Twelve Roses

Rose One:
the Unexpected

When I open my locker on the morning of February the fourteenth, I find flowers. Eleven red roses tumble onto the floor, each one perfectly shaped - thornless, velvety, unblemished. Hurriedly, I drop to my knees and scoop them up, shoving them back onto the shelf where they had rested. Rumors have a tendency to spread like wildfire around Amestris Prep, and I don't want to attract any more attention than I have already.

Once I finish unpacking, I take a moment to examine one of the flowers. I can't understand why someone would have gone to the effort (and expense) of buying me - the school outcast - an exquisitely beautiful gift. If anything, I would expect a rainbow flag, the newest Style! magazine, or another cruel device aiming at mocking my social status.

Maybe they had put itching powder in them, or something. Carefully, I peel back a vibrant petal. There's nothing suspicious looking, nothing I can see, anyway. Giving a half shrug, I place the rose back in my locker, letting it join its fellows. They were probably planted by some idiot jock who thought my confusion would be amusing enough. I'm probably being watched right now by a gaggle of football players and their cheerleading sycophants, giggling at every frown I make.

Now that's enough to put anyone off their lunch.

Shrugging once again, this time less noticeably in case anyone's watching, I shut my locker (not that it matters - with a well-placed punch, anyone can open these crap doors) and turn away, slowly and reluctantly heading to my homeroom. Luckily, I don't pass many people in the hall. It's only seven thirty, and, since school starts at eight fifteen, most of the buses haven't arrived yet. Not that it makes any difference. It's just easier to get around when I'm not being gaped at like an animal in the zoo.

Homeroom is in room 502, with Dr. Marcoh. He makes a point not to arrive earlier than eight o'clock, but he does leave his door open for people like me with nowhere else to go. He's not worried about vandalism or delinquency because of the two security cameras placed pointedly in each corner of the room. There's an ongoing bet on whether they actually work, but so far, no one has tested them. Out of custom, I give a casual wave to one of them before I sit down in my back corner desk.

Sighing, I slump low in my desk, drawing my jacket tightly around my shoulders. I rest my chin on the cold desk, letting greenish hair fall in front of my eyes, and try not to think.

Two years ago, I was one of the most popular kids at school. Since, even back then, I modeled for my mother's clothing line (Syn, by Dante), and because of my wealth, I had no shortage of admirers. Not all of them were girls, either. One of them was the most handsome boy at school: Roy Mustang.

Maybe he was interested in my money. Or maybe it was my carefully cultivated 'androgyné' that intrigued him. Either way, something tempted Roy to seek me out. As we grew closer, I found myself utterly, completely, and irrevocably in love with him.

Roy seduced me with promises, caresses, whispers in the dead of night as we shared his bed. And while I wasn't looking, he leached everything else away: my virginity, my dignity, my reputation, my self-respect - everything was made to serve him. I didn't care who saw us snogging in the hallways - I assumed they were just jealous. I didn't care who stared at my locker, papered with candid (and not-so-candid) photos of him in everything from my mom's latest tailored suit to his boxers. I ignored the whispers as I passed - I was lucky to be with Roy, and I assumed that's what 'they' were saying.

We were going to get married, we were going to have kids, we were going to live together in a beautiful mansion on the seashore. I didn't care that the first part of my plan was legally impossible or that the second part was physically impossible - I was in love!

But all good things come to an end. Eventually, Roy graduated, and I never saw him again. All his promises were empty, all his kisses were fake, and he dumped me like a worn out sock - with no remorse whatsoever. At first, I managed to convince myself that he had run into some difficulties, that he would be back for me as soon as he had found somewhere to live, that his mother was deathly ill and he needed to tend to her like the good son he was. After one month turned into four, and school began again, I slowly realized that he wouldn't be coming back.

It was then that I found out what the whispers had been about, and why people stared. I actually listened when I walked through campus (without Roy), and understood just how malicious high schoolers could be.
"There goes that queer."
"The one that was Roy's sex slave."
"I heard he was hitting on the football team in the lockers."
"I heard he gives the teachers blow jobs after school so they'll let him pass."
"I heard his mother lets him sell himself if he gives her half the money."

'I heard', 'I heard', 'I heard'. Half of the stuff wasn't even true! I didn't even know where most of the rumors started, and I honestly didn't want to find out. Even my former friends started behaving strangely towards me, and, finally, I gave up on friends at all. My most common nicknames became 'faggot', 'queer', 'homo', et cetera. I answered to all of them. Why not? Did I honestly have anything to lose?

