Margaret had not slept for three nights. That familiar ache behind the eyes gnawed away at her the same way a beetle gnaws a leaf. This would be the fourth sleepless night, what with the constant thumping of the washers and dryers in the small complex laundromat below her apartment. She didn’t have room to complain, as the apartment was all she could afford close to campus, but damn that laundromat and whoever decided to do laundry in the middle of the night.
Aside from the noise, there had been a nauseating stench wafting up through the floorboards, making her sick to her stomach. The end of the year was approaching fast, so that meant an abundance of studying, exams, and projects, all of which were impossible to focus on in a state of absolute exhaustion. Margaret had resolved to walk down the narrow decrepit stairwell to the laundromat and confront whoever was causing this ruckus in all her five-foot three-inch glory, but now she found herself face to face with the worst high school memory that she had hoped to never see again. A towering beast of a man still stuck in twelfth grade leaned against one of the washers with his eyes glued to his cell phone.
Brutus. A fitting name for someone with a face only a cheerleader could love. He had rough hands like an executioner from years of beating the pulp out of high school outcasts. Thick fingers that could barely type on the tiny keyboard that popped up on the screen locked the phone and slipped it into his jacket pocket before noticing the disheveled redhead wearing a bathrobe in the doorway.
Wild red curls bounced as Margaret tried to remove herself from his sight. Too late. The laundromat was small and crowded and the boisterous creaking of the stairs had easily given her away. Brutus had a disgusting grin on his face, his mild underbite all the more defined when he did that.
Margaret pushed up her Harry-Potter-looking glasses and held in the urge to squeak and run like the little mouse of a person she was, but she knew better than to show an enemy her back.
“Magenta Margaret!” Brutus said with a horrible chuckle, his meaty hands clapping together.
Margaret only stood there, not a word to say in retort to his teasing. Last year, at graduation, that beef-jerky-headed boy had taken off with her white gown and dyed it magenta. The only reasonable explanation for his actions was his failure to graduate with the class. Though, Brutus had never been reasonable. He would be stuck in that school as a senior for another year, but his favorite victim would surely be given a proper send-off to college. She was so humiliated when the jocks in the bleachers howled and cackled at the bright pink gown amidst all the white gowns. The teachers were furious. And when Margaret had reached the podium to say her piece, Brutus had gathered a whole group to chant ‘Magenta Margaret’ over and over. She’d never lived it down, having abandoned her speech to grab her diploma and never show her face there again.
Truth be told, she had tried to forgive him. Tried to put herself in his shoes and understand why he acted the way he did. In the end, she couldn’t completely get that bitter taste out of her mouth.
Brutus walked over, putting his arm around Margaret’s shoulder as if he were catching up with an old friend. Her stomach twisted painfully with anxiety, making her wish she had chosen to simply stay in her apartment and suffer sleeplessness. He was too close for comfort, and the smell of his cologne mixed with the acrid stench of whatever he was washing assaulted her nostrils.
“What? Don’t you remember me?” Brutus asked sarcastically.
“How could I forget?” Margaret answered with a sigh. “Also, how did you figure out where I live?”
Brutus chuckled again with no intention of answering as Margaret pulled away from him, the irritation pushing her to swallow her fear and get to the bottom of what was making that foul odor. Tiny bare feet padded across the sticky cold tiles in a hurry as Margaret threw open one of the washers. The vivid magenta hue of Rit dye on white graduation gowns left a taste of bile on her tongue as anger welled up from her stomach.
“Like it?” Brutus asked. “I had so much fun making you stick out, I figured I’d do it again.”
“Wow, you’re so creative.” Margaret said lowly, clenching her fist.
Margaret had seen enough. She was always a doormat for people like Brutus, but not tonight. Tonight, she was tired and nauseated by the smell of dye and not willing to be tortured by the high school bully. She stepped back over to the meat head and reared her elbow back with a quickness Brutus didn’t expect before she slammed her fist straight into his nose. Both of them were shocked at the amount of strength her little frame had mustered. He lifted his own fist, threatening to fight back, but the look of daring in her eyes sent a shiver down his spine and he lowered his arm and stepped away from her. He stood over the sink, blood dripping from his face and eyes full of disbelief. Margaret stopped the washers and slapped the half-dyed gowns against his white shirt when he turned around.
“Get out.” She said, pointing to the door.
Brutus listened, not a word as he stepped out. Now he would be the one to stick out during graduation with his crooked nose, and though Margaret felt a throbbing in her knuckles, the pain didn’t deter her from feasting on the wave of relief his absence brought. She stepped back up the stairs, buried herself in a cocoon of blankets in her bed, and slept like the dead.
Cassandra Booth is an aspiring author and full time college student working toward a degree in creative writing. She lives in Tennessee with her daughter and cat and enjoys art, music, and reading.