Rosa met Megan on the first day of school. “Hey,” Rosa said. She had successfully held out all day without talking to anyone.
“Hi. I’m Megan. I’m new here.” Megan said.
“Yeah,” Rosa said, “Me too.”
“I’m kind-a freaked out.”
“That sucks,” Rosa replied. “Kids at this school are dumb.”
Megan stared curiously at Rosa as they closed their adjacent lockers and while Rosa, growling, mashed three books too many into her backpack. “What’s your next class?” Megan asked.
“Hey, me too.”
Rosa nodded. “You’re not dumb.”
Not only did Megan and Rosa have Math together, but they also attended after school classes at the American Ballet Academy.
Later that school year, Megan threw a party at her house when her parents were out of town for the weekend. She invited all her friends. “Rosa! Meet my friend Mr. Beef!” Megan shouted over the music and then laughed. “That’s not his real name! I just made that up.” Megan was listing to one side, drunk. She was very happy to be introducing her best friend from childhood to her best friend from school.
“Call me Diaz.”
“Diaz.” He obeyed.
Their chemistry was palpable.
The two girls sat facing each other engrossed in conversation. “Rosa. That boy is no good for you. You know he’s trouble,” Megan said.
“He’s fine.” Rosa crossed her arms and grimaced.
“He’s not fine. You need to dump his ass.” Megan waited. New York City’s beautiful, omnipresent clatter filled in the awkward pause in the conversation. Megan continued, “Fine. He is fine, but he’s not good for you.”
It was true. Rosa had started to stay out late and skip class. She even got an A- on her last English paper, her lowest grade of the year. Rosa told herself Romeo and Juliet were a couple dummies, but it was no consolation. Staying up late to study had been replaced with lessons on how to pick locks and casing out targets for future jobs. That boy was, in fact, trouble.
The next day Rosa met her boyfriend after school. He leaned against a dark green, heavy metal fire door thick with years of paint and dirt.
She walked by him and passed without slowing down. He peeled off the door and had to run a couple steps to catch up with her.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” he replied.
“Megan thinks you’re bad for me.”
He thought for a moment and then snickered. They strode down the side walk shoulder-to-shoulder, playfully bumping into each other into parking meters or fire hydrants.
After a few blocks Rosa stopped and turned abruptly, glancing around to make sure nobody was within hearing distance. “I’ve got to be home by nine. Got it?” He agreed. She continued, “Behind me on the second floor is an artist loft. Every Tuesday night three trust fund babies leave at exactly five-to-seven and go for dinner at the same insanely overpriced bistro up the street where they drink pink drinks and eat and talk about nothing. They get home between eight thirty and eight forty-five. I looked it up. This whole block is zoned for commercial use only. It’s totally illegal for them to be living here. Grab stuff that doesn’t make sense to have in an art studio like high-end kitchen gadgets or fancy bathroom crap. Keep your hands off their art supplies. If you do this right, they can’t even report it to the cops. Questions?”
He shook his head.
They took a seat on a stoop three buildings down and across the street. Rosa read her Civil War history assignment, checking her watch while they waited. She continued to study until seven minutes to seven and then jammed her book into her backpack with a force that almost ripped off the cover.
“Let’s go.” They crossed the street and spotted the three women leaving their studio. Engrossed in conversation, they walked down the street in the opposite direction.
“Double check your phone,” Rosa said picking up her pace.
He pulled his phone out, flipped it open, and turned it on vibrate. “Eight-fifteen next to the library?”
“Yeah.” Rosa continued walking straight, following the three women while he turned to slide down an alley adjacent to the loft.
At seven o’clock the three women arrived, entered the restaurant, and were soon flirting with the well groomed bartender. Satisfied that they were not going anywhere soon, Rosa sat on a park bench facing the restaurant and pulled out her phone. “What’s up?” she texted.
“Not much,” he replied. Everything was going to plan.
At thirteen past eight, Rosa flagged down a taxi and directed it to pick up another passenger at the school library. The taxi arrived at eight fifteen exactly and pulled up to the school library entrance. No one else was in sight. The doors were locked and lights out. The taxi driver pulled out a newspaper and calmly waited. In contrast, Rosa held her breath. She wanted to text, but knew she shouldn’t. If he had been caught she might implicate herself by texting again.
Five minutes later, the sound of luggage wheels rolling down the sidewalk made Rosa turn and look though the rear window of the cab. Rosa started breathing again. “That’s him. Pop the trunk.”
When Rosa got home she had a hundred and twenty three dollars in her pocket and her history homework already done.
“Hi, sweetheart,” her mother called to her.
“Maria,” Rosa replied with a slight smirk as she looked into her mother’s face. Whenever Rosa called her mother by her first name it would temporarily stun her for almost a minute giving Rosa much needed time to get to her room without getting sucked into some embarrassing hug-fest. Unfortunately, it did not work this time. A vacant look appeared for only a second and then she refocused.
“Your ballet teacher called tonight. She said your missed class.” Maria looked concerned.
“So?” Rosa crossed her arms.
“So, I was worried about you.”
