On prom morning, she was awakened by the croaky sound of Daddy’s decrepit old rooster, over the hill at the barn. Daybreak. Rose had always liked the sound of that word. And the connotations she imagined along with it. She thought about the night sky shattering, about sharp, black shards falling and impaling some unsuspecting, old woman shuffling down the street in China or some other somewhere on the opposite side of the world. ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ her Nanna would say.
“Whatev,” Rose mumbled, feeling particularly grown up in her silky, pink penoir as she stood alone in the kitchen and watched a pot of coffee slowly percolate.
That’s what her boyfriend would say. Whatever. Braxton, her boyfriend, was hot and funny and smart and whatever. He was the captain of the basketball team in a town that was too poor and too hilly for football. He had sandy blonde hair that fell across his forehead just right and he had a full ride scholarship to UK, where he would study equine sciences. Someday, when he grew up, they would live happily ever after on a horse farm in the rolling bluegrass outside Louisville. Close to the city, where there are avenues and boulevards filled with strangers instead of ridges and hollers populated by the same old people who could never understand an exciting, illicit love like the one that had bloomed inside Rose for Braxton.
After thinking it over long and hard, Rose had decided to do her own hair for the big night. And as she itched at the aquamarine, plastic rollers she’d slept on, she wished that her Mother could see her today, help her pile up her curls just right. Those girls at the beauty shop were jealous and mean, so she stayed home. Alone. With part of her inheritance, she had rented a limo and a hotel room with a hot tub. She knew that Mommy and Daddy would approve, so long as she was happy. She’d also dropped quite a chunk of her parent’s hard-earned, life savings on a boob job the summer before she started teaching eighth grade, the summer after she lost seventy-five pounds. You’d think those old biddies down at Deb’s ‘Dos would have been proud of her, finally paying a little bit of attention to her looks. It had taken her thirty some odd years to blossom. She sipped sugary sweet coffee and reminded herself that Braxton said they’re just haters and that he sends her a dozen roses from a secret admirer to school every Valentine’s Day. He doesn’t know the truth, couldn’t guess that she hadn’t loved him at all at first. Her feelings for him came along later. Rose smiled out the window at the birds singing and imagined herself with a tacky carnation pinned crookedly to her brand new chest and let those feelings and her secrets float free and fill up the kitchen around her.
Braxton was too sweet and young and beautiful to ever suspect that she had made him love her, that she had been in the background watching his whole life unfold. If she had her way, he would never know that their loved bloomed out of her plotting. She waited for his hormones to develop, watched his eyes widen and a book fly down to his lap when she’d lean over his desk to show off the good doctor’s good work. He would never believe that she had tested the limits of his devotion over and over, trained him like a horny, puppy dog. To Rose his moody green eyes and lithe young body didn’t really matter. What had mattered to her, at first, was that Braxton came by those piercing eyes as a birth right, passed down from his Mommy. All that mattered was that his mother loved him best. And through that cocky boy who sauntered into her junior high school English class, Rose could find a way to bust another woman’s heart into pieces.
She shuddered as the ancient rooster mustered the energy and crowed into the sunrise one more time, a broken sound to match the broken sky. She remembered those eyes pinning her down twenty years ago as she fumbled through her teenage years. How those eyes peered into her lumpy, awkward body and how those sensual, sensational, x‑ray eyes lit up when they found the most vulnerable, painful spot to strike. She had been helpless against the beauty and cruelty back then, but she had vowed to make things right. Rose was quiet and patient. It took years to slowly and spitefully ingratiate herself into the small-town social world she used to envy. And she knew, even as she had giggled and gossiped through the baby shower thrown to celebrate his arrival, Rose knew that Braxton would be her revenge. The town would be scandalized. His mother would just die. Maybe she’d even make the national news. And besides, Braxton would be a real babe in his rented tux.