Links to the previous chapters are HERE
I decided to walk to school on Tuesday morning. Mom offered to drive me, but I didn't want to feel like a little kid again. So I shoved my books into my pack, made sure the blue streak in my hair curved over my left ear, and headed out into another damned bright morning.
I supposed things could have been worse. After all, we'd had a lot of rain lately, but there were only a few clouds in the sky today. Dew clung to the leaves and I almost returned for my camera, but if I stopped to take pictures, I'd be hours late for school.
The walk would take me past Missy's house. I could have taken a longer route, but I didn't have the time and I refused to feel intimidated in my own neighborhood. I did walk slowly to the corner and peered around a neatly trimmed hedge, hoping I would see Missy on her way out, and know I was safe to go past. Mrs. Murphy would already be at AviTen, and I didn't think Mr. Murphy would bother me.
When Missy pulled out in her convertible, I felt a sudden surge of anger I hadn't expected thinking about what she had done to my car. Probably done to my car. I had to remind myself I had no proof.
I slipped back around the corner and hoped she didn't head this way. When I heard the car roar away in the opposite direction, I darted across the street and walked quickly past her house. At the next corner I breathed a sigh of relief and tried not to feel even more anger because she'd driven me to this kind of reaction. I didn't want to be afraid of Missy Murphy, but I didn't want trouble.
And at the next curve of the road I stopped and cursed. Missy had stopped in the middle of the street, with another car pulled alongside her. That was Nadine Kimura in her convertible. I could hear them arguing, voices rising in the quiet early morning.
While I would have loved to listen in, I didn't want either to see me. I found an open yard between the houses beside me. I could see all the way to the next street so the short cut would save some time off my trip, besides saving me from even more Missy-mess.
"I don't give a fuck, you stupid little child," Nadine yelled so loudly they probably heard her in Pasadena. "Go find someone else to lie to."
She gunned the engine and I barely had time to get out of sight before the convertible sped past. I could see Missy leaning half out her car window as though she couldn't quite believe Nadine had dared drive away. She certainly wasn't making any friends. I hurried into the shadows of a fence and startled a behemoth of a dog into one of those growls that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up, even with a huge fence between you and the creature.
I had no trouble on the rest of the way to school. I made myself slow when I drew near. No use looking as though I had hurried. I have a reputation to protect, after all. So I strolled to the gate, paused at the fountain and nodded to a few of the others. I had arrived in plenty of time and congratulated myself on having avoided any war on the way in.
School turned out to be hell.
There are forty-three kids in my graduating class, and each subject has no more than sixteen of us at a time. We are pampered. We all know each other pretty well, but like any other school, there are the usual cliques. There are the jocks and the cheerleaders, the nerds and the wannabes. Some of the kids are very rich and some less so since their parents work in the lower echelon ranks of secretaries, office workers, security people and such. Mr. Avison made sure they all had access to the best education he could buy. Most of them are natives to the area, while all the rest of us are imports, brought in from a dozen countries and other areas of the US. Since we've always gone to school together it blunted the class distinctions. I'm glad.
Missy has her followers, though they're kind of lazy, which is a reflection of their fearless leader. I didn't have to worry about Missy when it came to requiring thought or work. Her followers, though were sometimes anxious to prove how much they supported her. I had heard -- rumors, you know -- that she found ways to blackmail them and it had to do with her parties. I wished I could say I didn't believe it.
They only needed a little sign she was unhappy about something.
Today she was unhappy about me.
I began the day with trig and the damned test. By this point I wanted it over with and I didn't care if I failed completely. I'd pass the class and this wouldn't be my first low grade in math. By now, I really didn't even care.
I couldn't just blow the test off, though. I gave the problems all my attention, and you know, working through them started to make sense. I blocked everything out of my mind and finally found myself working on the last problem with ten minutes left to go.
My mind suddenly began to wander. I mentally slapped myself, worked through the last few steps, and with a sigh of relief turned the paper over and put my pencil on the desk. I didn't even try to recheck the problems. I learned early not to try and second-guess myself.
Mrs. Kipfer came by and picked up the paper, giving me a nod of approval. I hope she felt that way after she graded the work.
Eight minutes left. The tenseness in my shoulders eased. I sat by the window, with a lovely view of white clouds starting to blow in, which might mean rain. Summer vacation would begin in a few days. My parents wanted to take me somewhere special for graduation -- Europe or the Far East. I wanted to go to the beach. I supposed I could spend a few weeks with them, though. I was the youngest and they wouldn't get this chance again.
When my sister graduated, they'd taken her to Europe and I'd stayed with the Calabrias and we'd gone camping. I had thought I got the better deal. Akio arrived in Deervale that summer, but I didn't meet her until we went back to school in the fall.
