Cuts Both Ways

bad valentine

I hate Baz Crandall.

*****

This is awkward, because he’s lived across the street from me my whole life. When we were in elementary school, we’d always play detectives and have sleepovers and once, the summer before fourth grade, we made a secret club. I drew us a really kickass Keep Out sign. Baz pricked our fingers with a safety-pin and held them together to make us blood-brother-and-sister.

He thought I was the coolest girl he’d ever met.

I was young and stupid and didn’t know yet that you could hate a person.

*****

“You’re so nice, Rosie,” my ninth grade art teacher, Mrs. Waterfield, said once.

I was sitting next to her at the drafting table after school, helping her organize the supplies for the stencil assignment. We were counting the utility knives to make sure the last class had turned everything in.

“You’re so nice,” she said, and it was true, even though my whole day had been one big fantastic suck-fest and by then, I was already well on my way to hating Baz.

Not that he’d done anything terrible, exactly. Just lined up and pegged me with the dodgeball when everyone else did.

I’d volunteered to stay after art because some of the drill-team girls had been bugging me in history and I didn’t want to walk home yet.

When Mrs. Waterfield went over to the paint closet, I took one of the knives out of the box and put it in my pocket.

It was a stupid thing to do. The blade was nicked and crusty with rubber cement. All the knives were so dull you couldn’t even cut a page out of a magazine without tearing the paper, and anyway, it was so completely pointless. I didn’t really need a utility knife.

I went home wondering why I’d done it. If stealing a knife from school proved I wasn’t nice. Later, I threw it away.

*****

It’s not like I asked to be a freak. Isn’t that how it always is? We spend all this time wishing for curly hair or long eyelashes, and then wind up with a whole mess of other heritable traits we didn’t even want—those things you get from the weird side of the family, like bad teeth or double-jointed knees.

My mother says kitchen witch. Hedge witch, but I would never apply that label to myself. Those are words for people who can do a little bit of magic, a parlor trick here and there. My mom is a perfect example. She can light the pilot on the gas stove without using a match, and that’s about it.

I’m what the family calls an opener, but even that sounds kind of harmless. A better term would be slicer. A better term would be the girl with the razor-blade stare. I can cut an apple into eight perfect wedges without even touching it.

My mom says kitchen witch because she doesn’t want me to notice that my talent is good for a whole lot more than clipping coupons. The truth is, I could be a super-villain with very little effort.

*****

Do you want to know how I know that I’m nice?

When I was twelve, there was this kid in my class named Ashton Poole. He was popular and loud, just like a lot of other kids named Ashton except he had a red motocross jacket and his hair was cut in a five-inch rattail in the back, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Even in middle school, I made really good valentines. They were lacy and symmetrical, with tiny heart-shaped cutouts and perfect craftsmanship—even better than store-bought. The week before our sixth grade holiday party, I spent hours making one for every single person in the class.

The party was forty-five minutes long. We had pink cupcakes and candy hearts and all girls stood around in little clusters, comparing cards and shrieking about who liked who.

The only person who gave me a card was Baz. It was one of those glossy rectangular ones with the bumpy edges where it had been punched out of a whole sheet of other cards exactly like it. It had a picture of Iron Man on it and said something predictably tragic, like Happy Valentines Day to a Super Friend.

Only, by then we weren’t really friends anymore. On the back, he hadn’t written anything special—just him name.

As usual, my valentines were miles better than anyone else’s. They fluttered like tropical flowers or snowflakes, covered in foil and silver glitter. And I hadn’t really expected the other kids to suddenly like me or anything, but I’d kind of hoped anyway. I waited for someone to say thank you.

Ashton was the first one to figure out that the cards I’d made were really sturdy and if he wanted, he could throw his around like a frisbee. It didn’t take long before the whole room was full of flying hearts.

Baz didn’t join in. He didn’t do anything. If he’d laughed and chucked the cards around like everybody else, it would have meant that I was basically an outcast. But I could have handled that.

Instead, he took the one I’d given him and stuck it in his social studies folder. He caught me watching and then dropped his eyes.

