wanted to go rent a movie or something when she got back, but, I can't find her."
Anna shook her head, her brown eyes dialating in the sphere-encrusted light. Then, a figure moving behind him caught her eye, and she smiled. "There she is," and went back to dancing with her new partner. Jake turned, and his eyes widened.
"Jake!" Florinda called, her eyes dimming, and she tripped, almost falling on the foot-long and very sharp, very bloody knife; she had taken it out of her arm because it had her pinned against the little metal cages of the locker room. Scarlet tears ran down her wrists, through her fingers, and staining her dress. Tears soaked her eye lashes. The knife clattered to the floor, and she doubled over, caught by Jake.
"Linda, Linda, baby, what happened?" he said frantically, brushing hair out of her face. "Help!" he screamed over his shoulder. "Somebody help!"
"I didn't. Jake, Jake, I didn't. I didn't!" she cried, her voice raspy and dying, her face already drained bone-dry of color. Jake tore off his black suit jacket and laid her on the floor, tenderly propping her head up on the balled-up jacket. The crowd had gathered around them, forming a great wall. "Baby, it's going to be okay," he said, trying to enfuse hope in not only her, but himself. "I didn't," she repeated weakly, and moved no more. Jake momentarily stopped putting pressure on one of her wrists to check her pulse in her neck. It wasn't there. His body shook in anguish as someone pulled him away and mutterings of suicide escaped the public. He fought against the many hands and arms to return to her, but to no avail. The wave of mutterings continued, this time about her uncanny ability to appear unhappy consistently. More waves of pity passed and Jake exploded, "SHE DID NOT KILL HERSELF! SHE SAID SHE DIDN'T!" And James, numb, spoke up in the new silence, "She said 'I didn't.' She could have meant that she didn't mean to."