Selina hurried down the rest of the stairs. She could feel David's eyes on her, boring into her back. She resisted the urge to look up at him and instead focused on the stairs as best as she could. David's words replayed in her ears, drowning out the echo her feet made as they slammed against the steps. She didn't know what it was about him and his voice, but he somehow always knew how to make his words and actions resonate within her.
She hated it, especially now.
She thought about stopping in the ER to say hi to her father, but she thought better of it. She wasn't ready to see him again.
The drive back to her house was a quiet one. Her body felt drained, exacerbated by the anticipation of falling asleep on her bed. She pulled into the familiar driveway, her eyes lingering on the candy apple red Mirage parked in front of her house.
Selina kept her head down as she walked to her front door. Her feet paused.
A glass vase of white jasmine sat at her door, a white card stuck in it. Selina looked around for a moment, before stopping to pick up the vase. Plucking the card from the vase, she shifted the vase under her arm and opened the card. She saw the signature before she read the words.
Her brows knitted together as she shook her head. The words read:
I hope this isn't too much. I was hoping to give you these when I got out, but I didn't want to bother you after everything happened. Thanks for making Adv. Comp. my favorite class. See you tomorrow.
Selina shut her eyes and shook her head. "Nathan," she sighed. Her mind drifted to the beach, his patience, his kindness-
She bit her lip as she stuffed the card into her pocket and dug out her house key. The silence in the house was a stark contrast to ever-flowing thoughts in her mind. They drifted to Nathan, his lips twitching, the shadow of dimples as he penned the note. She was someone to be nervous over, and she wasn't sure how she felt about that. Selina's head fell against her front door, her eyes closing slowly as she slid to the floor. The glass container clanked as it kissed the ground, the sound seeming to echo in space. "What am I doing?"
She went to sleep that night and dreamt of those beautiful flowers, only instead of being found in a vase, they were trampled on a white tiled floor, similar to the flooring she saw in the hospital.
Another school day came and went. Rumors continued to circulate on the well being of Chris and Shawn, individual bets being taken on who would get out of the hospital first. Every pair of eyes that floated past Selina made her hair stand on end. Her body remained on high alert, as though their words, even just their thoughts, warranted the need for physical protection. She knew there were whispers, but people did not ask her what happened, not even Jessica or Mia.
Selina wondered if people cared about what happen or if they were perfectly okay with developing their own narrative. That morning, she leaned her head into her locker, the ostrich of Paulson High. Broken conversations caught her ears; something she knew was directed to her. Every set of pointless conversation, purposefully spoken near her, perhaps to rile her up, tear her down; she wasn't sure. Troy and Steven's assistance seemed to help from a physical standpoint, but did nothing to quell conversation.
"She probably deserved it, going around beatin' up on guys."
Her stomach felt queasy with the thought of speaking the words, a bitter bile like taste left in her mouth, though she knew it was only her imagination. The feeling of nausea grew with the ever-present reality that she cared about what these people were saying.
It was so much easier to delude herself into thinking she didn't.
"I heard she had a 'roid rage fit."
She shut her eyes and leaned against her locker opening, taking a deep inhale, swallowing down the words she wanted so badly to say but gag reflex would not allow.
"Shawn can't handle himself against a female?"
Her hands curled into an ever-tightening ball as she slowly stood erect.
"She probably started it."
The sharp slamming of her locker caused a unanimous jump of students around Selina. She wanted to reel on her heels, slam the mouthpiece against the locker and blurt the whole terrible, awful thing.
Instead, she averted her eyes, gritted her teeth, and proceeded down the hallway. Her head pounded as blood rushed to her ears. The comments in the hallways turned to muffles as she shut her ears. She wished she could scream to the rooftops her frustration and the idiocy of their comments. But it would not matter.
She knew someone somewhere would probably tell her to jump from those rooftops.
Selina's steps slowed as she recognized her name being called.
She shut her eyes, sighing. Turning on her heels, she saw a familiar pair of eyes. "Ms. Sylvan."
The older woman stepped forward, her eyes searching Selina's face. "Selina, I…I've been trying to talk with you. Are you okay?"
Selina swallowed her snort. "I…I don't want to talk to Ms. Sylvan. Please. To answer your question, I'm fine, I just…ugh."
"Well, where are you going right now?"