Since then, I've become the biggest exile in the eleventh grade. Ironically, as a model, I have an entire fan club made up of mostly thirteen-year-old girls. What's the use of that when so-called mature sixteen year olds won't even talk to me?

I have these same thoughts every night. They don't change anything - I'm still Roy's homo and Roy's still not here. Maybe I'm still in love with him a little bit. Even though I got rid of the rest months ago, I still have one of my favorite pictures of him tucked safely inside my laptop case. And his cell phone is still number 2 on speed dial. Just in case. Sometimes I wish he would call me and say it was all a mistake, and that he still loves me more than anyone does. Other times, I wish I could just forget about him altogether.

When I open my eyes again, wrenching myself away from the memories, I find that the room has filled with people. According to the clock, it's ten past eight, almost time for class to start. My eyes rove from clique to clique - nerds, goths, preps, jocks - and settle on that one group you find in every school, made up of all the beautiful people. For some reason, they gravitate to each other. I wonder if they feel they can only be understood by someone as pretty as them.

In the center of the clump, my former friend Russell seems to be in the middle of an animated discussion with Edward Elric. Both of them are blonde and mostly Aryan, but my eyes settle on the shorter of the pair - Ed. His hair looks especially nice today for some reason, even though it's just done up in his customary braid. He seems more alive than usual, too, especially this early in the morning. Maybe he asked one of his prospective girlfriends out to the Valentine's dance, which, for some reason is next week. He has three that are vying for his attention: Winry, a wrench-toting, feisty blonde who's one of his best friends; Rose, a shy, two-toned brunette with a strong religious bent; and Noah, a Bohemian-dressing hippie with self-esteem issues.

Do I sound like a stalker? I suppose I do pay more attention to Ed than anyone else in the beautiful group, probably because he's never made it a habit of taunting me... to my face, at least. I wouldn't put it past him if he had half a chance. But right now, he's the one I have the least animosity towards. And, in my opinion, he's definitely the prettiest.

Prickling on the back of my neck alerts me to the fact that others in the room are staring at me staring at Edward. Blushing awkwardly, I look back down at my beaten up desk. There's the start of another rumor that will only grow with the telling.

The slight awkwardness is ended as the bell rings, signaling the start of the day. Surprisingly, Dr. Marcoh isn't here. He's usually never late, so this leads me to think that he's sick today. Already, some of the more rebellious students are glancing at the door, then the cameras, then the door again, debating whether to simply walk out and ditch, or to stay here like good little lambs. For my part, I stay. If I risked wading through the sea of hostility, I would be mobbed. Or something.

The bitches can't wait to get a piece of this ass.

With that thought, some of my old spunkiness comes back. However, my phoenix-like spirit is quickly crushed back into the ashes as a substitute teacher walks into the room - Basque Gran. How I hate that man. Along with being a close-minded, arrogant son of a bitch, he's also my great uncle, on my mother's side. Meaning he's known me (almost) from birth, he knows all the nasty rumors about me (and helps spread them, probably), and he knows where I live. What luck.

I hunch down further in my seat (along with most of the class - Gran definitely has more enemies than admirers) and hope he won't notice me as he silently takes roll. I can see when he's read my name because his eyebrows raise and his mouth twists into a despicably self-satisfied smirk. He probably thought today would be another boring day with few opportunities for torture. I guess I just brightened it up a little. Thankfully, homeroom only lasts fifteen minutes - after that, I'm free to run away as fast as I can.

---

Surprisingly, I make it to lunch without major mishap. I'm still expecting something bad to happen, since it is Valentine's Day, but at least I've gone through the first four periods of the day without making a total fool of myself. Even though I'm waiting for my good luck to come back and bite me in the ass, I've calmed down a little bit. Maybe I'm just being an egotist. Maybe, since it's a day for love and romance, my tormenters will be too obsessed with their paramours to notice li'l old me.

And maybe pigs will fly.

I walk out of line holding my lunch warily, keeping an eye out for the occasional foot that seems to stalk me wherever I go, just waiting for me to trip up. My table is in the back of the cafeteria. It used to be home to the stoners and the other outcasts, but they left when I started sitting with them. I guess I am lower than dirt here. Should I start calling myself 'pond scum'? "Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name is Envy, and I'm probably the prettiest pond scum you'll ever meet." Haha. I guess I'm really nervous today. Normally I'm not so corny.

I suppose it was the roses that got me so strung-up. I know there's a catch. People like me don't get flowers stuffed in their lockers unless it's for some kind of joke.

Edward has just gotten out of line. To my surprise, he passes the beautiful-popular table in the front and walks down the row of shoddy benches. I wonder why. Did he and the rest of them have some kind of fight? Probably. Russell didn't look too pleased when homeroom ended. In fact, he stalked out of the room like some kind of spoiled diva.

