There was whispering, a short argument, and the girls came to a collective decision. Haley left me with a kick to the side of the head.
Getting kicked in the ear isn’t pleasant.
I didn’t trust them to have actually gone. After a moment of silence I pulled myself up to my hands and knees and crawled into one of the open cubicles.
I wanted to hit something, someone. Haley preferably.
Why did this fucking happen afterwards? Why didn’t I feel like this minutes, seconds ago? I was stronger than them. Faster. I could probably have broken an arm – no teeth, ruin her pretty fucking smile. Now I could. Now she isn’t here. I had to concentrate on not just lashing out at anything, not hitting myself in the leg as hard as I could, or tearing at my fucking face.
I failed and punched the cubicle door.
I punched it again. My fingers hurt. That helps.
Blood. Tastes of metal.
* * *
I heard the door opening and pulled my knees up to my chin so if anyone looked under they wouldn’t see my feet.
“Alexis?” Beth. Word must have gotten out, I shivered. “I know you’re here, the door is locked…”
Crap, not much point in hiding my feet then. Still, I stayed quiet. I didn’t want her to see me like this. I started to feel dizzy, I was breathing too fast. Stupid hyperventilation. Since when should breathing too much be a problem?
“Will you let me in?” She said.
Maybe if I didn’t say anything she will go away. I should have gone while I was alone. While people were in lessons and the corridors were empty.
“I can hear your breathing.” The adjacent cubical door opened, making me jump. “Tory saw and came to tell me kind of what happened.”
Tory, one of Beth’s other friends? I didn’t know the name, maybe it was the girl who’d walked in. So she wasn’t such a coward… At least she was nice enough to go get a friend. I wish she hadn’t though.
Beth sat and waited while I tried to calm myself down. My attempt at distracting myself was failing, every conceivable way I could have killed Haley and her little friends kept forcing its way into my head. I could have ripped her throat out, that would have worked well. Knife. I had a fucking knife. Sure, I’d have gotten expelled, if not worse. I’d never make it as a pilot… but still.
It was probably five minutes before I felt like I could restrain myself around her. I lifted my chin from my knees and unwrapped my arms from around my legs. They were stiff.
I leaned forwards to unlock the door and then pulled my knees back up and closed my eyes. Relax.
I could hear the small splash of her shoes on the floor. The next thing I felt was her arms around my shoulders. She was kneeling. She didn’t say anything.
It was… I didn’t want it. I did. I liked it, her being so close to me. But not like this. Not here, not now. Not when I was pissed off enough that I had to consciously not hit her.
I pushed at her shoulders to get her away. I had to be strong, I couldn’t be this weak in front of Beth.
“Alexis, Its ok.” She let me push her out of the hug but put her hands firmly on my shoulders. “Come on, everyone will have gone home. No one will see you. My mum is waiting to give me a lift. You’re coming with me.”
I held out my arms, they were still soaked. I don’t think I was in a state where I could use my voice for anything other than a snarl, or a scream.
“Come home, have a shower. You can borrow some clothes from me.” She smiled at me. I couldn’t say no.
* * *
Beth’s mom was nice, she didn’t even comment on me making a mess of the car. I said I’d clean it up, but Beth wouldn’t let me.
The drive was still awkward and silent.
As soon as we got to her house Beth took me to the bathroom. She turned on the shower and waited for it to get warm. All while giving me worried looks and biting her bottom lip. When the water was warm I was just waiting for her to leave so I could get out of my clothes.
The intense anger I’d been feeling had faded to a burning disappointment in myself for being so damned pathetic. It was more manageable. I felt like I could talk at least.
“I’ll be ok.” I said, after she didn’t leave.
She got the hint and closed the door behind her. I touched the control to engage the lock. Lifting my shirt I unhooked the knife from my belt then unbuckled the one from my calf. She hadn’t given me any new clothes. I’d have to hide them somewhere until I could put them back on. I shoved them in a small box of unopened shampoo in a cupboard in the corner.
Next priority. Get out of these clothes. Urgh. They were cold now, and stuck to me where they were wet. Pulling the t-shirt over my head made me gag.
I threw them into the sink and filled it with water.
Right. Shower. Hot.
