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Notes on the Billboard

Maria leans nonchalantly against the back wall inside the washroom, puffing on a cigarette while chatting away with her two best friends, Alejandra and Maya. Alejandra also puffs on a cigarette while Maya pulls a red, felt marker from her purse. They don't care that the smoke from their cigarettes forms a thin, white cloud around them or that the washroom is inside of El Sid Secondary School, the three-story building that, most days, feels more like a prison than a place to learn and develop intellectually. Smoking is taboo in almost every public restroom, but it's especially so here. In the past, students have been expelled for doing this very thing, but Maria just doesn't give a damn. She is not going to let a group of prissy, stuffy, know-it-all educators tell her what she can and cannot do. The things Maria loves most about Alejandra and Maya is that they are just like her: they detest school, but love parties and boys, and they too wear tight jeans, high-heeled boots and extremely low-cut tops. But they don't wear a lot of makeup. The last thing they want or need is for people to label them as prostitutes. Thankfully, that hasn't happened yet. "We're going to have to make ourselves more elusive somehow," Alejandra says, breaking the momentary silence. Maria cocks one eyebrow. "Why? We've smoked in here, like, five times already, and we haven't been caught yet."

A troubled look clouds Alejandra's face. "This morning, I heard Alice whisper to Tibby, something about girls smoking in the washroom. I was pretty sure she was talking about us because they both kept glaring at me." Maria's jaw drops. "How the hell did she find out?" "Yeah, how?" Maya echoes. "I think she came in here after we left and smelt the smoke," Alejandra says. Maria's jaw stiffens. "And of course she would accuse us. The perra." "Oh, mierda. This really sucks," Maya says. Maria balls her spare hand into a fist. "First, Alice steals my boyfriend--" "Maria, we all know that Ricardo is a good-for-nothing player," Maya says. "Yeah, we've gone over this numerous times. He's the scum of the earth; he's lower than the lowest human being on this planet. You don't deserve him, Maria. You deserve way better than that," Alejandra says. Tears prick Maria's eyes. "But I did love him, and I still do. That's the problem. He's a lying, cheating, son-of-a-bitch, but I just can't get over my feelings for him. The person I do hate is Alice." The door to the washroom opens suddenly and, much to Maria's greatest dismay, in walks Alice. She greets the three of them with a sneer. "So, I was right all along. You guys are smoking in here. I'm so glad it wasn't a rumor that I had started because the truth is even better. More cutting, don't you think?" she says, smiling at them sardonically. Maria and her friends advance on Alice until they form a circle around her. Maria grins at her.

Everyday, Alice struts around the school, acting like she owns the place and thinking that she is the best thing that happened since sliced bread. Okay, Alice is an honor student and a champion gymnast; she is only sixteen, but Alice has already made the Spanish Olympic team, and she's training vigorously for the 2004 summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. That is two and a half years away. Secretly, Maria hopes that, during the games, Alice doesn't make the finals. Or if she does, Maria hopes that the judges give Alice low scores. Maria has ignored Alice's offhanded remarks and vicious looks since the eighth grade. Until now. The only reason Maria is grinning at Alice is because now, she finally has the chance to give Alice a taste of her own medicine. The frightful look that Alice gives her fuels Maria's satisfaction. I'm going to bring you down, woman, until there is nothing left of you. "So, what are you going to do about it, Miss Priss?" Maria says. Alice's face turns a bright red. "I--uh--don't know." "You little liar," Alejandra says. Maria stares down at what's left of her cigarette. The ashes are a white-grey, but they must still be smoldering hot because smoke continues to rise from them. She holds the remains up, only a few inches away from Alice's face. Alice tries to back away, but Alejandra and Maya corner her. "I could plant this in your pretty little face right now and I will if you don't promise us that you won't rat on us to the principle, and to your stupid friends." Maria can see the beads of sweat form on Alice's forehead. "Okay, I won't, I won't. I promise," Alice says. Maria shoots her an icy look. "You promise?"

"Yes, I promise. I won't tell the principle, and I'll tell my friends to keep it a secret. Okay?" Alice says, her voice small and shaky. Maria walks over to the nearest toilet, drops the cigarette remains into the bowl, then flushes it. The loud, swishing, gurgling noise penetrates the tension, but only for a brief moment. Maria and her friends are not going to let Alice go now. No way. She walks up to Alice until only a space of three inches separates their faces. "You can jump into any guy's pants and think it's okay because you're the star gymnast of Spain. No one is going to judge you because you are Alice the invencible," Maria says. "Well, guess again. You're nothing but a two-bit whore, a worthless slut." Maria can see the tears glistening in Alice's blue eyes. That very sight makes her feel triumphant. "I'm done with you, so you can mosey on out of here and do your thing in the other washroom. But if we find out you rattled on us, you'll regret it for the rest of your high school days. Big time!" "We'll find you and then we will beat the crap out of you," Maya says. Maria and Alejandra both nod their heads in agreement. "Do you understand what we are telling you?" Maria says. Alice nods her head rapidly. A couple of tears trickle down her face. "Good. Now get lost," Maria says with an angry wave of her hand. "Hah! It sure didn't take much for her to crumble," Alejandra says once she assumes Alice is out of earshot. "Yeah, I thought she was going to fight you," Maya says. Maria clenches her teeth. "She would have if I was alone. Regardless, I'm not done with her."

Maya flashes Maria a devious grin. "I've got an idea," she says, pulling the felt marker out of her purse for the second time. "Do you have paper?" Maria gives her a blank look. "No. Why?" "Because we're going to shame Alice." "Maya, you clever little woman. That is such a good idea," Alejandra says. Maria, though, does not quite understand what Maya is getting at. "Why would we need paper for that?" "To write the notes on. Duh," Maya says. "I've got some paper," Alejandra says, pulling three blank pieces of lined paper out of her purse. A malevolent smile spreads across Maria's face. "Okay, I get it now. This is a good idea, and I know just the thing to write too." Each girl writes a short message on a piece of paper. Once they are done, Alejandra and Maya flush what is left of their cigarettes down a toilet, then walk out of the washroom with Maria. They walk past the staircase--the one that leads up to the Latin class that they are supposed to be attending--and over to the billboard. That is where they are going to post the three notes. The billboard is located in the juncture of two crucial places in this school: beside the cafeteria and in the foyer, across from the entrance doors. Most important, though, is that this billboard contains notices that everyone wants to read: auditions for the school play, start dates and meet-up times for social clubs, intellectual clubs, sports clubs and hobby clubs, and notifications of upcoming parties and school events.

Maria flashes her friends a tight grin, but she cannot calm her racing heart. Sure, most people in this school are going to read these three notes. But will they believe Maria? Will they finally see Alice for what she really is, or will this back fire on Maria? Maria breathes in and out deeply as she posts the notes high on the billboard. Thank God we're the only ones in this hallway. Once the deed is done, Maria turns, then strides out of the building with Alejandra and Maya by her side. Maria really hopes that the latter does not occur: that this does not blow up in her face. **** This is what they wrote: Sheet 1: Alice Balatize-Castillo is a SLUT!! Sheet 2: She went out with my boyfriend, Ricardo and then slept with him. Behind my back! Sheet 3: Girls. Better watch your back and your boyfriends. Or else, you will become Alice's next victim.

Deanna Proach is the author of two novels: Day of Revenge (Inkwater Press) and To be Maria (seeking representation/publication). You can find out more about her on her blog, http://desstories.blogspot.com.

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