Quickly, before Ed sees me watching him, I duck my head back down and poke a bit at my food. I don't want him to think that I was actually hoping for him to come sit with me, because I wasn't. I don't want anything to do with the stupid cliques at Amestris. However, my curiosity won't leave me alone, so I hesitantly peek out from under a curtain of hair. He's already passed the drama geek table... now he's walking past the band... he even passed the stoner freshmen! Is he just going to leave?

But in a stunning turn of events, he does the one thing I never even dared to consider. He walks up to me, and asks, in his voice that sounds like melted chocolate, "Can I sit here?"

What can I do but nod? If I speak, all of this might vanish like a bad dream, but if I don't do anything, he might decide I'm not worth his time. But if I sound too eager, and everything is some cruel joke, I'll have just set myself up. So my head bobs up and down of its own accord, and he takes a seat.

After five minutes pass in silence, part of me wants to say 'Well, this is awkward'. The other half is clamping its fingers over its mouth and trying not to do anything that would scare Ed away. And so I wait for him to speak, awash with indecision. First of all, why is he sitting with me? It's something to do with the roses, right? What else can it be? He's going to say the punch line, and his friends that are oh-so-conveniently hidden somewhere will burst out and start laughing. Maybe one of them will even snap a picture of my hurt and devastated face. For posterity, you know.

But he sits, contemplating his mashed potatoes but not really eating them. I do the same - I'm afraid that he'll run away if I move.

Finally, he speaks. "Well, this is awkward." he states, giving me a crooked smile.

Woah, that's just what I was going to say. I want to reply with something witty and original, but my throat is dry. Something about this conversation strikes me as suspicious. For one, Ed's being unusually gentle. Normally, he's all over the place - self-confident, outgoing, cheerful, et cetera. (You know the type: student council treasurer, favorite of all the teachers, a member of every single club at school.) Now he seems oddly subdued, as though he's trying not to scare me away. Yeah right. I wonder what his friends told him before daring him to come sit with me. Probably something along the lines of: 'Don't make the psycho-faggot mad, or he'll come and rape you in the parking lot after school'. Whatever it was, he's treading really carefully around me now. So what else can I do but imitate him? I shrug elegantly in response.

The silence envelops us for another five tongue-tied minutes (How long until his friends give him the signal?), and finally I can't help it. The question that I've been waiting to ask ever since I saw him walking towards me bursts out of my mouth. "W-why are you here?" I ask, hating myself for the croak in my rarely used voice.

It's his turn to shrug and... Is that a blush I see on his face? "I was wondering if you liked the roses." he said quietly, ducking his head so his golden bangs swing across his face and hide his eyes, probably from shame, I think.

I knew it had to be something to do with those stupid, stupid flowers. I knew Ed wouldn't be coming to talk to me of his own accord because he thought that I was worth knowing, or something. But I had let myself hope, for a minute or two, that he was actually trying to get to know me, Envy, the pond scum. Apparently, I was wrong.

I get to my feet as quickly as I can, knocking my chair down loudly in the process. My hands slam down on the table with as much force as I can muster, causing Ed to jump. "Why is it always about the damn jokes?!" I hear myself shouting. "Yeah, okay, maybe 'Tease the Faggot' was hilarious the first time, but it gets kind of old by the forty-second time, y'know? Can't you all just leave me alone?!" My throat feels rough from screaming - I must have been loud - as I grab my backpack and speed out of the cafeteria. I see everyone, even the lunch-ladies, staring, Ed looking the most shocked of all. But I don't have time to cater to their need for drama, because my eyes are quickly filling with frustrated tears and I need to find a quiet place where I can bawl my eyes out.

Somehow, I manage to find my way to a secluded corner - behind the science building near the back of the school. It's nice and solitary, and it's where I go when life gets too much for me (actually, surprisingly, that's not often). I wedge myself into the small space between the side of the building and the wall, wrapping my hands around my knees and digging my nails into my thighs.

I'm not really angry at Ed, per se. I'm mostly angry at myself, for hoping that maybe today I would be accepted, that those roses were some kind of admiring gesture; that Ed wasn't another of those sheep-like idiots who went along with the crowd in making fun of the queer.

I hate myself for the tears leaking out of my eyes. I can't believe I'm so weak. I can't believe that I thought Ed would actually talk to me for myself. (And, deep down, I can't believe he didn't.) All his friends are probably congratulating him right now. Wasn't it brave of him, to talk to Envy all by himself? Wasn't it great, how he made that faggot storm out of the cafeteria? Isn't Ed just amazing?

