The bell ringing signaled an end to third period and propelled thirty-two noisy, rowdy teens out of Mrs. Evelyn Hill's tenth-grade English class into the crowded halls of Jefferson High.
“Petal, I'd like to see you for a moment, please.” Most days, Mrs. Hill retained a problem student or two, but not today. Petal was any teacher's model student.
“Yes, ma'am?” The girl with long dark hair smoothed wrinkles from her clean, well-worn white blouse and faded jeans as she approached the desk.
“Your composition this week is outstanding. It brought tears to my eyes. You have a gift for writing, Petal; I hope you continue working on perfecting it. What made you choose abortion?”
Leah James stood at the door straining to hear as she texted Brooke and Celia. Petal had an abortion. Hill's in her face about it.
Brooke texted back, OMG , grabbing Bobby at his locker and showing him the text.
“So, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes is knocked up! Wait 'til Richard hears about his 'go-to-church with me' girlfriend! Richard will be back with Leah before school's out.”
Bobby was tired of being left out of Richard's group of friends. Things had changed when Petal and Richard started hanging out together, going to youth group at Petal's church.
Fourth period study hall was used to great advantage as Leah's peers jumped on the scandal bandwagon spreading dirt through cyber-space on every electronic device available. Bobby had taken a picture of Petal sitting at her desk and posted it on Facebook and MySpace with a caption, Guess who had an abortion?
Hostile texts, some from students who never met Petal, continued to flame the attack. Others joined in to 'gang-up' on the new target, relieved it was someone else and not them.
Petal heard the snickers and felt a chill in the air as she finished her school day. She didn't give it much thought as she rushed to her babysitting job. Petal earned a few dollars each week watching seven-year old Tom and nine-year old Grace until their parents were home from work.
Petal was sitting at the dining table with Tom and Grace working with them on their homework when Sam Gosnell came in. He came up behind Petal and put his hands on her shoulders, something he had never done. Tom and Grace jumped down and ran to him, breaking his contact with Petal.
Just as Sam was directing the children back to their homework, Marge came into the kitchen putting groceries onto the counter. “Petal, I know this is short notice, but we won't be needing your services any longer. We'll pay you for this week, of course. It's only fair.”
Walking home, Petal made mental notes about other families she could babysit for since the Gosnell's no longer needed her. She was almost relieved to not go back there. Mr. Gosnell made her feel uneasy touching her like he did today.
Petal's father was sitting on the front porch stoop, his bleary eyes and slurred speech telling of his drunkenness. “You're no count, jest like your ma. Spouting from the Bible and lettin' men have their way with you!”
Tears clouded Petal's eyes as she stepped past him. He lived to call her names and compare her to her mother who left when she was two.
After making a sandwich, Petal went to her room to study. She picked up the telephone to call Richard. “Mrs. Grant, this is Petal. Is Richard home?”
“Uh...Petal, he's busy right now. I'm sorry.”
Mrs. Grant had never turned Petal's calls away so abruptly before, so Petal began to wonder what was going on.
She found out the next day in a big way. Taped to her locker was a note calling her a baby-killer. Students laughed at her, whispered to each other about her. Labels, like slut came from the lips of students she hardly knew.
By the end of the day, Richard had told her he never wanted to see her again. She left school in tears when a group led by Leah pushed her into the boys' restroom.
Three days later, Mrs. Hill received a letter in the mail. She recognized it right away as Petal's penmanship. It was an elaborate goodbye-letter, extremely well-written as only someone who held great promise could write.
Petal was found hanged in her closet.
The south wind searches for the flowers whose fragrance late he bore,
And sighs to find them in the wood and by the stream no more.
William C. Bryant, The Death of the Flowers
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