Well… that's an excellent question. Selina lifted her head, her right hand rubbing her temples. She avoided the few areas of foundation she placed on her face to hide some bruising that began forming. What started as red splotches morphed into brown and dark green patches. "I…I don't know."
Ms. Sylvan extended a hand in front of her. "You can sit in my classroom if you'd like."
"I…" Selina looked around, feeling more eyes on her. Cop caller, teacher's pet-
She sighed once more. "That's okay."
The smaller woman stepped forward. Selina had by now looked away, choosing instead to focus on a piece of peeling paint on the nearby window frame. "Are you sure? No questions, I assure you."
The hazel eyes rose slightly, catching on a small prism of light on the window. Oddly enough, the shading of the small streak, only one inch wide, reminded Selina of Steven's picture, in particular, an area of shading in the charcoal and gray world. Selina tore her eyes from the window and lifted her head, staring at her teacher instead. She wanted to look away immediately. The concern and interest were almost immediately too much. "Alright."
Ms. Sylvan exhaled a slow breath, giving Selina a once over before turning to walk. "Alright," she echoed softly. She made it a point to walk behind or in front of Selina, but beside her. Selina tightened her book bag straps as they walked in silence. She gave her teacher a sideways glance, expecting her to say something, but she remained silent. Selina caught her assistant principal in the corner of her eye. Immediately, the woman appeared to wrap up a conversation, but a quick motion from Ms. Sylvan stopped her.
They're gonna gang up on me. Perfect.
Selina's fingers released her straps, her right hand fiddling with her left arm.
Once they reached the room, Selina emitted a heavy sigh, looking at her watch. She still had 15 minutes before the first bell. She looked to her teacher, Selina's face wearing her wariness. Selina didn't have time for masks, though she felt an attempt at nonchalance would best suit her presently. Instead, her teacher wasn't staring at her, choosing instead to stare at her chalkboard.
Selina stood for about a minute more before taking her seat at one desk, the one she sat in all year.
Ms. Sylvan turned and faced her desk, her eyes not making contact with Selina. Her fingers drummed softly on the wooden surface, her pointer finger tapping, tapping, tapping until quietly stopping.
Selina prepared herself, ready to spew out an "I don't want to talk about it."
Instead, the woman looked up, cleared her throat, and said softly, "This is a safe space. If you ever just need somewhere to sit, gather your thoughts, lose your thoughts, or just…be, you can do it here. No questions asked. No statements, no lecture, just be." The woman shifted in her stance. "If you want to talk, you start the conversation. Do not mistake my not asking as not caring, but, if and when you want to, it's your terms."
Selina opened her mouth to say something but soon shut it. Ms. Sylvan may not have had the full story, but she knew enough not to press. The bruises on her face weren't enough to tell the entire story. She thought for a moment that maybe Ms. Secrest said something since all of Chris's teachers would be notified about his upcoming absences. She wondered if her father told Ms. Sylvan something, though they didn't seem to be on those types of terms yet. A few additional scenarios popped into Selina's head, but she pushed them aside. Regardless of the holes, the incomplete story, etc. Ms. Sylvan appeared to want nothing in return for this Eden of Solace. So, Selina nodded her head, opting to worry later about the questions that may not come at all.
Ms. Sylvan nodded back and took off her jacket, placing it on her chair. She pulled the chair from under the desk, the squeaking rolling of its wheels being the only sound between her and Selina. Ms. Sylvan took her seat and opened a folder, appearing to flip through the pages being housed by it while grabbing for a pen. Selina turned her head to the nearest window, looking out the courtyard. She could hear the soft scribbles on the papers. Pause and scribble, pause, and scribble. Her mouth opened without thought. "Thanks."
The scratching on the desk paused, with the woman returning just as quietly, "Your welcome."
Selina lowered her head to her desk, her eyes still on the window. She was about to rest her head on her hands when she thought of the makeup. Her eyes closed, a low growl escaping her lips. She, instead, sat up with her back straight in the seat. Perhaps it was better this way. She needed practice keeping her head up.
Selina took in a deep breath, her arms folded across her chest as she listened to her coach offer his end of practice speech. Coach Harrington reiterated his previous instructions from Monday, reminding the girls of the travel instructions for Thursday. Selina's hands rubbed her forearms, her skin itching from her wrapped bandages. Her long sleeves covered the gauze, but she still felt naked and her body felt twitchy. She worked harder this practice than the other, but she was still missing something. Her body shifted again as she listened to her coach reiterate the importance of this game.