My breath forms a cloud in the frosty air. It's so cold that my tears are actually getting uncomfortable, and the cement sidewalk, along with being gritty, is freezing. Warmth slowly leaches out of my body.

Maybe I'll turn into an icicle here, and when Ed grows up he can bring his kids to come and look at me.
"Here's the least popular kid at my high school. He went out and froze himself after I talked to him. You can poke him a bit, if you want."

Hilarious, Ed. Aren't you such the joker? I bet it makes you feel good when you crush the homo's spirit. Does it give you a rush? Does it turn you on? Do you feel like such a big man now that I'm sitting here sobbing and you're inside the warm and cozy cafeteria?

I can't help the laugh that bubbles up when I realize I'm holding an imaginary conversation with Edward. I guess I liked him more than I thought. Hastily, I drag my sleeve across my face to wipe away the signs of my crying. I'm being ridiculous. Stuff much worse than this has happened to me, right? I don't need to make a big deal of a bunch of roses and a half-broken heart, right? My eyes are probably all bloodshot and goopy - I look awful when I cry. Getting up stiffly, I let out a shuddering sigh and, keeping my head down, walk into the science building bathrooms.

Yup, I was right. The little veins in my grey-violet eyes are all red and inflamed, my nose is runny, and my face a nasty, blotchy red. Hell, even my hair is drooping. So much for being a model. I look like death warmed over - one of those old-lady sayings.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I hear a stall door creak open. Immediately, I whirl around to face the threat, bracing myself against the sink. Some of the worst bullying happens in bathrooms (for me, anyway), and I've gained such a deep paranoia here that I jump at any suspicious sound.

The noise turns out to come from the stall nearest to the sink, which Ed is just exiting. When he sees me, he freezes, and we stare at each other for an interminable length of time.

I'm not sure which is worse - seeing Ed here, or seeing some gigantic jock who thinks I came in to spy on him. Right now, I'm leaning towards picking Ed. After all, if it where a football player with something to prove, I would at least be able to run. But now I stand here like a deer in headlights. He knows I've been crying - the fact is written across my face, clear as day. And he no doubt knows why I was crying. Well, more power to him. I just wish he would do something or say something so I could snap out of this freaky tableau.

Finally, he opens his mouth to speak. "Envy," he says, and it sounds like honey. His voice is enough to break me out of my paralysis, and, in a flash, I'm running towards the door. I won't let him complete their joke, I won't give Ed and his friends the satisfaction. And I won't, I definitely won't let Ed see any of my weaknesses again.

"Envy, wait!" he calls after me, but I've already shoved my way through the thick wooden door. He sounds desperate, I note, in the part of my mind that isn't occupied with fleeing like a frightened rabbit. For some reason, he really wants to tell me what the roses were supposed to mean (as if I don't know, already). Maybe it was a dare. Maybe he's being paid.
"Hey, Ed! I'll give you fifty bucks if you give Envy-the-faggot roses! You just need to take a picture of his face when you tell him it was all a joke."

Something like that.

But I don't need him to tell me that. I can figure it out for myself, thank you very much.

---

I've never been happier to hear the bell ring for the end of the day. Now I can finally get back home, where there aren't any beautiful, blonde-haired boys stalking me. I hurry at my locker, stuffing the roses in my backpack - fully intending to toss them in the nearest trashcan before they can stink up my books - and jog through the halls and into the chilly February air.

To my chagrin, he's waiting outside, chatting amiably with Winry. I try to dodge back into the halls - I'd rather risk stumbling into the clutches of a vengeful jock than confront him - but he looks up just in time, and our eyes meet.

I freeze as soon as I make contact with that molten gold. How does he do it? It's as if he has some kind of power over me - when we make eye contact, I can't move. Inwardly, I'm panicking. My mind's running circles in a little hamster wheel: fight or flight, stay or go, predator or prey. I'd like to run, I really would. I'd like to hightail it back through the school and sprint the five blocks back home, but I can't. My body's immobilized as he walks closer, still smiling that damnably gorgeous smile.

"Look, Envy," he says, (completely blowing off Winry to come and talk to me) and his voice sounds so earnest I find myself wanting to trust him. But I can't let him get to me like that, because if I even think for one moment that he's serious, I'll end up being hurt worse than before. Miraculously, my feet regain some will to move and begin shuffling backwards, back through the door. I see Ed's eyes widen before some freshman plows into me and throws me to the floor at his feet.