It was as nice as I remembered.
* * *
I came out of the bathroom feeling very self-conscious, with a towel wrapped so tightly round myself it hurt my ribs. Beth’s door was wide open. I peeked inside not really wanting to disturb her if she was doing anything.
She was sitting on her bed looking… angry? Upset? I cleared my throat to get her attention, still standing in the doorway. Her head snapped round.
“Alex,” pause, “why didn’t you tell me!”
“I-” She interrupted me before I could respond, tears in her eyes.
“I asked you if they were doing anything and you lied to me. If I’d known… Well I do now.” She stood up and started pacing in front of her bed. “I am going to fucking kill them! Kill her.”
“That was the first time they’ve done anything for ages Beth, I didn’t lie to you.” About that, I added mentally.
She stopped and looked at me, “So your face…”
“Wasn’t her,” I confirmed.
“I’m still going to kill her.” What scared me was she actually sounded serious, and now quite calm. “She’s gone too far.”
“I think that might be going a little too far ourselves…” I said, still half-unsure whether she was genuine. I hoped I sounded genuine. Because I wasn’t, I’d been imagining killing her myself for the past hour.
“Well, ok, maybe not actually kill her. But you are damn well not going to sit there and take this Alex. I’m fucking telling someone even if you don’t.” She said.
“Beth, you can’t do that. They don’t believe me, they never have.” I tried to convince her.
“What about me? What about Mz Gregory?” I suppose she had a point there, I wasn’t as alone as I used to be. Mz Gregory had never actually seen Haley do anything. Still, she might say something about my character… But then I had arrived at her house after clearly getting in a fight.
I gave her a doubtful noise in response. The kind of ‘I see your point but don’t want to admit it’ half hum half grunt. I knew I was doing it too, maybe I was being immature. “Yeah, you’re right. But how do I do it? Last time was… I’m just scared that will happen again. I’m scared she’s going to escalate if I say anything.”
“Escalate? How could it escalate any worse than…” She stopped short of actually saying what had happened before ending lamely, “…that”
I could think of a lot of ways it could get worse, though doing so made my eyes itch. I turned away. My fingers touched the scar on my face. Yep, there was a lot worse. She was capable of it. I don’t know if any of the other girls could see her holding that needle, maybe they wouldn’t go so far, but Haley was an absolute psychopath. She must be.
I shivered, though it wasn’t cold, it never was in Beth’s house.
“Can we talk about something else? I’ll consider it okay.” I said.
“Fine. I’ll think about it too. Here, you can borrow these.” She threw me some clothes.
I went back into the bathroom to get dressed. More borrowed clothes. I really needed to get some money. Retrieving my knives I returned them to their places. They were comforting, even if I hadn’t even dared use them.
Going back to the Beth’s room I found her lounging on the bed browsing the internet. She had one of the new computers that didn’t even have any processors, it streamed directly from servers the size of buildings that did all the processing and calculations for millions of them. They were so thin and sleek, basically just being a screen and network chip.
They were pretty much the inverse of cloud processing.
I felt a pang of jealousy, I’d love something like that, it would be so much better than the clunky school slabs or anything I could afford.
You couldn’t actually do that much more with it though, I told myself. Besides you paid a monthly fee for the thing to actually function, and unless you were damned rich you could never afford any serious power. Still…
“That’s nice.” I said. God that sounded lame. But I was happy to change the subject, get my mind off the spiral of violence it had gotten stuck in.
“Yeah, my dad got it for my Birthday.” She said.
Birthday… Mom got me a birthday present once, when I was eight. She missed the actual date by a week. I’d managed to work it out myself from the school enrolment paperwork. I was so happy I didn’t care.
But… From my limited experience people usually had parties and stuff. You invite your friends.
I stopped my thoughts going down that route. There was probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for not being invited to anything. I hadn’t really met any of her other friends, maybe she just wanted to keep us separate…
Hyper-aware of the growing silence, I felt I should make a comment. “When was your Birthday?” I tried to make it sound like a normal question but I don’t think I managed to keep the cold edge out of my voice.