My mind wandered and this time to Akio, and when we took classes together. The teachers had let us sit close by each other so I could help her with work she didn't quite understand. I closed my eyes for a moment, but I could see her sitting by the grave of her father or on the bench outside her father's house. Alone, alone.
Except for Nadine.
And all I could remember was going to one of Nadine's stupid parties . . . I drank what Nadine gave me and tried to sit by myself, but they wouldn't leave me alone. I got ill and everything went strange. Nadine -- Nadine --
The bell rang and I yelped. Someone snickered as the others handed in their obviously unfinished tests and headed out of the door. I still sat there, stunned by something that might have been common knowledge, but I had refused to listen to anything about Akio after the accident with Gian.
Maybe working through trig finally made me think through the steps. Connect the dots.
Nadine had given her the drugs.
"Marisha?" Mrs. Kipfer said, coming to my desk. I hadn't realized everyone else had left already. I felt displaced, like I had not been in this room at all.
"Marisha?" she repeated, worried.
"Oh. Sorry. My mind is wandering today. Glad to have the test done." I stood, but still felt shocked and disorientated.
"You've been under a lot of stress," she replied with a nod. I squirmed, uncomfortable at the thought of others watching me and knowing my problems. "Just remember that if you need to talk to anyone, we're here."
"Thanks," I forced a smile. I stood a little taller than Mrs. Kipfer. When had that happened? "I better get going, or I'll be late for gym. Ms. Bowling hates for anyone to be late."
"She does seem to stress punctuality to an extreme. Go. I'll see you tomorrow with the test results."
I winced, and she raised one eyebrow in surprise, but I hurried out of the room and headed for the stairs.
I hadn't known about Nadine being with Akio the night of the accident. I never trusted the woman and I couldn't believe they let her walk away after giving Akio drugs without telling her. Had Akio told me the truth? Could I trust her?
I didn't know why Akio purposely hurt Gian, but if this was true, at least I could shift some of the blame to Nadine. And I had to admit doing so felt satisfying.
Gym turned out to be worse than trig. Normally, I enjoyed the hour. We voted to spend the last days playing basketball. I changed and hurried out to the floor, exercising a bit before we got going. I had a lot of energy to burn off.
I leaned over, stretched and trying to get my mind to let go of the entire Nadine scenario. I'd need to talk to someone. My father, I decided. I would ask him why Nadine had walked away, and no one ever mentioned her part. Maybe they had proof Akio had taken the drugs herself.
But I believed otherwise because I had known Akio, and the thought of Nadine having her hand in this trouble filled me with a new wave of self-righteous anger to which I had no real claim. I was an outsider to the event. I had no right --
Something hit me hard on the right shoulder, and I nearly tumbled headfirst onto the court. I stood up in shock as a basketball went bouncing off to the side of the court.
"Sorry," Mary said, retrieving the ball.
"It's all right." I rubbed my shoulder. I felt as though a brick had hit me. The ball had been traveling hard and fast.
Alicia came closer to me and frowned, but before we could say anything Ms. Bowing came out and did roll call. I hadn't noticed Missy until now. She usually did her best to avoid class. She moved awkwardly in tennis shoes and shorts, her face already red before we even started to play. I shrugged and we divided into our usual two teams.
With Missy there I should have known I would have trouble. Until now, I hadn't noticed how many of her personal friends were on the other team. Within the first ten minutes of play I already felt like a punching bag. I used to be good at dodge ball, but I thought we intended to play basketball. My mistake.
Alicia called a time out after about the sixth time a ball hit me hard in the legs. She came over and put a hand on my shoulder. "What the hell did you do to piss off Missy?"
"I didn't do anything. She was so goddamned drunk she doesn't even remember Mr. Calabria was the one with her when the cops arrived!"
"What an idiot." Alicia watched Missy and shook her head. "I think you should sit the rest of this out."
"They aren't going to scare me off." I winced because it sounded stupid.
"You want to have a broken leg for graduation?" Trish asked.
"You guys going to take all day?" Mary yelled. "We don't have much time, you know!"
We played for another quarter. My team acted as guards more than they played basketball, and I could see Ms. Bowing frowning at the antics. She blew the whistle and we all fell out --
The ball hit me in the back of the head with enough force to drop me to my knees, stunned. I put my hands to the floor to keep from falling while voices grew louder. I couldn't understand the words at first. Shock left me motionless for a few heartbeats before anger took over. I got to my feet and spun around.
Ms. Bowing moved past me at a steady, foot-stomping stalk. I couldn't see her face, but I could tell the anger from the set of her shoulders. Alicia grabbed my arm when I started to follow and shook her head. "Don't." She smirked towards Missy and friends. "This will be much more fun to watch as The Terror takes them on, don't you think?"
"I want a go at them. Who threw the ball?" I asked.
"I don't know," Trish said and the others shrugged, gathering close by. "I think Ms. Bowing does, though."
