Rose Chen has a special place in my heart. All my main characters have a little bit of me in them, but I feel like Rose might have the most, especially what she struggles with. Rose grew up as the only child of a single mom, Sophie Chen, in the Almond area of Queenstown. She is genius-level smart (ok, that's not me, but sometimes our greatest strength can be our greatest weakness, which is me) in STEM fields, but a little unaware socially. Her backstory scenes were fun to write as I allow her to express her competitiveness alongside her desire for approval and acceptance. This scene is set eight years before the start of Divided and introduces Rose's best friend, Amy. The other characters don't play major roles going forward, other than mentions.
Rose, Eight Years Before Divided
Third-year physical education was a drag. Dodgeball, yet again. No martial arts or yoga like the fourth years. It was only October, and Rose knew the year would crawl.
She ducked, avoiding the errant ball aimed at the larger boy next to her, and swiveled to see who had the ball. They had started with two players outside the square, the rest of their twenty-three person class inside. Rose felt like a fish in a bowl. Not that she had one of those, but her friend Simon did. Or rather, her mother’s boss’ son. The powerful Mr. Kim could afford a goldfish, but not her mom.
Rose slid to the left to avoid Violet’s throw.
“She’s always after you, Rose,” her best friend Amy said from her other side.
Rose shrugged. “I don’t care.”
“Really? It would drive me nuts.”
“What can I do about it? If I react, her buddies giggle and taunt. If I don’t react, they giggle and taunt. What difference does it make?”
“For once I’d like to beat her.” Amy danced away from a throw from the opposite side.
Their numbers inside were dwindling. Rose could either allow someone to hit her or she could work up a sweat and beat them all.
She opted for the latter, focusing on the game.
Rose wove around the other players, strategically placing herself behind others as the outside players tossed the two balls back and forth, taking out player after player.
Rose hopped over one ball, shifted in the air and ducked the second, landing like a cat and pivoting to follow each ball’s trajectory.
“Move aside!” Violet yelled from her corner of the square. Violet always chose the best vantage points. And she didn’t mind being the solo outside player at the start, either, unlike most kids.
A thin boy darted out of Violet’s way, allowing her to slide around as Rose readied herself in the middle, behind the last boy standing. Dan was solid, excelling at marital arts in their rec center after-school program. He and Rose could last a long time if they worked together.
Violet shifted the ball from one hand to the other, her teeth catching her lower lip as she eyed them. From her peripheral vision, Rose watched the other ball sail in her direction and dodged away from Dan, as Violet winged the ball straight at Rose’s right leg.
Rose dove into a roll, Violet’s throw narrowly missing her, before springing into a front tuck, avoiding the throw coming from behind her. The ball passed under her as Rose narrowly avoided Dan.
“I’m out,” he said, walking to the side.
The teacher held up his hand for time. “Rose is last standing. Now we enter Sudden Death Rounds. Three throws by three different classmates allowed. One ball at a time. Select your throwers now.”
A buzz passed through the class. She had been here before, only to be bested on the last throw. She might hate dodgeball, but, oddly, Rose was good at it.
Must be Mr. Ling’s martial arts training.
Her body felt alive. And ready to beat these kids at their own game.
The rest of the class backed away from the chalk lines on the pavement. Rose connected gazes with Dan and Amy, both of whom gave her a fist pump and a nod. Message received — do it.
First up, the boy who had nailed her last dodge ball game. Ciro had wiry strength, his hair hanging down in messy bangs and his shoes untied. He took his time to walk the length of one side of the square, faking her out several times before winding up.
The ball flew in her direction, and Rose hit the pavement, landing on her fingers and toes in a plank move that she’d probably regret.
Cheers and jeers echoed off the brick wall of the school building as Rose dusted off gravel. She nodded at Ciro, who smiled broadly back at her. At least he respected her moves.
Next up. Bruce was built like a wall, but moved like one, too. Instead of faking her out or forcing her to commit to either direction, Bruce beamed the ball at her face with no windup.
Rose collapsed to her knees, the ball sailing harmlessly over her head. Kids behind her ducked away from its sting, forcing others to chase it across the broken pavement.
Bruce scowled at her, shaking his head, while his buddies turned away, hands drifting into pockets to exchange money.
Murmurs arose, Rose straining to hear until a hand shot up.
“Can we give Ciro another shot?”
Rose’s eyebrows shot up, while Violet’s face went scarlet.
The teacher frowned. “We aren’t changing the rules of the game again, class. This is what we agreed upon. One more shot before we have the first dodgeball champion this year.”
Grumbles echoed through the ranks, but Ciro remained at the back of the crowd.
“Violet, it’s your turn,” the teacher said.
Violet grinned as a classmate passed the ball to her. She tucked a stray hair behind an ear and eyed Rose.
Rose practiced deep breathing techniques and tried not to show her excitement. Clenching her fists open and closed, Rose waited while Violet paced first one way, then the other, the ball bouncing effortlessly between her hands. Violet loved to be the one throwing the ball. And Rose loved to be the winner.
Suddenly the ball was coming straight at Rose, faster than even burly Bruce had thrown it. Rose dove backward, keeping her feet in place and allowing her weight to drift away from the ball, toward the ground, her arms extended backward toward the ground. She felt the air stir near her bared belly, her sweater pulled upward by her movement, as the class erupted in screams and cheers.
She collapsed onto her back right before first Amy, then Dan, piled onto her, laughing and screaming along with the others. Rose lifted her head to the teacher, who smiled and gave her a thumbs up. Mr. Ling, her martial arts trainer, had never looked more proud of her.
But Rose was proud of herself, too.
As Amy pulled her to her feet, Violet and her friends ducked back into school. Rose knew she would pay for the win another time. But she’d tolerate spit wads and hair pulling for the joy of victory.
Today, Rose had beaten them all.