“Thanks for the glider,” said Ashton, tugging on my ponytail. “It flies great.”

“Don’t,” I said, and pretended to be very focused on my cupcake.

He tugged me again. “What are you going to do about it?”

“If you don’t stop it, you’re going to find out. I could make you so sorry if I wanted.”

He just laughed and turned away, giving my hair a last nasty pull.

I could have reached out and grabbed him. I could have made him howl in agony. I could have made him cry.

This is how I know that I’m nice—because no matter how bad the day gets, no matter how easy it would be to make them sorry, I never do it.

*****

Do you want to know why I hate Baz Crandall? Okay, here’s the thing. Somewhere between secret clubs and blood pacts, middle school happened and Baz stopped being my best friend. He stopped coming over, stopped calling me, but he never stopped saying hello or smiling at me in the halls, because he still wants me to think he’s a nice person. He wants me to like him.

And that is the most hypocritical thing I can think of.

*****

On Labor Day weekend, I rode my bike to the library and by the time I came home it was just starting to get dark.

Baz was out in his driveway, kicking a soccer ball against the garage and practicing his goalie saves every time it bounced back at him.

When I rode past, he glanced over his shoulder. “Hey there, Rosie.”

I didn’t answer, just raised a hand and flipped him off.

“Why are you always so freaking bitchy?” he said behind me and it was good to hear that for once, he sounded angry. “I’m just being nice.”

The street was empty and people’s porch lights were starting to come on. I turned my bike around in a wide arc and coasted it into his driveway. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s not a whole lot of point to being nice. I am nice. It’s never made anyone like me.”

The way he looked at me was irritating. “Only because you always have to prove that you’re better than everyone!”

That made me want to smile, but not because it was funny. I wanted to slap him i
n the face, tell him that I didn’t give them handmade cards or volunteer to stay after class because I was oh-so awesome. That I just wanted them to stop looking at me like I was defective. “Maybe I am better than everyone. Ever think of that?”

He dropped the ball, looking off over my head. His laugh was short and dry. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re fantastic. That’s it, Rosie—you just keep telling yourself that.”

I didn’t say that if any of them had the power I did, they’d use it on each other so fast. They’d never just sit there and let people laugh at them. Sometimes, it’s really hard not to be a villain. It can take an awful lot of energy.

Baz was standing with his arms crossed, like he was waiting for me to admit that he was right, or else like he felt sorry for me.

“Do you want me to prove it?” I said, and he just shrugged.

I got off my bike and dumped it sideways onto the grass. I wanted him to stop being sorry. When I came up the driveway to him, I was glad when he took a step back.

“It’s going to hurt,” I said, reaching for his hand. “There’s just not way around it.”

He nodded like it was no big deal, but his eyes were nervous in the glow from the streetlight, waiting to see what I would do.

I took his hand in mine, holding it with the palm turned up the way he’d done to me when he pricked our fingers. I stared down and the skin opened in a dark paper-thin line—not deep, but enough.

It was weirdly satisfying to hear his breathing change, a harsh, rasping noise as he stared at me, then down at the blood in his cupped hand.

“No way,” he whispered. “No freaking way.”

I dropped his hand and the blood ran down his fingers, dripping in a slow patter on the driveway. “This is a secret, Baz. And you’re going to keep it, because even if you told anyone, they wouldn’t believe you. And because if you say a word, I swear to god, I will cut your heart out.”

He nodded. When he stared back at me, he looked scared, but also excited, like how he used to look at me when we were kids. Like I was the coolest girl he’d ever met.

I went home smiling to myself in the dark. Baz’s hand had felt warm and shaky in mine, and I know I’m not supposed to use the slice on people, but sometimes it’s not the slice. Sometimes it’s more like a blood pact. Besides, you can never be a real super hero until someone else knows it. You need to have a sidekick, a partner in crime.

And yeah, I hate Baz Crandall . . . but I don’t hate him that much.

Photo by faster panda kill kill

42 thoughts on “Cuts Both Ways

  1. I’m trying to think of something to say about how I like this a lot other than just that, but I can’t really think of anything else, so. Creepy talents and not-supervillains and paper valentines and partners in crime… I like this a lot.