Never did soccer ever feel less important to her than now. Her eyes dropped in silent shame at the thought of it.
"Alright ladies. Let's bring it in." The circle of girls tightened with their coach at the center. Selina brought her hand in though it sat at the bottom of the pile. "Panthers on three. One, two, three!"
Selina dropped her hand and backed away slowly. The day felt like a blur. She thought the second day would be a rehashing of the first; instead, it was tamer, to her surprise. People still did not speak to her about what happened, though she often caught wind of the hearsay. The comments of the morning were still fresh in her ears and continued during the day: in class, in between classes, practice. Mia and Jessica did not pry, though their curiosity was getting the better of them. When Selina arrived at school that morning, she sighed in relief that Reggie was not at her lockers to greet her-
No one was.
She responded to Mia and Jessica's text messages that morning asking if she was okay with a simple "Yes, I'm good"; nothing more.
Selina skipped lunch that day, choosing instead to hide out in the library. Mia messaged her again, asking where she was, to which Selina said she was working on an assignment. It wasn't completely a lie, but she knew she wasn't concentrating on her work. She chose instead to focus on the reference section in front of her, zoning out until the lunch bell startled her back into the real world.
Selina's hands paused as she fiddled with her bag. She was on the ground, unaware of when she made it there, removing her long socks and shin guards. At the start of practice, she wanted nothing more than for it to be successful as biding time and preoccupying her, ushering the day to an end. However, when her hands contacted the wet grass, she longed to stay. She didn't have it in her to keep practicing, but she knew she needed to do something.
"Hey, Carb party tomorrow, you in?"
Selina looked up suddenly, unaware that instead of her sandals, she slipped her sneakers on. "What?"
Mia sighed heavily. "Carb fest. Tomorrow night at Angelo's after practice."
Selina nodded absently, resting her arms on her knees. "Right, I uh," her left hand reached for her right arm, her fingers silently rubbing her bandages. "I…I think I'll pass."
Mia shut her eyes for a moment as she squatted next to Selina. She looked up for a moment; her eyes focusing on the Paulson Stadium bleachers. "Selina, everyone's gonna be cool, okay? Might be good to be with the team. No one is gonna say anything if you're worried about that."
A flash of the previous Saturday night ran through her mind. Nearly all the seniors were there. She remembered their surprised stares, at least of the ones she saw.
Strangely, Mia's comfort of their teammates expected silence on the matter did little to assuage Selina; it slightly repulsed her.
Selina rocked slowly on her heels. "I'm-I'm sure it'll be fine, but I have to work tomorrow."
Mia bumped Selina with her shoulder. "Selina, c'mon. You can't get off? It's playoffs."
Selina shook her head. "I shouldn't. I missed on Saturday to…to go to the party."
An awkward silence followed. Selina sighed to herself with an internal curse at herself. "Thanks for asking, though," she added quickly.
"Well, what are your plans tonight? Are you gonna go see Chris?"
Selina shrugged her shoulders, reaching for her soccer ball. "I uh…I don't know." She stuffed the round object into her bag.
"Selina, he'll…you know he'll want to see you. He went through a lot. I mean, I know it can't be easy seeing him like this, but he needs you right now."
Selina's jaw tightened, her hand freezing over the zipper. "Don't…Mia."
Mia backed away. "Are you kidding me right now?"
"Are you…" She shut her green eyes, taking a breath. "What kind of hang-up could you possibly have with Chris that you wouldn't go see him? You don't think you owe him that?"
Mia's words felt like bee stings over Selina's flesh, many single prickings dancing up her arms.
Selina, by reflex, touched her bandages. "Don't, Mia." She remembered the hospital, the words of the group, that they came for them both. All she could think was that it was for Chris. In some way, shape, or form, it always came around in defense of Cool Chris Secrest. All Selina could do was repeat herself. "Please…don't." She wanted to be angry at the defense of Chris. She wanted to lash out and scream what a jerk he was, all that he had done-
But the memory of his bruises, the beeping in the hospital, the tears on his parents' faces would never allow for that-
Her heart, no matter how shattered it was, would not allow for that, not right now.
Mia opened her mouth to say something, but a scoff emerged instead. Selina shut her eyes at the sound, attempting to zip her bag. Her eyes reopened as her fingers appeared to struggle with the small object, earning a low growl from her.
