"Adventures in the Rose Garden"
By John Pirillo
"Hey there, Billy Boy." Snickered the bully next to his locker. Harold, a huge guy, who had been held back two years now. His final year, but not soon enough to stop him from making Bill's life hello.
Bill tried to ignore him, but Harold slammed his ham fist down on the locker bottom, causing Billy's lunch to spill all over the floor.
"Now look what you've done!" Billy complained, and then looked at Harold, realizing he'd fed the mean machine by blurting that out.
Harold's eyes narrowed, as if that were more possible, because he had the face of a pig, with narrow set eyes and slabs of Jell-O like fat jowls under his chin. He must have weighed in at about two hundred and fifty pounds.
"Sorry." Billy barely managed.
"Oh, you'll be sorry, all right, Billy Boy." He grinned. "Really, really sorry!"
Billy thought it was all over for him as Harold raised the fist of destruction, but Mister Cobbs, the next door teacher, who instructed in Math, happened to step out that moment. "Hey there Billy! How are you and your...friend doing?"
Harold glared at Billy, and then gave Mister Cobbs an innocent look. He put an arm around Billy's shoulder like they were the best of buddies. "Me and Billy were just discussing the nature of politics in the world."
"Really. How fascinating." Mister Cobbs commented innocently. "I'd love to hear that discussion."
"Billy, I'd heading for the cafeteria, could we talk on the way?"
"Uh..." He looked over at Harold, whose eyes narrowed to slits, but who let go of him. "Sure, sounds great. Just let me pick up my lunch. It spilled when I opened my locker."
He started to bend down and Harold dropped down too, and as he helped Billy sack his food, he whispered in his ear. "After school. The Rose Garden."
Billy nodded and got back up. Harold smiled at him, gave him a shoulder punch that rocked him, but didn't knock him down. "Well, good buddy, see you later."
"Sure thing, Harold." Billy answered and let himself be led away by Mister Cobbs.
As they walked Mister Cobbs looked pensive, as if he were weighing things in his mind. Billy had seen him do that a number of times before he clobbered a kid with suspension or after school detention.
"I think that Harold might be staying after school today."
Billy's face lit up. "Really!" On Mister Cobb's look. "I mean, really. What has he done?"
Mister Cobb didn't say anything. He just smiled at Billy, and then he spoke up. "Sometimes big problems can just blow away. And sometimes we have to face them."
Mister Cobbs gave Billy a friendly pat on the shoulder, then headed for the cafeteria without him.
"I thought you wanted to talk with me?"
Mister Cobbs grinned. "I just did."
Billy ate his lunch outside in the quad, as he always did. Alone. Everyone knew he was a push. Their slang for a kid that was a nerd and afraid of anything and everyone, but computers. He didn't think that was fair, though he had to admit he loved computers.
He sighed after he finished gobbling his apple down, and then went to the computer lab to do a Google on the Rose Garden. He wanted to know how many entrances and exits there were. As he settled into his chair, he began typing into the search engine. Immediately, a beautiful photo of rows of roses came up. He punched it with a mouse click, and then began to read. As he did he was surprised when the screen went blank for a moment, and then it lit up again showing the garden at night and the roses glowing like tiny stars in outer space.
He was stunned, and then shook his head.
"Must be a new Google animation." He sighed.
Before he could exit the page, it went blank and then the original photo returned. He studied the information below it, shoving the weird thing that had just happened into the back of his mind. Finding nothing he wanted, he was about ready to give up. Dissatisfied, he narrowed his search to ways in and out.
He put his head in his hands. He was going to die and there was no way out of escaping that terror from the primordial age. Neanderthals, his father called them. Kids like Harold.
"One day you'll have to deal with one. We all do." His father had told him.
His father didn't answer.
His thoughts were shattered by a girl's voice.
"Trying to figure out a way to dodge your girlfriend?"
He looked up. Across from him on the other side of the computer was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen. She gave him a smile that lit up the room. Literally. He gave it over to his imagination, just like the image in the computer screen, and then grinned at her.
"Don't have one."
She shook her head. "Why not. You look cool to me?"
He felt shocked for a moment, then stuttered. "Uh...really?"
She laughed, but not at him. Warmly. Cascades of silver blonde hair fell over her eyes a moment, until she shoved them back. She reached a hand between the computers. "I just love computers, don't you?"
She giggled. "Cat got your tongue?"