    …spell check wants me to change ‘supervillains’ to ‘supervision’. Clearly, it is no fun.

  2. This is really, really wonderful. I love the idea that her mum thinks clipping coupons will be enough and I love all the superhero lines.

    Supervillains have more fun anyway.

  3. Whoa. This might be my new favorite Merry Fates. I’m tempted to ask whether anything happens next . . .

  4. This is great. It that great feel of, oh please don’t let her do that and ‘please let her do that again — only worse’ (iykwim).

    Great story.

    Josie

  5. I know exactly what you mean, because that was pretty much my whole feeling while writing it—Rosie, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t . . . oh please do!

  6. I don’t know for sure, but I’m sensing a well-intentioned supervillain evolving out of all this—with an irreproachably nice henchman!

  7. I love a good creepy talent! Not to mention supervillains, of course. Possibly without supervision?

  8. Supervillains are the only way to go! While (of course) considering themselves heroes . . .

  9. I don’t think Rosie thinks she’s scary . . . but I definitely think she’s scary!

  10. Oh, I love this! Is it bad that I kind of wanted her to go all Carrie in the classroom and slice up everyone? She’d still be a hero, since she’d be ridding the world of jerks like Ashton…

  11. It would probably be pretty difficult to become a supervillain while supervised, at least. Or maybe you’d have to be a really good one.

  12. This is an absolutely AWESOME story.
    As in, the origional meaning of the word.
    I must admit, if it were me I would have cut the rat tail off of the back of Ashton’s head.

  13. Hey, it’s me—you know there’s a bad, bad (but oh-so epic) scene somewhere in her future!

  14. In eighth grade one of my friends went after our Ashton’s rat tail with a pair of art scissors. I maintain that if she’d been successful, his entire life would been transformed. She missed, however, and for all I know, he has it to this day.

  15. It would be so entertaining to watch the internal struggle of good verses evil unfold. To allow her vengeful moments and then glimpse moments of good and grace.If she did decide to permanently cross over to the dark side, I have a feeling we would still love her. I love your style Brenna!

  16. I loved this so much! – really enjoyed reading it. I feel there is so much more we could learn about Rosie, and it’s really got me thinking about her ability and her back story and her future. Clever crafting, thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  17. I honestly have such a hard time writing villains—they mostly wind up being fundamentally decent people who just keep making all these hard, bad choices. I’m pretty sure that if Rosie were to stop doubting herself though, she’d be one of those lovable, self-assured villains. She could be totally tyrannical and still have a certain charm . . .

  18. Glad you liked it! I think there’s a lot going on in her backstory, for sure—her family must be something else!

  19. Thank you. I made it for a friend (because every time I posted a review about a TP book, she would reply with ALY MARRIED A CROW!, and then it became a thing. I find it comes in handy when you get to the end of a book and realize that you have all these people you need to write endings for. 🙂

  20. Ahhh, not enough words in my vocabulary! Wonderful, awesome, stupendous, amazing, fascinating, engaging, interesting, THERE ISN’T ENOUGH! 🙂

  21. I’d like to repost this on my blog–does the story have a title?

    “I hate Baz Crandall” isn’t bad. 😛

  22. Glad you liked it! You’re absolutely welcome to link to it—we love it when people want to share our site!

    For some terrible reason, the story title only shows up in the title bar of the browser. This one is called “Cuts Both Ways.”

  23. Wow, that’s a lot of adjectives—and oh, man, do I LOVE ADJECTIVES! (I’m glad you liked it)

  24. Thanks! I’m all about moral quandary, lately. Not to mention, blood . . .

    (Wait, did I say lately? I meant all the time.)

  25. I’ve been that girl. The outcast who couldn’t do anything right.

    This is a great story of strength and I like the way her mind works and how she deals with the pressures of middle school, but with an extra layer of tension.

  26. I think we’ve all been that girl at some point—even people who aren’t usually that girl, or people who aren’t girls at all. I think the hardest thing is knowing without a doubt that you could retaliate in a way that would destroy someone, but also knowing that it would be wrong.

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