Mia shook her head, pushing herself up from the ground. "Fine. Fine Selina." She was about to turn and walk away when she halted. Her hands found her hips. "I know you guys had your spat or whatever, but give him some credit on this, okay?"
Selina pushed herself from the ground, not looking at her. "You presume too much."
"Don't worry about it."
"Selina, I…you know what? You're right. I won't. Forget it."
Selina gritted her teeth, shutting her eyes tightly; a memory of sorrowful blue came into vision. She opened her eyes quickly, looking at the ground. She could hear the words as though they were being spoken to her again.
As long as I was yours.
I made you like this.
Selina's right hand found her head, her pointer finger and thumb gripping her temples. Don't you do it now. Do not do this now.
She could see Mia's feet in the cloudiness, the pivot they made as she turned to walk away. Selina could feel a single tear form. She wiped her hand over her face and sniffled softly. Get it together, Selina. You can't do this here.
Mia's feet paused and shifted. Selina shook her head to herself, wiping her hand over her face as she looked up to the bleachers. She could hear Mia step forward with a cautious and slow step. "I'm sorry, alright? I just…" she sighed softly. "I just don't get it. But I guess that's just the way of things." Mia patted her hand on her side softly, waiting for something.
Selina offered no response.
"Right," Mia mumbled. "Listen, I'll see you tomorrow."
Selina only turned to face Mia when she heard her walking away. She saw Jessica standing off, picking up her bag. Her head dropped as she heard parts of their broken conversation. "No, she's not coming...yeah, I'm trying to look out for Chris, but she…I seriously don't...oh well."
Selina shook her head and turned back to face the bleachers. She shifted from foot to foot, the twitchiness she felt early becoming more consuming. She poked her foot out, eyeing her sneakers. Something in her knew what she wanted to do, apparently.
Selina walked past the team bags to her coaches. Both men stopped their conversations immediately. That was an ordinary reaction when they did not want eavesdroppers, however, there was something else lacing their eyes. They had seen her bruises. She washed her face before practice to keep the sting of sweat-filled makeup from getting into her eyes. There was no hiding it from them. What made it worse was that she didn't even have to tell them anything, as though magical they knew something terrible happened, nothing they would broach but nothing they would outright ignore.
She knew what she saw: a cocktail of badly hidden concern, curiosity, and pity.
She wanted to crawl into a hole.
Selina swallowed her prideful indignation, giving her internal self a tongue lashing. "Uh coach, I…I wanted to know how much longer you were gonna be out here tonight."
Coach Harrington lowered his wooden clipboard. She could see him debating about his answer. She wanted to laugh as it certainly wasn't a trick question, but it seemed a lot of her comments, if any, were perceived as such. "I don't have much else, Selina."
Coach Irving folded his arms over his chest. "I'll be here for another 30 to 45 minutes."
Selina bit her bottom lip. "Is it…okay if I do a little running?"
The younger coach's eyebrow rose. "My workout wasn't sufficient?"
Her eyes darted to her coach, an apology ready to tumble from her lips when she caught the light twinkle. Sense of humor from Harrington? For the first time that day, Selina offered a genuine smile. "No offense intended, coach. I just…wanted to clear my head a little bit, that's all."
He nodded his head, tapping his clipboard on the side of his leg. She would have given anything to know what he was thinking. She half mused that he was dreaming up a drill for her in his way of showing he cared.
He looked to Coach Irving. "I can stay if you'd like."
"Oh no. I've got it. I needed to check some of the lights anyway." Coach Irving returned his attention to Selina, offering her a small smile. "That's fine."
Selina nodded her head quickly. "Cool. I just… just a few minutes or something."
"Take your time."
Selina nodded her head and proceeded to the starting line on the track. She saw a few heads turn her direction as she made her way to the track, but she ignored them as she normally did. Once she reached the track, she completed a few small stretches. Taking a deep breath, she started to jog. She recognized Mia's form as it paused, but she would not look at her. There were a few pairs of eyes she readily ignored, however, the one pair of eyes she could not were those of her team captain. Janna, while far off, looked as though she were looking at Selina and not all at the same time. Janna looked as though she wanted to tell her something. A quip of some sort she assumed for being a showoff, an overachiever, something.
Instead, a turning of the back greeted Selina. Regina was nearby, steadily hitting Janna and saying something, to which Janna shook her head, readjusted her bag, and walked away. Regina, who was standing with Janna, waited for comment but displayed a look of surprise when met with silence.
