My stomach hurt. Hunger is a bitch. You never adapt to that gnawing pain in your gut. You never get used to it. There was only one way to stop it, like I didn’t fucking know I needed to eat. Thanks body, you just have to make things harder.
Nausea, lightheadedness, apathy, general fatigue. Yes, reasonable products of a lack of energy. But pain, why does it have to hurt? I don’t have a choice in the matter. If I could, I’d eat.
However much hate I had for school, at least it provided me with lunch. It was better than home.
The class was coming to an end. It was a safe option. I liked safe options. Full of the geeky kids that I could cross off my mental list of threats with reasonable confidence. I didn’t really fit in here, and while not fitting into a group of misfits was quite a feat, they weren’t the kind of people to target you for it. They left me to myself.
Programming, it was all math and logic. I could do that. This course was one of the first in a string of required modules that would eventually lead to a scholarship at college to study the high-level math you needed to become a pilot.
Then I could leave this damn planet behind.
Gym class in the afternoon would be a problem. Lunch before that was also a risk, but a risk my stomach reminded me I had to take.
The bell sounded and people stood with the shrill dischord of scraping chairs. The shuffle ensued, a byproduct of twenty people trying to get through a single door. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and trying to gather the energy stand. Given the difficulty I had with that, gym was going to really take it out of me.
As I walked out Miss Gregory looked up from her tablet.
“Nice work with that algorithm, Alexis.” Making conversation, she was always trying to talk to me. “It was an elegant solution.”
“Thanks.” It seemed like what I should say.
“Listen,” she said, “you look tired. I know you stay back after school in the lab every day. Is there anything wrong? Are you having problems at home?”
Just what I needed, someone looking too close. I put on a fake smile.
“No, I told you – I don’t have a computer at home. No internet. You know how annoying that is? Staying back means I can watch videos and do my homework…” I don’t think she could imagine not having a computer. Hell, it was pretty damn stupid. Everyone had a tablet, or a phone at least.
“Okay, but If you ever want to talk to anyone…” Yeah, right.
“Thanks, I will. I’ve got to get to lunch.” I walked out before she could say anything else to me. Step one to surviving, keep your distance. If you don’t give people opportunity, they can’t hurt you.
Being late to lunch wasn’t such a bad tactical decision. As I walked through the doors with a few stragglers, I could survey the room. Assess the threat. Okay, the main problem was the queue for food. It would mean standing in a fixed position for a long period. But, I might get some peace when I sat down on the far side of the room, at the table closest to the exit. The queue wasn’t so big. I just had to go for it.
Someone shoved me in the back, lightly muttering something in annoyance. I panicked for a moment but then realised where I was standing. Right in the main entrance. It wasn’t a targeted attack, but just someone annoyed that I was blocking the steady stream of people coming into the cafeteria.
“Sorry,” I said in the person’s general direction, as I followed the mass to the source of food.
The smell of freshly prepared food hit my nose and I basked in the fantasy of ending my weekend’s fast. I usually hated the smell of food cooking. It was usually because someone was selling it, forbidden temptation.
This though, this banquet of gluttony, it was free. Free! The school posted the ID I needed to my house. This year I managed to get to it before my mom could ‘loose it’. It was the best and, usually, only meal of my day. I don’t know why everyone else complained so much, it was warm and had actual fresh vegetables – I think the government had a law for schools to serve at least one portion of vegetable per kid.
But, while I didn’t have to pay, it did come at a cost. I kept my eyes down, a standard tactic. Step two: Avoid attention. It didn’t work. It seems to work less and less these days.
“Have you seen what she is wearing today?” Ah, the all too loud ‘please overhear me’ voice of Haley Baxter. It was followed by a ripple of giggling and a louder call directed at me, “Hey Alexis!”
The insults came from the table I’d identified as the most likely problem as soon as I walked in. I didn’t move my eyes from the floor. Don’t rise to it.
“I’m talking to you,” she said.
“Are you never going to throw that piece of crap rag away? It’s like 20 years old.” Original. I didn’t give a shit, I liked my coat. Sure it was old and had a couple of stains on it, but it was warm and had cost me nothing. That’s what mattered.
“Fucking retard, I bet you took it out of someone’s garbage, you always stink of garbage.” Okay, that was cutting a bit too close to the truth, but I didn’t care. Words were no problem. Anyway, it was food time. Food took priority.