The rest of us went to the bleachers and listened while Ms. Bowing berated the other team, her language a bit more colorful than I had expected. I saw Missy turn my way, her eyes narrowed as though I had done this to her as well. Dense. Stupid. I had never realized how much so until now.
I listened for a couple minutes before Ms. Bowing sent us off to the showers and made the other team do calisthenics for the rest of the period, promising to fail anyone who didn't keep up.
Man was I glad I hadn't done anything to piss her off this term. And I'd have to remember to go easy tomorrow, too.
I took a long, hot shower and let some of the aches and tension ease out of my body. I found large bruises forming on both my arms and I didn't even want to see my legs. I grew angrier, thinking they'd do this for Missy.
I remained angry during English class. We had a pop quiz, which made the others unhappy, but I didn't mind. I had too many words bouncing around in my head, and listening to anyone lecture would have been torture. The quiz wasn't hard. I checked off my answers, wrote my essay and stared at the paper for a long, long time.
Missy kept acting weird, even for Missy, but her actions didn't bother me as much as something else. Since I had realized Akio's stepmother might have been partially to blame for the drugs and the accident, I started thinking about Missy's current interest in Nadine and their bizarre shouting match in the middle of the street. There was something wrong between the two.
I had wondered about Missy and drugs for a while now. Gian and confirmed the link, but I wondered if it hadn't gone back to Nadine. I remembered the pictures from the party and how different Missy had been back then. Had I seen Missy and Nadine together after the accident? I didn't remember much of that time at all, to be honest. I might be imagining the idea of them standing on a street corner, maybe at a café. I wanted to tie the two them together, the people I most despised in the world (and when had Akio dropped out of the list?), with my emotions so strong that I didn't trust my own memories.
I'd have to talk to dad.
I went to study hall and read. Forced myself to read since I had no homework, and reading kept me from watching the people from gym class. I needed to keep my head clear of the anger and think straight.
I glanced at Gian, sitting in his wheelchair over by the window and staring outside. There was another common thread. Missy to Nadine to Akio to Gian -- and back to Missy, since she showed so much interest in Gian now.
Study hall passed quickly, and I didn't look forward to lunch until Gian rolled to the door and waved for me to join him. I grabbed my stuff and hurried across the room. Gian waiting for me for lunch? Wow, better day than I had hoped!
Before I could get to the door, a couple others cut me off, obviously intent on slowing me. I was tempted to shove the two girls to the ground and walk over them. I hated this kind of childishness and I'd had more than my fair share of it today.
Eventually I reached the hall. I discovered Missy had Gian cornered by the door to the next room. I had never felt such sudden rage before in my life. The pure power of the emotion paralyzed me and stopped me from doing something rash and maybe stupid. I stared as Missy's friends crossed to her. Missy gave me a scornful sneer. She tried to grab hold of Gian's chair but he slapped her hand away. I heard her yelp in shock, as though she couldn't understand why he would do such a thing. The hall got very, very quiet as we all watched this bizarre show.
"I'm going to lunch with Mar," Gian said, his voice cold. "Get the hell away from me."
He looked into Missy's face, his eyes narrowed with a depth of anger I didn't recall ever seeing before. Missy's shoulders straightened. I thought I saw one fist form -- but she stepped back away. I waited, letting Gian take care of this himself. He didn't need my help. I even leaned against the wall, trying to appear more relaxed than I felt. My muscles twitched with adrenaline and I had to fight to keep my breath from coming in gasps. I didn't want to add to this show.
George and John Forest, the only identical twins in school, had come out of the class behind me. They both walked over to Missy and her friends and herded them away. Others fell in around them. Missy looked back at Gian, her face enraged. She began cursing and demanding people move out of the way. No one stopped for her.
When some of the others had cleared the path, I finally trusted myself to move again and walked over to Gian. His dark eyes narrowed as he glanced at me. I didn't want to see him so angry.
"Sorry," I said softly. I thought I should leave him alone.
His face changed and my heartbeat slowed again. "You? Why? I'm sure you didn't put that bitch on me. You want to skip lunch and go out to the yard for a while? I need to calm down."
"You and me both."
I walked beside him. A few others in the hall watched us, and I could see they'd heard something was going on. I didn't want to be part of the show and I think Gian liked the notice even less.
The school had been built to code and ramps ran from floor to floor and out into the terraced yards. Windows shed bright light at every turn and I was glad to see the nice, warm spring day outside. I held the door as we went out into a world of green and flowers. The gardeners had done a wonderful job this year, and the graduating class's colors of blue and gold spread out in flowers all along the edge of the buildings. Birds cried out in shock at our arrival and flew off. I suddenly had the urge to go with them, and to cut school for the first time in my life. I didn't want to go back in there and face the rest of the day with those monsters.
"I hate this." I sat on a bench where I could see the door. I didn't want Missy or her friends sneaking up on us.