He grinned, relieved at her sense of humor. "No..." Shyly. "You do."
The bell rang. Lunch break over.
She stood up to go.
He ran around to block her path. "I don't know your name."
She smiled. "Tell you what. Let's meet after school and exchange names."
"Then it's a deal." She said, and shook his hand, much to his surprise. Her hand when it touched his, caused an electric shock to jolt up and down his arm. His heart skipped a few beats. He stepped out of the way and she walked towards the exit.
"Wait!" He cried out.
She stopped and looked back. A sly look on her face.
She nodded to the computer she had been seated at. "Check the note I left for you."
Then before he could ask more, she exited the room.
He rushed to the computer and saw a pink slip of paper. Blank. He flipped it over and then felt his face become flushed with heat and far. "The Rose Gardens."
"Oh...crap! I am so...so...dead!" He uttered, his voice croaking from the sudden dryness of his mouth.
He spent the rest of the day, looking over his shoulder for Harold, who seemed to have disappeared, and for the girl, who also didn't seem to be around. Finally, he just surrendered to the inevitable destruction of his life with the hope that he just might snatch a few moments of happiness before it was crushed by Harold, the Monster, as all the nerds called him.
The last bell rang and he lockered what he didn't need. Which was pretty much everything. He always managed to get his work done at school in whatever free time he had. Then he took a deep breath and walked for the exit and the street.
As he passed Mister Cobb's room he saw Harold seated in the room, looking at some work he was doing. Billy sighed a breath of relief, then his grin vanished as Harold looked up and gave him the three finger salute and a look that harbored everything horrible imaginable. Mister Cobb didn't see it, but Billy did.
His spirit crushed again, he dashed for the exit, made it outside, then headed for the bus, which would take him to the Rose Garden. He caught it just as it was about to pull out. The driver, Mister Corday, stopped the bus and let him on.
"Driving the bus today?" He asked.
Mister Corday accepted the fare, and then smiled. "Trolley every other day."
"See you tomorrow on the trolley."
"You bet, young man. Where you heading? No wait. Let me guess?"
He began steering the bus into traffic. Billy hung on for support to the pole next to the driver's seat. "The Rose Garden."
"That's just crazy!" Billy cried out.
Mister Corday grinned. "Where else would a young man be heading to in that direction? No ball park. No video games. No eating places."
Billy just grinned. Mister Corday always made him feel good about himself for some reason. "Go have a seat, young man. Don't want you getting hurt or something."
Billy nodded, and then slung himself into a seat opposite the driver. He watched the man as he steered the bus expertly into traffic, slowing when he needed to, speeding when he could, and then pulling over for more passengers.
Finally, after about half an hour the bus pulled up next to the entrance to the Rose Park. "Here we are, Billy."
Billy got up. Hesitant to exit, for fear of who might be waiting somewhere. He started to sit back down again. Then he saw a familiar face. The girl. She was on the other side of the gate waving at him.
"Looks like you're going to be having fun." Mister Corday noted, as Billy descended hurriedly from the bus.
Billy looked back. "Wish me luck."
"Luck?" Mister Corday answered. "I'd say you had all the luck of the universe at this moment."
He pulled the bus away from the curb and drove off, leaving Billy staring at the empty road.
Billy turned. The girl was beckoning to him. He gave her his best smile and hurried to meet her. She closed the gap and reached out a hand. He took it. He didn't know why he did. He'd never done anything like that before. If his father or mother had seen him do it, they would've simply had a meltdown. It was just plain nuts!
They went to the top bench in the park and sat down. The sun was getting low in the sky. They didn't say a thing at first. It was just so beautiful.
Finally! "I'm Billy."
"I know. My brother talks about you all the time."
"Yeah." She said with a grin. "But he's kind of a slob."
"Yeah. Sis is kind of like that with me."
She giggled. "Sometimes family feel more like strangers."
"I'll buy that."
"Sold."She replied with a laugh.
He laughed too.
She suddenly tensed. "If you ever meet him, remind him about the G.I.Joe I found for him."
"Hey!" Harold's voice thundered from behind Billy.
Billy jumped up, his body starting to flush with fear. He turned slowly around. Harold stood at the top layer, looking down on him. He had two very large friends with him. "Time to balance the books, buddy."
"Harold. This is just not cool. What have I ever done to you anyway?"
Harold signaled to his buddies and they spread out to approach and block Billy's exit on the left and right as Harold moved down through the rose bushes to confront him at the bench. Billy suddenly realized that the girl had vanished.