I loaded up on everything green I could. Generally I stayed away from the meats, as they didn’t seem to agree with me.
I took the pressed steel tray and scanned for a seat. Far corner, a table with a few other girls, but none I identified as much of a problem. Avoiding an obvious stuck out leg trying to trip me, I successfully got to there without incident. I sat and began stuffing my face with as much as possible as fast as possible.
“You eat so fast, but never much. You on a diet or something?” the girl opposite said. I couldn’t remember her name, but she was in one of my classes. I glanced up. She was a quiet one. I don’t think I’d heard her speak much. Jet black hair in a bob cut, glasses, with an oriental look about her eyes. I’d probably assessed her as a non-threat years ago and not looked at her again since.
“Yeah, I’m on a diet.” Who the fuck went on diets? Anyway, I was stuffed; I’d eaten all I could manage. It seemed like loads of food to me.
“I don’t really think you need to lose weight…” she trailed off, looking away. Why was she talking? Was she trying to make friends with me?
I made a non-committal ‘hmph’ noise, figuring it’s hard to have a conversation with someone if they don’t reply to you. She continued on anyway.
“I’m Beth, we have calculus together, but you don’t really talk much do you? You’re Alexis right? That’s a nice name.” Nice… I didn’t much care for my name. Whatever it was, ‘nice’ didn’t seem suitable to describe it.
“I fucking hate my name.” I was trying to shut her up without being hostile, well, I failed at that. On both counts it seems.
“Oh, sorry.” She smiled. Why was she still talking to me? Who even smiled at that, I knew I was being a dick. “What do people call you then?”
Ok, that threw me – what was she talking about? I asked her.
“Well, if you don’t like being called Alexis what do people call you? Alex?”
“Uh… people don’t? Alexis is my name, people use that.” She looked a bit put down, and I took the opportunity to get up, put my tray on the pile, and get out before the rush.
* * *
Whoever planned Gym after lunch needed help. I was tired anyway but a full stomach made me even more lethargic. Running with a full stomach turned lethargy into pain and nausea.
At least it was athletics and not a team game. I was not good in a team. What did the teacher say were the three rules to win? Communication, Cooperation, Coordination? Something like that. I hardly spoke to anyone, was reluctant to do what anyone said and usually forgot what other people were doing half way through the game.
Not that I was any better at athletics; I got tired easily. I preferred it because I got to spend less time with the other girls in my class. Running around the track for a bit, I could manage. Not as much opportunity for them to sneak an elbow into my ribs.
I wasn’t so lucky today. As I was concentrating on gasping in as much air as I could jogging around the track, Haley managed to lap me.
The kick to the back of my knee caught me by surprise. I should have been paying more attention. The floor flew up at me as I fell in a tangle of ankle and elbow. I didn’t stick my palms out; I learned not to do that after last time my wrist hurt for a month. Instead, I angled one of my arms in front of me to roll me sideways. At best I would transfer the kinetic energy into a tumble, and at worst I would take the impact sideways to my shoulder. Still, it was better than my face.
It took the wind out of me regardless. I lay there gasping for air as my vision flashed with pinpricks of light. Being winded was not good when you were out of breath – I felt like I was going to throw up.
Haley stopped ahead of me and turned. “Oh my god, are you okay Alexis?”
She jogged back to where I was curled into the fetal position, drawing my arms in to protect my stomach, expecting the worse. The second kick came as hard as the first, catching my kidneys. She knelt down, as if to check on me, and kneeled on my back, pressing down with her weight.
“Say anything and I will fucking kill you Alexis. You know the drill.” What was creepy was that she said it in such a calm voice, almost caring.
She pulled me up, squeezing my hand too hard and jarring my arm. I was still coughing, gulping at air that just didn’t seem to get into my lungs. Jesus, two kicks and I was completely incapacitated… I was pathetic.
Mr Forzoe wandered over leisurely and asked if everything was okay. It was of course. Thank you sir. Yes, I tripped. Yes, I know I’m clumsy sir. Sorry sir. At least he let me go sit down so I could catch my breath.
I managed to sit out the rest of the class. To be honest I think Mr Forzoe forgot about me. I was happy with that.