The Rose Tattoo | Teen Ink

The Rose Tattoo

July 18, 2014
By slb126 BRONZE, Halifax, Other
slb126 BRONZE, Halifax, Other
3 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"That's who you really like. The people you can think out loud in front of."
-John Green

Natalie and I couldn’t have been more different. I was a tall, slim teenage boy with a mop of blond hair and a big smile; she was a petite girl with a morose face and dyed red hair with black roots already growing in. I had a large group of friends, also jocks, which followed me like a pack of sheep, and she was by herself. I often saw Natalie (that was her name) sitting on a bench outside the school, sketching in a little cloth-bound notebook with her headphones on and her worn canvas sneaker thumping to the rhythm against the gravel. It had been once, in art class (we sat together as part of our seating arrangement) that I had peeked at her iPod screen, only to see the cover art of an indie rock band that I also enjoyed. I never shared this piece of information, this little snippet of insight, with her, but it always struck me as both incredibly strange and oddly comforting that me, a stereotypical popular jock and her, the loner with the dyed hair and home-done piercings, had the same taste in music.

Getting assigned as partners for a school art project was, to say the very least, a challenge and a shock. I ducked my head against the jeers coming from my basketball friends as she glanced over at me at the unexpected sound of our names being called together. The assignment was to work on a portfolio, which would contain sketches, photography or paintings, together. Together was still a strange word to me, when it came to Natalie and I.

We decided on photography, and set out for daily outings to take photographs of anything interesting that caught our four eyes. We were, once again, different that way: I pointed out cliché photo opps such as a sailboat heeling against the wind, flying through the bay, or a beautiful flower garden at the park. Natalie suggested the smaller things that I honestly hadn’t even noticed… cigarette butts laying discarded on the ground, a wilting plant draped over an elegant rose, even my sweater tied casually around my waist.

“I just don’t understand how you can see this stuff,” I joked, laughing uncomfortably and feeling somewhat self-conscious. “It’s like you have… laser eye vision or something.” The forced chuckle I attempted was awkward, to say the least, and embarrassed both of us. Natalie’s cheeks turned pink, and she looked away. We were dying of a sudden humiliation in each other’s presence, and at the same time, trying not to burst into laughter.

“You just have to…” She shrugged, giving the same off-kilter laugh I had blurted out moments before. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, revealing a long line of studs of all shapes and sizes, and shrugged again. I realized that I was falling in love. “Uh…” She blushed harder, glancing down at the camera in her hand.

“Look closely?” I suggested lamely, as if I had the slightest clue.

“Yeah, um…” She winced and shook her head. “Well, no. No. More like… just, you know, let yourself notice things. Slow down and stop searching for the perfect photograph.”

So I did what she told, and I started noticed little things, mostly things about her. I noticed the way the tiny little earrings creeping up her ear twinkled in the sun, and I noticed the way she lined her eyes with a thick black charcoal everyday. I paid attention, and saw that she had drawn a rose on her wrist in thick permanent marker. I saw that her nails were colored in with clumpy White Out, and, further up, the jagged scars on her inner arm. Seeing them without her noticing made me feel off balance, exposed and caught-red-handed, and the very thought that she was self-harming made me feel sick with guilt.

After weeks of my eyes continuing to slip over to her arm, I had to say something. I cleared my throat and shifted from one foot to the other, avoiding her eye. “Um, uh…” I coughed.

“Yeah?” Natalie asked. She flashed me a small, pretty smile. Smiles had been rare when I’d first met her, but it seemed as though I was earning more and more.

“Your arm,” I said matter-of-factly, and then instantly regretted it.

Natalie’s smile dropped, and I could almost see the gears in her head go into overdrive as she tried to figure out what to say to this very personal question. “Ah….” She laughed nervously, but I could see pain showing behind her wide, dark eyes. “Yeah, um…”

Seeing her so ashamed made me feel horrible, and I rushed to cover up what I had said. “The rose,” I blurted, jabbing my finger in its direction like my life depended on it.

“The rose?” Natalie frowned, then glanced down at her wrist. She tugged her long, black sleeve down so that only the graphic flower doodled on her pale skin was visible. “Oh, that,” She said, her cheeks coloring slightly as she gave her signature little shrug. “Ha. It’s just a thing I did in art class… I was, like, bored…”

“Can I, uh, take a picture of it?” Silence. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea or anything, I was just thinking about what you said about noticing things, and-”

“No, no!” She shook her head, and then started rapidly nodding. “It’s a good idea. It is. Go ahead. I don’t… care.” She hesitated, and then raised her wrist.

I wrapped my long fingers gently around her arm, trying to be as careful as possible. I could feel her skin, warm and alive, beneath her shirt, and suddenly worried that my hands were sweaty, or too strong. I bent down to get to her level and pointed the camera towards the tattoo with one trembling hand. I got the perfect shot on the first try, and then took two more. I lowered her arm, my face flushed. We stared at each other. Both of us were nervous.

Then, before I lost my nerve, I kissed her. A light, slightly unsure kiss that was more of first kiss then something comfortable. It felt like fireworks, like something new and amazing. I felt like life had just opened up dozens of door for me. Our eyes closed only briefly, and we both pulled away. I stared at her. Her eyes, so dark and beautiful, were anxious and enthralled, terrified and wonderful. She looked away, her face bashful. Then, with the last ounce of courage I had, I pulled up her sleeve, revealing every scar, every dark secret, every hidden memory.

She yanked her arm away, her eyes becoming frightened and shameful. She didn’t pull her sleeve back down, though, because she knew that I had seen.

“It’s okay,” I told her. I wanted so badly for her to believe me. “It is. It’s okay.”

She closed her eyes, and a single tear trickled down her cheek. She wrapped her arms around her chest and rocked back on her heels. When she spoke, her voice shook.

“I’ve never told anyone,” She said softly, and opened her eyes. They were looking for help, and maybe they always had been. I guess I was just too vain to notice, like most people were; we were all too vain to notice things.

“I’ve never told anyone,” She said softly, and opened her eyes. They were looking for help, and maybe they always had been. I guess I was just too vain to notice, like most people were; we were all too vain to notice things.

“I know now,” I said, trying to sound as reassuring as possible when in fact this scared the hell out of me. This love scared the hell out of me, but it fascinated me, and overjoyed me. “And it’s okay. You’re okay. You’ll be okay. Everything is okay.”

She didn’t say anything at first. Then, finally, “Yeah. Okay.” She smiled a tiny smile, and I saw something new in her eyes: the beginning of hope.

We walked out of the park hand-in-hand.

The author's comments:
I was inspired to write this piece because I love the idea of unlikely, unexpected friendship, and turning it into a love story makes it even better. I also wanted to make a point that we, as human beings, don't really take time to notice what is around us, even when we might not pick up on the fact that there are people around us suffering. I hope that, from this, people will learn to give others a chance and try to learn more about what is around them. I pretty much just hope that people like it, because it was interesting to write about such a tricky relationship.

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