Wincing, I bite my lip. It feels like I was just run into by a steam train. My knees hurt like hell and they're probably bleeding, and my palms are stinging. Slowly, blinking away tears from the sudden blow to my head, I find my way back to my feet, ignoring Ed's proffered hand. I'm still a bit hunched from the throbbing in my knees, and I can tell I'm not going to get anywhere fast.

He's looking at me with so much sympathy in his amber eyes that I think I could puke. It's all fake, anyway. But my heart still thaws a bit when he asks, "Are you all right, Envy?" He said my name again, and I can feel my poor abused knees start to tremble.

I make a snap decision to be brave. I know it'll cost me, eventually, but right now I'm tired of this crap - I'm in pain and I just want to get the hell out of here. "Look. If you want to tell me exactly what was so funny about you and your asshole friends stuffing roses in my locker, go right ahead. And if you want to get a picture of my face when I hear the punch line, I think I have a camera in here somewhere." I slide a backpack strap off one of my shoulders and make a show of rummaging through it. Of course, I don't actually carry around a camera. But I'm hoping he'll get the point anyway.

And he does. I see his eyes widen (with surprise, probably - didn't think I was that sharp, did you?), and he bites his lip, taking a step back from me. Good. It was hard for me to think when he was standing that close. "Envy," he says in his voice like caramel, and the puppy dog look on his face makes me want to break down completely, wrap my arms around his neck, and cry. "The roses weren't a joke."

He's so serious that I'm sent into a flurry of conjectures. He said the roses were real, meaning that he wants me to think that they were actually a gesture of fondness. This means he either wants me to believe that he likes me, or that someone else does. And, if he's the one that bought them, it means he's not afraid of telling me his 'feelings' in front of people like Winry, who is watching us curiously. So... either he's sincere about this, or all his friends are in on this marvelous joke. I'm voting the latter but... it can't be that simple. No school celebrity in their right mind would stake their entire reputation on a plot to crush my spirit, right? Unless the whole school is in on it with them...

"Envy?" he asks, probably worried with my sudden stillness. But I can't reply to him now, I'm to busy arguing with myself. Do I dare take the chance and believe him? Am I brave enough to put my heart on the line, and possibly be dropped and forgotten... again? I don't think so. I don't think I could survive a broken heart again. I fall too deeply in love with people - I can't let myself do that again. But, then again, by not believing him, I may be making the biggest mistake of my life. After all, the ultimate risk is not taking a risk, and Ed sounds so damn earnest.

Maybe, just maybe, he's telling the truth. I'll give him a chance, but I won't give him my heart. Not yet, anyway. So, instead of running away again, I'm the one that initiates eye contact. "What do you mean?" I ask, knowing full well what he means but him to confirm it.

"I mean..." Ed pauses and his cheeks grow pink - is he blushing, or is it just from the cold? "I like you. And I want you to go with me to the dance." He smiles at me again, and in his eyes I can see the pleading. Will he be embarrassed if I flat-out refuse? I could take revenge on all the popular kids by simply saying 'No'. If he's serious, that is.

But I've decided to take the bait and pray he means it. What else can I do but nod and smile as though I've won some kind of popularity lottery? My heart speeds up from a sudden adrenaline rush at the risk I'm taking and maybe, just a little bit, at the way his face lights up when I accept.

"Great!" Ed replies with heartfelt relief. I guess he's never asked a guy out before, which isn't very surprising. Suddenly, he makes an 'o' shape with his mouth. Quickly, he pulls off his backpack and takes out a rose. He holds out the perfect burgundy blossom and I accept it with chilled fingers, admiring its flawless curves. "There. That makes a dozen roses. I was keeping this one so I could give it to you in person," he explains, and it's so corny that I can't help but smile - for real, this time.

"Thank you," I say with wholehearted gratitude. Then, clutching the rose with one hand and simply dropping my bag, I wrap my arms around him in a hug. He feels so warm and perfect, and as he holds me and hesitantly reciprocates the embrace, I realize just how long it's been since someone held me like this. That thought alone is enough to make me cry as I nuzzle my chilled nose into his neck. I suppose I'm squeezing too hard, and I've probably crossed several invisible lines for a first-time hug, but it feels so right.

That's when I realize that I had already begun to give Ed my heart before he tried to gain it. And although I'm still afraid he'll end up betraying me, I can't be anything but loyal. I feel like I've just stepped off the diving board. I'm dropping like a stone, and someone had better be there to catch me at the bottom. I can't survive the fall on my own.

And that's all for today. Right now, I would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy EdxEnvy Valentine's Day, especially SexySpoonsWillRuleUsAll, because February 14 is also her birthday. So, happy birthday Spoons! And may all of you readers find happiness, if not romance, today. -smile- See you next time!