He looked around frantically.
"No one's coming to your rescue, little dude." Harold said with a nasty grin.
He raised his massive fist of destruction as his buddies grabbed each of Billy's arms to hold him in place. "Prepare to meet the fist of destruction."
"Mary!" Billy cried out, worried that she might come back and get caught in the middle of the beating.
Harold's grin froze. "What'd you just say?"
Harold gave an almost invisible wince, and then leaned closer. "Mary who?"
"I don't know her last name. She just said she had a brother who's kind of a slob and that sometimes family feels like strangers."
Harold's face blanched, but he kept his fist cocked. "What does she look like?"
He described her. Harold's face grew blood red with anger. "You little sonuva bitch, I'm going to tear your lungs out through your throat for digging into my personal life!"
He didn't know why he blurted it out, but Billy suddenly said. "She told me to remind you of the G.I.Joe she found for you."
Harold's face turned pale as a ghost. He waved his buddies off and they walked away, looking disappointed.
Harold sat down on the bench and began to cry. More and more.
For some reason Billy couldn't explain he sat next to him. "Why are you crying? You're lucky to have a sister as beautiful as that. Only ten minutes ago she was here telling me about you."
Harold looked up from bloodshot eyes. "You can see her?"
Billy afterwards realized he could have been dead for doing it, but he laughed in Harold's face. "Harold, she held my hand and told me what I told you. She's as real as you or I!"
Harold gave Billy a look that was just plain filled with awe and terror and then he got up and left, leaving Billy seated by himself. The girl never returned.
He went home, more disappointed than he could explain to himself or his parents who wanted to know where he'd been, and then what had happened. When he told them, his father and mother looked at each other in disbelief and then at him.
"Son." His father said, carefully choosing his words.
"Harold's sister died two years ago in a car accident. She was run down by a drunk driver in front of Harold's home. It was in all the papers that week."
Billy froze for a moment, and then went into deeper shock.
When he went to school the next day, he was still in a shock of sorts, not looking at anyone or anything. Finally, he headed to Mister Cobb's room. He went in.
Mister Cobb looked up. "Billy, what's wrong?"
"I fell in love."
Mister Cobb's face lit up, and then he frowned. "What's wrong?"
Mister Cobb didn't know how to respond to that, and before he could Harold came into the room and handed some homework to him.
Harold turned to Billy and offered a hand. "I'd like to start over. If you can forgive me."
Billy stood stock still, his mouth hanging open. Mister Cobbs was in shock too.
Harold grinned. "And if you ever talk about my sister again, I'm going to..."
He rushed forward and Billy expected the worst, as did Mister Cobb who jumped up to get between them, but instead Harold put his arms around Billy and Mister Cobbs.
Billy went home that day, with a new friend and a beautiful memory. That weekend he took a bus to the cemetery where Mary was buried. He placed a bouquet of daisies on the gravesite, and then smiled. "Thanks!" He said, his heart filled with wonder and grief at the same time.
He worked his way through the cemetery towards the entrance where his father and mother were parked. As he closed in on it, a young girl about a year younger than him stepped from the side of a tree. She gave him an imploring look. "Can you help me find my dog? He ran away."
Billy went to his parents and told them, and they came out to help. It took them all of ten minutes. Finally, they cornered the little rascal. A tiny terrier with big brown lovable eyes. It licked all over the girl's face, who laughed like an angel.
His mother and father exchanged looks when Billy asked. "How'd you get here?"
She freaked. "Oh my God! I missed it. I have no way home!"
Billy looked at his mom and dad and they nodded.
"I think you do."
She smiled at him.
And just past her shoulders he could see a swirling mass of white light and a beautiful blonde girl in it, waving at him.
"Good-bye." He whispered.
The girl he had helped looked startled. "You're leaving me?"
Billy smiled. "No, not you. Just a memory and an angel that I loved once."
Then he took her hand and they walked with his parents back to the car. He didn't know her name, but he would. This week he had found love, lost it, made an enemy and found a friend, and now who knew what the future held. He smiled as he opened the rear door to their Ford Explorer for her to climb inside.
He grinned and when no one was looking, waved back at the place he had seen Mary. "Thanks!
Then he climbed into the car beside the girl and his parents drove him and her off into the future. Uncertain. But certain to be sure of surprises. Some bad. Some good.