"Me too." He glanced to the door as well. "Missy is crazy. Straight out crazy. I'm going to talk to a councilor about her later. She needs help."
"You're right, but I don't know if anything will help, since her parents are the ones who need to do something and they're blind to what's going on."
"Yeah, I know. But I'm not going to ignore the possibility I could do something to stop her from hurting someone."
I nodded and decided to keep an eye on Missy for a while. I had thought she was stupid, but I hadn't considered her dangerous, despite everything she had done to me lately. "What was Missy saying to you after study hall?"
"She told me you went to the funeral. I told her I knew, and I had expected you to. She got mad for a moment. Scary mad, to be honest, as thought she was about to lose control. I don't know what she would have done but then she just sort of changed, like a switch turned off. She said you and Nadine planned something, and she saw you two arguing this morning."
"That's crap," I replied with a snort before another feeling came over me and I almost shivered. "Weird crap, in fact. I walked to school this morning and I had to cut between two houses to avoid running straight into Missy and Nadine. They were in their little convertibles, stopped in the middle of the street and yelling at each other."
"Really?" He glanced my way and I feared he might not believe me. I felt a rock growing in my stomach again.
"Honest to God, Gian," I whispered. "I would never lie to you."
He didn't even pause as he nodded. "Yeah, I believe you. She's gone over the edge. Sure wish I knew what they argued about."
"Me, too, but I didn't want to stick around and face them." I thought about telling him about Akio, Nadine and the drugs, but I decided this wasn't the time. I wanted to know more before I even made the suggestion. "Gian, do you know if I could get a copy of the report on Missy the other night? I want to shove it in her face when she says I'm the one who turned her in so I can show her how crazy she truly is."
"I don't know. I'll ask. Want half a power bar?"
That's the lunch we shared. It was heavenly.
I think someone must have scared Missy into behaving for the rest of the day. She avoided me even when we had class together, but I could see her turn my way sometimes, her eyes blazing. As the day grew later, I began to worry about walking home. I resigned myself to a very long detour, about a mile out of the way, to avoid Missy. Of course the new path would put me closer to some of her other friends, but I counted on them being less resolute in their decision to make my life hell.
When I headed out after the last class, I felt as though I walked out of a sanctuary into a dangerous world, and I hated that feeling. I wanted to be mad about this happening, but I traced the trouble to Mr. Kimura's death, and I couldn't be angry at him.
I saw another way home and one which wouldn't make me any friends with Missy or her people. That appealed to me right now. I jogged forward a few yards to get past the fountain and feared I was going to miss my chance when I couldn't get through the crowd at the gate.
"Hey Gian, can I get a ride home with you tonight?" I yelled as he rolled out a couple yards ahead of me. I could see his father already at the van almost straight ahead.
Gian stopped and peered through the crowd surging around him until he saw me. "Come on!"
I spotted Missy and a couple of her friends by her car and I had the real feeling they waited for me to come out. Call me paranoid, but they watched me like hawks. I shivered as I reached the van, feeling as though I had run from one sanctuary to another. I didn't want to feel unsafe walking home.
Mr. Calabria opened the side door and signaled me in before he helped Gian into the front seat and took the wheelchair to load in. Gian turned to me, shaking his head.
"If looks could kill, Mar," he said. Then he stopped. "I'm glad you're riding with us."
"I'm sorry about your car."
"I'll get another one." I reconciled myself to the idea since I did not want to walk home each night -- and everywhere else -- with Missy acting so odd and focused on me. How long would she hold this tirade? Clear through summer? "I hate this feeling, being afraid to walk in my own neighborhood."
His eyes flickered a little, and I had to wonder if he would ever feel safe after what had happened to him. But he blinked and nodded to me. "I think Missy got her ass chewed this afternoon. I saw her in the halls heading for the principal's office."
"I don't think that's going to help her attitude towards us," I said as Gian's father climbed into the van.
"There was trouble, yes?" he asked and he glanced at Missy and her friends as we drove away.
"Yeah," Gian answered. "Missy has gone crazy. I heard there was trouble in gym today, Mar."
"Yeah. Weird stuff." I didn't want to, but I watched Missy and her friends as we went past. They stared. God, I didn't want to be the person they glared at.
We drove home, making small talk, but I saw Missy's car following us. I could see Gian's father glancing into the rearview mirror a few times, and I don't think Gian missed her, either.
They dropped me off at the driveway and I waved as I hurried inside, shoving the door closed. I looked out the window. Missy drove by and turned around at the garden cul-de-sac. She gunned the engine and raced out, darting around the Calabria van.
I went to my room and sat at the desk to . . . well, to pass the time. I didn't have homework. I didn't want to watch TV. I just wanted to calm myself.
But all I could hear was Gian's brothers playing in the yard again.
I would not cry.