Gym, the last lesson of the day. One I hardly even considered going to. Firstly, it was a lesson with Haley. Secondly, how was I going to hide my knives while I was getting changed?
No, it wasn’t worth the risk. I’d say I was still not well enough, if they asked me for a note I’d forge one – if that didn’t work then I didn’t care about getting a detention. I’d do anything for an hour or so of time to myself right now, without having to speak to anyone.
Anything but an interaction with Haley. Now Mike was away, would she still keep her distance from me? I wasn’t sure.
Walking aimlessly around the corridors wasn’t an option, and I didn’t dare find an empty classroom, someone could easily find me. I didn’t want to get caught leaving school early. There was only one place where I could really go.
Over the next hour I discovered that prolonged stays in toilet cubicles seemed to get exponentially more uncomfortable the longer you stayed. Also, when confined to a one by two meter box with a very uncomfortable stainless steel seat, the strangest positions seem like a good idea.
I found myself jammed in sideways in a ‘V’, legs half way up the wall. I quickly bored of doodling random things that came into my head on a scrap of paper. I should have checked out a tablet from the computer lab so at least I could have done something constructive like homework, or entertaining like browsing the web.
But then there would be a record of me borrowing it from the labs and logging into the school system. There might be ways round the security. I had a few ideas outlined and went through them in my head. I swiped the pen horizontally across the paper to clear my aimless doodles and tried to draw a diagram of the school network architecture.
I got as far as I could without a tablet to test some of my ideas when the intercom chimed for the end of the day. School being officially over I headed over to the labs to satisfy my curiosity and test some of the ideas I’d come up with.
Wait, did I really need to go? I wouldn’t be going home to my mother anymore. I didn’t have to avoid going home… if where I lived counted as ‘home’.
But my fear of my mother wasn’t the only reason I stayed. I really should get a tablet or at least a phone to work on – now I wouldn’t have to hide it from my mom. She would have probably thrown me out if I spent any money on something that wasn’t a bare essential to live, less money for drugs.
I might be able to afford it, if I saved a little. I’d always assumed computers cost a lot of money. I’d never even considered that I could scrounge enough cash. They were things other people had. But the phone I’d gotten for ‘going out’ had been so cheap. Shame it had been taken before I even had a chance to use it. I was definitely going to get another; I should have enough cash left over.
Now I was taking school dinners home rather than buying extra food I might be able to scrape together enough to get one.
My train of thought kept me oblivious to the world around me. I forgot completely that a note left on a kitchen counter was the last contact I’d had with Mz Gregory. I’d been worrying about meeting her all day. Trust myself to get completely distracted and just walk into the computer lab oblivious to her presence.
When my eye caught her at her desk I was brought back into the real world with an electric shock of panic. I froze.
She glanced up. “Hi, have a good weekend?”
I let out the breath I hadn’t even realised I’d been holding. That was… a normal thing to say. I stammered a reply, “Err, yeah.”
“Good.” She turned back to her work.
I guess we were pretending everything was normal, if this counted as normal.
I… I think she liked me being there. Maybe. I didn’t want to give that up, however small the chance was. I wasn’t going to stop coming.
* * *
The week was uneventful in so far as I went to lessons and kept meeting Beth at lunch. I spent most of my time out of school at Ivan’s gym, training at home or out running.
The situation with Haley remained… balanced. That is, balanced on the edge of a cliff. A cliff made of knives. The worst she did was glare at me. Except it was a glare like she was sure she could telekinetically explode my head, but couldn’t quite work out how. I was expecting things to turn nasty unless Mike returned sometime soon, which I couldn’t make myself hope for.
I washed my hands, again. They were very clean, as I’d been washing them constantly for the last few minutes. I was hesitating, contemplating staying in the toilets for the next lesson. To be honest, I was wasting time. At some point I would reach a juncture where it was too late to really go to class and I would have to skip the lesson. Then it wouldn’t have really been my decision right?
Not that it was a particularly awful class. It was just the last one of the week. I’d had enough of being with other people, of interaction. It was making me feel nauseous. My hands stopped shaking if I didn’t have to go near anyone else.
I could breathe.
I pressed my weight into the sink, balancing on my hands and swinging my feet idly as I watched the water flow out of the faucet. I was avoiding looking at my reflection in the mirror; I couldn’t stand that scarred face staring back at me. That jagged tear in my flesh, was a constant reminder of what happened that night.
It didn’t help that I kept getting sideways looks. Whispered conversations stopped when I got near, followed by giggles and dirty stares. Attention where I wanted to be invisible.
This wasn’t unusual, high-school seemed to be a constant battleground of rumours and counter rumours. I tried to keep myself separate from them. It was surprising how quickly people forgot Chloe was supposed to have slept with the whole athletics team at the same time. More likely Chloe had fallen out with Vicky who’d then started the wheel turning. Maybe she let slip that Chloe confessed to asking out one of the runners, then that escalated beyond what was physically possible by the end of the week.
Chloe, of course, would have immediately launched a damage control PR campaign. It was interesting to watch. First thing would be to get word out to friends. Favours are called in to increase backers. Remember that time when Chloe had your back when Sarah said you kissed your brother? Now you are quietly persuaded to deny this new piece of information. It was a quick skirmish of popularity. Usually each side had roughly equal numbers. The more people saying it was stupid the more the rumour gets spun, getting more extreme until no one believes it.
With me it was a little different. I didn’t react to them. I let them die on their own, which didn’t take a whole lot longer. Reacting just validates them and not being able to mobilise a group to combat them directly, like most girls, there would be nothing I could do to stop it. Staying quiet though? If you just act confused people eventually realise it is complete rubbish.
It did give me an indication that Haley wasn’t quite so inactive.
Just because I was expecting her to do something didn’t mean I was expecting it though. Not right now.
The door swung open.
The hair on the back of my neck bristled.
Hadn’t class started? Fuck, I should get in a cubicle before-
I recognised Haley in the mirror, along with Felicity and her posse of friends.
Fuck. Double fuck. How did they know I was in here?