Fourteen year old Rosa Diaz would have just kept walking to her room and ignored her mother. Now she was sixteen and much more mature. She’d learned to lie like a pro. “I’m sorry. I thought Miss Miriam was on vacation this week?” A story that is half-truth and half-lie always worked on her parents.
“Yes. She is. But they have a substitute. A very nice, um, Miss Romenscoff called.”
“Ohhh. I thought class was canceled.” Rosa took a deep breath. This was the hard part. “I didn’t mean to make you worry. I’m sorry.” Rosa uncrossed her arms and almost ran out of the room before a hug would be possible. When she got to her room, she texted and instant messaged Megan, but didn’t get a reply. They often studied together. Rosa liked to know that someone was there studying with her as long as they wouldn’t talk too much. Megan was good at that.
The next day at school Megan seemed to be avoiding Rosa. Megan kept on coming up with dumb excuses for having to rush off after class. She ate lunch and ran to the library before Rosa even paid for her food. By the end of the day Rosa knew that something was wrong. At the end of her last class, she was the first out of the room and ran down the hall and up a flight of stairs to where Megan had just filed out into the hallway.
Megan was hugging her textbooks to her chest and looking down at the floor as she let herself be swept from the building. Rosa tailed her, undetected. Megan stopped at the dark green, heavy metal fire door. Rosa froze. Megan reached out and grabbed the hand of her childhood friend and kissed him deeply on the lips. They wrapped their arms around each other while Rosa looked on, helpless. She was unable to move. Her heart was being twisted in her chest and as her lungs emptied of air. Before she knew what happened they took a few steps to the curb, boarded a bus, and were gone.
That afternoon Rosa showed up early for pointe class and paced the length of the studio, tense with anticipation. Dancers slowly trickled in and started warming up. The substitute, Miss Romanoff, was talking quietly with Jessica as she stretched. Jessica always seemed sad. The rumor was that her parents died and that she had spent time in a coma recently. This seemed outlandish as Jessica was far too athletic to have spent any significant amount of time in a hospital. She could easily jump higher than anyone in class. Miss Romanoff was younger than expected. She had a fierce, dangerous aura about her. She moved with confidence and seemed to stand more like a boxer than a ballerina. Rosa instantly admired her. Miss Romanoff noticed Rosa watching them and quickly finished the conversation.
It wasn’t until five minutes after class had started when Megan slid into line.
“You’re late,” Rosa hissed.
“Shhhhh,” Megan replied.
“Why are you late, Megan,” Rosa demanded.
“Girls, I don’t know what kind of class Miss Miriam runs, but in my class there is no chattering.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Megan and Rosa replied in unison.
Rosa’s anger burned throughout the class and made her dancing awkward. After the class was over Rosa walked directly up to Megan and attacked without a word. Megan crumpled to the floor and Miss Romanoff gently but firmly escorted Rosa from the studio.
When they were alone in the hallway, Miss Romanoff asked in a friendly voice, “What’s your name, dear?”
“Rosa Diaz, Ma’am.”
Miss Romanoff seemed oddly unconcerned or even lightly amused by the situation. They marched up the hallway towards the administration office and paused outside the door. “Miss Diaz. I’m not sure dancing is going to work out for you.” Rosa didn’t reply. The substitute teacher continued, “Have your ever considered a career in law enforcement?” Rosa blinked and opened her mouth to answer but was confounded by the question. “Think about it, dear.” Miss Romanoff smiled again and they continued through the office door.
Two women were talking next to a table full of office equipment. Rosa only knew one of the ladies. She was the director of the American Ballet Academy, Mrs. Green.
Miss Romanoff addressed the second woman. “Mrs. Blench, a student has been attacked and may be in need of some minor medical attention in studio three.” Miss Romanoff whispered. Both Mrs. Green and Mrs. Blench gasped and put down their coffee cups. Mrs. Blench, an elderly but spry woman grabbed a box with a big red plus on it and scurried out the door, shooting a disapproving look at Rosa on the way out.
Miss Romanoff explained the situation in detail to Mrs. Green as all three walked into to her office. Rosa sat in an uncomfortable wooden chair and Mrs. Green took her seat on the other side of a large wooden desk.
“Rosa. The reason why you attacked Megan is unimportant to me.”
Rosa looked up at Mrs. Green.
“You were friends, I believe.”
Mrs. Green let out a long, slow breath. “I have some bad news for you, but before I give you that news. I need you to listen carefully to me.”
“We are women Rosa: you and me and Megan and Miss Romanoff and most students at this school.”
“When you grow up your world is going to be filled with men who feel that they are worth more than women. They are told by movies, television, parents, and teachers that they are worth more than women.”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with me,” Rosa said.
Mrs. Green looked at her intensely. “We are women and we need to have each other’s back. We don’t have the luxury to be fighting each other. We can’t tell women that they are worth less. We can’t tell ourselves we are worth less.”
Rosa looked around the room for a place to hide. Tears started forming in her eyes.
“Do you hear me Rosa? We need to have each other’s back.”
“Yes.” Rosa croaked through her hands covering her face.
“You must know that I have no choice but to expel you.”
Rosa Diaz never saw Mrs. Green or Miss. Romanoff again, but she took their words with her.