First, they’d interview the principal so that the viewers knew it wasn’t some publicity stunt headed by the administration. Then they’d show the notes’ recipients, the different and awkward and specially-chosen students, who would blush at the camera and confess they don’t know who was writing the notes. Gina Larken would pick at her scabby acne-ridden face and say that the note had gotten her through a tough time. Martin Stalt, who everyone uncreatively called “Poop-Trunks” after an unfortunate episode on a waterslide, would shrug and say, “I just wish I could say thank you.”
Finally, the camera would cut back to the reporter who would say something like: “Whoever you are, you’re making the world a better place, one note at a time.” The anchors would shake their heads and smile at the pure goodness of it.
Len would have to time his reveal perfectly. It couldn’t be right after the news story or it would look like he was begging for attention. He couldn’t wait too long or it would fall off everyone’s radar.
The news station would return to interview him and praise his selflessness. He’d say something humble that only enforces the point. He hadn’t thought of his response yet, but he would.
Before that could happen, he had to write the notes. Len ran a hand through his unshowered hair and scratched at the wires on his chin. The notes had to be personal without being creepy.
He remembered the time he’d tried to compliment Mary Witherspoon on her shampoo.
“Your hair smells like Fruity Pebbles,” he told her after class. He’d leaned towards her without meaning to.
Her eyes got wide and she flipped her hair, as if to waft more scent towards him. “Whatever, stalker,” she’d said.
That’s why the notes had to initially be anonymous and given to people who’d appreciate the compliments. Mary had plenty of people telling her she smelled delicious. Martin Stalt, on the other hand, would never expect a random kind word.
He started with Gina’s: Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not beautiful. Acne will go away eventually, but your personality will shine on forever.
Next, Martin’s: That stupid nickname will pass. In ten years, no one will know who “Poop-Trunks” is.
For Melissa Stillwater, a girl with spiky short hair: This school is welcoming of all sexualities. No one cares if you’re a lesbian, you just be yourself.
He took a different approach for Jerry Headson, an overweight sophomore who loved eating smelly onion sandwiches in science class: I loved the blue shirt you wore on November 10. It was light enough to hide your pit stains and the buttons complimented your eyes.
Len wrote a total of ten. He printed each on a slip of paper and put them in his backpack.
He kept a spreadsheet of his chosen ones’ information inside his planner. It had taken weeks of careful watching; it contained their locker number, the times they went to and left their lockers, and scribbles in the margins on what to write in each note. In total, there were twenty-five chosen students, each with some flaw that must have made them self-conscious.
He got to each locker at the predetermined time, slipping the note into the slats at the top so that it would land on the top shelf of the locker.
The next few days, Len performed the same ritual again with several new lucky ones.
After two weeks, he didn’t hear a peep about the notes. Not one. Len didn’t know if they were ungrateful or if they just hadn’t found them.
He tried again and slipped the same twenty five people another note. He watched as Jerry opened his locker, unfolded the note, read it, and pocketed it.
That night, Len typed a note for himself: People may not appreciate you, but one day they will.
The next day, he approached Melissa Stillwater holding the note in his hand. He tried to act bewildered, as if she was the first person he drifted by after finding it.
“Hey, check this out,” he said. “I got one of these in my locker. Bizarre right?”
Her face flushed and she looked away. “Yeah, bizarre.”
“Anyone else get one of these?” He knew he was pushing it.
She shrugged and shuffled away. He did the same act with Gina, who told him she did get a note. Before he could find out her impression of it, Gina turned away and headed into the women’s room.
Len didn’t know what was wrong with these people. Someone gives them not one but two compliments and they act all weird about it.
He decided they just must not be used to getting compliments and were bashful. He repeated the process three more times.
After Len left the fifth note, he watched Jerry pocket the note again. He followed Jerry down the hall where he saw Jerry pull the note out and show it to Gina. Finally, they’d put it together—his time was coming.
He walked up to the two of them, holding another note to himself in his hand. “You guys get these too?”
Jerry looked at him gravely. “Hell yeah. When we find out who’s writing them we’re going to kick his ass.”
Len looked between them, not sure if they were joking. “Really?”
Gina read hers out loud with a sneer. “’Your bacne is already clearing up.’ This dick has been going around picking on us. A bunch of us have been talking. When we find him, he’s going to get it.”
Len’s stomach turned. “Let me know if you find out who it is, OK?”
He sped away down the hall, shoving his planner into his backpack, cursing the idiots around him for not being able to see what goodness is when it was shoved in their face.
About the Author: Madeline Anthes is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in New Jersey with her husband and two dachshunds. She earned her MFA from Arcadia University and has been published in several journals, including Whisperings Magazine and Jersey Devil Press. She tweets @maddieanthes.
Story Song: "Creep" by Radiohead
Photo Credit: Leesa Cross-Smith