Short story: ‘Crimson’Posted: June 13, 2014
I don’t often post short stories on here, but here’s one I wrote for The Midnight Type a few months ago, for Valentine’s Day. I don’t think it ever got shared there, and I figured Friday the Thirteenth was a suitable occasion to share it here. Because nothing says romance like Friday the Thirteenth, right?
The sound of laughter chased Charlie into the girls’ bathroom, audible even over the thump-thump thump-thump of the pop tune blaring in the school hall.
The tiled room was empty. She skidded to a halt in front of the scuffed sink, teetering on unfamiliar heels. She’d spent six months saving for those heels, had been so proud of herself when she left her house after dinner, her parents waving goodbye with relieved smiles.
Charlie wasn’t proud anymore.
She turned the tap on with a savage twist and splashed cold water onto burning cheeks. When she looked in the mirror, droplets of water glittered like the tears aching in the back of her eyes would if she let them fall.
Her cheeks were the same crimson as her dress.
Voices approached the bathroom door. Biting her lip, Charlie ducked into a cubicle just as the outer door swung open.
“Someone left a tap on,” a voice said in tones of great disgust. Monica. “Honestly, people are so stupid. Don’t they know about the drought? What will the cows drink if we waste all the water?”
“Honestly,” another voice parroted. Monica’s offsider, Fiona.
Clicking heels—sounding much more stable than Charlie’s had—made their way over to the sink. The tap was turned off, and then there was the sound of a zip. A purse being opened.
Biting back a sigh, Charlie eased herself down onto the closed lid of the toilet and leaned her hot face on the cool wall of the cubicle, nose against the graffiti scribbles. If Monica was doing her makeup, it could take a while.
“Guess what I heard?” Fiona said, voice quivering with barely contained excitement.
“Uhh?” An open-mouthed reply.
Definitely doing her makeup. Charlie rolled her eyes, distracted for a moment by her contempt for the popular girls.
The popular girls she’d hoped she might join tonight. She swallowed hard past the lump in her throat. Her hands began twisting in the hem of her skirt, as though they had a mind of their own. Wringing the fabric like it was someone’s throat.
“Tyler invited Charlie to the dance.”
Twisting hands froze, tangled in fabric.
Charlie held her breath, clearly hearing a plastic compact snick closed.
“I heard. But you know why, right?” Monica’s voice also quivered, hers with glee. “So he could show her up in front of all his mates.”
“Uh huh. I heard them chanting ‘Charlotte the Harlot, dressed in scarlet’ just before I came in here. Why else would he ask her out, anyway?”
“Why else?” Fiona agreed.
The ringing in Charlie’s ears drowned out the rest of the girls’ conversation. Her mind dragged her back to the scene, still raw and bleeding in her memory. Tyler’s friends turning on her when she entered, looking for him across the crowded room. She’d thought he might defend her. He looked uncomfortable.
Surely he would defend her.
But he didn’t, and she’d fled—and if he hadn’t intended to set her up, wouldn’t he have defended her?
Wouldn’t he have picked her up at her house, met her parents, rather than suggesting she meet him at the school?
The slapping, slithering sound of leather on leather was louder than the ringing in her ears. Because it was in her mind. Goosebumps prickled along her arms: her blood had turned to ice, freezing her from the inside out.
“Let me deal with them for you.” A deep baritone. She’d heard it before.
“No,” she replied in a whisper, not knowing—or caring—whether Monica and Fiona were still in the bathroom. She stared down at her hands. They still clutched the crimson fabric. It wound around her white knuckles as though she might fall if she let go. Fall forever. “You can’t.”
“No, you can’t,” the voice replied, soft with concern. The sort of concern she’d wished for from Tyler, only minutes before. Then the voice hardened. “But I can.”
“What will you do?”
“What is necessary.” Her hands unclenched, smoothing the crumpled fabric mechanically. “Sleep now.”
And she did. As she always did.
When Charlie came back to herself, she was walking home, striding confidently in those hated new heels. Her hair reeked of smoke—not cigarette smoke but the heavy, greasy smoke of a house fire.
She slipped back into her body like a hand into a glove still warm from another’s use. Her steps stumbled, ankle twisting, and she caught herself on a light pole.
Her hands, splayed against the cool metal, were wound around with crimson. Not fabric, this time.
“What have you done?” she gasped.
“What was necessary,” the baritone voice replied with satisfaction. “I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Charlie began to weep.