“Oh, not until next week.” God I’m an idiot. She hasn’t had a party yet, duh. For some reasons she didn’t sound happy about it though. “My dad’s going to miss it again so he gave me my present early…”
“But I don’t mind, really. It’s not like the actual date matters. And besides-” She stopped suddenly.
“Besides what?” I asked, curious.
“Well,” She avoided my eye. “People like you don’t even have a dad. I can hardly moan that he wasn’t home for a certain day of the year.”
“Hey, that’s a stupid way of thinking.” It was stupid. “I’ve never had one, so I’ve got nothing to miss. You can’t really feel sad because of an absence if I you’ve never experienced the presence.”
I wasn’t lying. I’d never put much thought into my father, my idea of a family unit didn’t even have one in. It was some mythical figure strange distant people had. Having such a spectacular failure for a mother was what weighed on my mind. I’d never even met Beth’s, I had no reference for what they were.
“Hmm, I don’t think it works like that Alex,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter. Can I have a look at it?” I asked. She frowned, then realised I was talking about her tablet and held it out for me.
It was so light. What really impressed me is that it was transparent when it wasn’t displaying anything, and you could have semi-transparent backgrounds.
Since there was no electronics, cooling or storage in the actual device – transparent screens had been around for ages but everything else hadn’t caught up.
I flipped it over and studied it. “Cool, so the network stuff is all around the edges, look” I pointed out the thin strip of electronics. “Wait, how is it powered? There must be a battery somewhere.”
“You are so geeky,” Beth said and fished around in the desk drawer, “here.”
She threw a black box at me. I turned it in my hands. It was definitely a battery. Warm to the touch.
“Clever. How close does it have to be?” I asked.
“Not sure, a couple of meters. I usually have it plugged in when I’m in my room.” She said.
I could see that they had to use it to get the fancy glass-transparency on the tablet, but I couldn’t help thinking it would be a good idea in general – if you had one of these in the bottom of your bag or your coat pocket then your phone would be so light and could last ages… And you could have multiple devices all off the same battery.
I wondered what kind of current and voltage it could send. Those Tasers I got were pretty heavy and I guessed it was all battery. I could have a damn powerful one in my backpack where it was convenient. Then I could…
I was being stupid. Distractions were good, but I might as well do something useful. Homework? I hadn’t had a chance to stay after school like normal.
“I need to do some homework, can I borrow your old one or something?” I said, hoping she hadn’t thrown it away.
“Sure, I think it’s in one of the drawers over there.” She waved her hands towards the corner of the room.
Taking that as an invitation, after a quick check to see if she wasn’t going to go get it herself, I pulled them open and started looking. She had a lot of junk in there. Sure the tablet was right there at the top but… I couldn’t help pick up a few of the other items just to get a better look.
“Beth, what the hell is this stuff?” I said.
“Oh? Toys, you know. Old crap I picked up when I was a kid. Old phones.” She said, casually. “You know, all the junk you pick up in childhood.”
I didn’t know. It was kind of bemusing. I picked up a phone, it looked a lot like the one I’d bought a while back. Sure, it had a few scratches but if it has broken why wouldn’t she have thrown it away?”
“Isn’t this stuff expensive?” I asked.
“Not really, anyway that’s like two years old. It is so slow.” She said. “Hey, you needed a phone didn’t you? You can have it if you want.”
Did she just… “What?”
“Take it, it’s just gonna sit in my drawer till my mom can be bothered to clean it out and throw everything away.” Her attention was still on whatever she was doing, she was giving me this and she didn’t even think of it as a big deal.
“Erm, I can’t really give you anything for it Beth I’m broke at the moment.” I must have just got the wrong end of the stick here.
“I’m not selling it you Alex, I’m giving it to you.” She said, rolling her eyes at me. “Honestly, you are useless.”
“I…” I was going to protest my innocence but she was right. I was useless at this. I just wasn’t used to accepting… gifts.
I placed it gingerly on the top of the draws, took out the tablet and closed them before she could try and give me anything else.
“Ok, I’ll borrow it then.” I can give her it back when I get my own. Which I will. At some point.
She smiled at me. “Fine, if that makes you happy.”
Making her smile, though I wasn’t sure how, made me feel happy. The first time in a long time, not since I’d got this scar.