“Hey, Alex, did you slip shaving?” I felt a push from behind, making the edge of the sink jab me in the abdomen. Well, I’d made it until Friday afternoon. Not bad. I valued the few extra days of peace. I had to resist my hand going to the knife along my belt. That would be sure to get me expelled, if not worse. She wouldn’t even need to put much effort into it.
I kept my head down and tensed, prepared for another shove.
I’d been learning ways to stand to be ready for an attack from Ivan, how to balance on the balls of your feet. The best position to be in to react to an opponent swinging a punch or jumping for you, to use their momentum and act on an instantaneous decision to close in or pull back.
The problem was it’s so damn obvious. If I turn to face them, ready, with my hands up I’d be effectively asking for a fight. I didn’t want to give them anything to react to. The best thing is to just ignore them. To hope they would be satisfied pushing me around a bit and leave.
It’s hard to ignore a punch to the back of the head, however pathetic. I managed it though, I’d had worse.
But there really was nothing I could do when a hand grabbed my hair. I’d cut it short, but not that short.
I hate hair. It could feel it tear as I instinctively jerked my head forwards and away – bad idea, it hurt like hell.
There followed a painful trip backwards, my feet colliding on an outstretched leg, preventing me from taking a step to correct my balance.
She didn’t let go as I fell, causing me to twist in the air. My head jerked upwards as her arm reached its natural limit. It felt like a chunk of my skin had been ripped off. But she was left with just a handful of black hair. I landed face down, managing to stop my fall by slapping my palms into the floor. The pain brought tears to my eyes.
“Oh, oops!” I lay there with my nose touching the tiles, picturing her sneering face. “Hey, you really shouldn’t be on the floor, especially not in the bathroom like this. It’s not very hygienic.”
I’m better than this. I’ve fought people with fucking guns. I’ve killed someone… I can stand up to her. There are only four of them.
I scrambled to my hands and knees but a kick took out one of my arms and I felt someone else stamp on my back, forcing me back down.
“Ohh, I see. You like it down there don’t you?” Felicity.
“Really Alex? That is disgusting.” Haley.
“Hey, make her lick the floor!” A girl I didn’t know.
The brief flair of anger died down, replaced with shame. I couldn’t make myself retaliate against them… That instinct I had to fight, for some reason it just died with her.
A kick to my side makes my half-healed ribs scream at me.
“Lick the fucking floor you bitch? Do you think I have all day?” Laughter. More kicks.
I touch my mouth to the floor, hoping that will be enough.
It wasn’t. Nothing is enough to satisfy them. If I do it it’s not going to stop, but what choice do I have? Haley has kneeled on me, torturing my ribs and the bruises on my back. She lowers her face close to mine and grabs my head roughly, turning it.
I feel her breath against my cheek, hear the gentle hiss of air through her teeth. Something fills my vision, a silver blur. Too close to focus on.
She whispers, almost too quiet for me to hear, “I wonder if eyeballs burst?”
Would she really do it? The rational part of my mind was asking these questions, reasonable questions. How on earth would she explain it? ‘She fell on a needle Mz, wasn’t my fault!’
The problem is you aren’t very rational when someone has a fucking needle a few millimetres from you fucking eye. The rest of my head was screaming to do what the fuck she wants because whatever it is its better than losing an eye.
So I did it.
It tasted of salt, it was wet. You can guess why.
They laughed. Bitter, harsh piercing laughter.
“Hey, isn’t that enough? Don’t you think we should leave her alone-”
“Shut the fuck up Tracy.” Haley snapped. “Get the fuck out if you don’t want to play.”
She stayed quiet, but didn’t leave.
The girl I didn’t know the name of said I was good at cleaning the floor, but it wasn’t really dirty enough, maybe they should make it dirty?
After all, they had come to the bathrooms for a reason right? I was no better than a toilet; I might as well be treated like one.
I struggled, realising what the hell she was talking about – but for all of my push-ups I couldn’t force myself to press my ribs any harder against someone’s knee. I wasn’t good for anything. I couldn’t even defend myself against a couple of high-school girls?
When I’d been trapped in that room, with a bullet in my back I’d fought harder, longer. I knew I was going to die and I hadn’t given up. Even when I was tied up expecting a bullet in the head, then I’d been trying to get away. Resisting. Fighting.
Even when I’d bared my throat, ready to die, it was an act of defiance.
But here? Now? I was a fucking coward. She’d broken me.
I just lay there, I don’t think I was even all there when they did it. Haley wasn’t threatening me with the needle anymore. She was surrounding me with the others. Laughing. They laughed a lot.
So I was just lying, limp. Someone’s foot was against the side of my head, pressing it into a floor that was now wet with more than my tears.
I tried to distract myself. This weekend, I’d get the new armour. I had to call in on Jim. I hoped it would be as easy to work with as the last lot. Did Ivan have a lesson on tonight? I didn’t think so. I’d go out. I didn’t care how dangerous it was.
My breathing had slowed. I wasn’t shaking anymore.
The bang of the door opening brought me out of my half trance.
Everyone froze. The laughing, catcalling and jeering I’d shut off became apparent in its absence. The girl, I had no idea who, that had just opened the door turned straight back around and walked out again.
Just like me.