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