Anya shifted in her cleats as she watched Selina. She glimpsed over her shoulder, noticing that most of the girls began their trek to the track and field gate. Selina was completing her second lap when she was just about to pass Anya. Anya swallowed hard. "Selina!"
Selina almost missed the yelling of her name. She still hadn't quite hit her rhythm, dissatisfied with her current running. She looked to the sideline and saw Anya standing there. "Yeah, Anya?"
"Do you…well, what I mean is, um…can I…?" She pointed to the field with a shaky hand.
Selina's head jerked slightly back. Her first thought was to say no. She told herself she wanted to be by herself.
But she knew that was a lie. It had always been a lie.
Selina shifted on her feet as she watched the brief bout of confidence the sophomore began to melt away, prompting the immediate quelling of Selina's knee-jerk defense of "no." Selina shrugged her shoulders, a pitiful attempt at nonchalance. "Yeah. Yeah, sure."
Anya beamed. "Awesome. I-I just need to leave my mom a message and change my shoes." She power walked to the edge of the track, practice bag in hand, and dropped it on the side. "I uh…I hope I don't slow you down or something."
Selina, who had begun stretching her long arms to the sky, paused, her eyes falling to the younger girl. She felt herself chuckling internally at the girl's skittering movements. "I'm sure you'll be fine."
The two started slowly but gradually picked up the pace. Selina, mindful of the younger girl's speed, paced herself in consideration of Anya's strides, which were substantially smaller than Selina's. Anya tried to speed up, pushing to make up for the deficit. Selina smiled at her determination to keep up. Selina instead controlled the pace, listening for Anya's breathing, offering sideways glances at her running form for signs of fatigue or loss of form. The two spoke little during the run, Selina offering a few pointers while they ran: tightening of the arms, straightening of the back, change of stride, breathe through the nose. Selina urged her along, encouraging her to keep up and to stay with her. They ran together like this for 30 minutes, sprinting the last 100 yards.
Anya leaned over on her knees, her body gasping for air. Selina reached for the sky, inhaling deeply. "Stand up, you'll breathe easier."
Anya shook her head for a moment. Her head lolled to the side, looking at Selina sideways. Selina responded with nothing but a raised brow. Anya looked back to the ground, nodding her head in defeat, pushing herself erect. She inhaled a deep breath.
Selina smiled as she watched Anya's tightly shut eyes. She refocused her attention on the benches, stepping from side to side. Selina chuckled to herself, recognizing the common phrase from her coach. Who would have thought Harrington would rub off on me?
Anya took another deep breath before exhaling loudly. "Selina?"
The younger girl took in another deep breath before continuing. "Are you…okay?"
Selina paused her movements, understanding the underlying question. She kept her head forward, her hands finding their way to their owner's hips. "Yeah…Yeah, I'm good."
"Are you really?"
Selina snorted softly at the question. Regardless, she desired to answer the question as honestly as she could. "I'm…about as good as I can be right now. Yeah."
"I uh…I don't know everything that happened. People talk and stuff."
"I um…" Anya fidgeted with the bottom of her shorts. "I wasn't expecting you to say anything but I guess just know that, um…I mean I know we aren't close or anything, but what I mean is…" The younger girl took a deep breath. "I…you helped me a lot, on the field. I, uh, I'm not the strongest player. I know that. I know I have a lot of growing to do still, but the point is, I uh…you helped me, and I appreciate it. I don't…I don't think I ever told you that."
Selina's shoulders dropped, the far too familiar feeling of guilt easing its weighty way into her gut. "Anya, you…you're good." She swallowed hard, finding it more difficult than she figured to speak. "I uh…I don't think I've done much. Probably not …as much as I could have, truth be told, but thank you though."
"I know I can't really…return the favor likewise. And it's-it's not even just to return the favor. I um… I'm just not that good, but I'm…a good listener and I'm good at," she laughed nervously to herself, "taking up space I guess. so if you ever, you know, what someone with those...qualities I guess, you've got one. So…yeah. I just…that's all."
Selina felt like laughing. Not at the awkwardness of the conversation, or the apparent struggle the girl seemed to have with speaking to her. It was more of a laugh at herself - a nauseous, teeth grinding you jerk laugh - for her own misgivings. It was true she spent a little more time encouraging Anya than the others. Her first inkling was that Anya should not have been on varsity, but there was something there, something special about her quiet demeanor, her drive. She gave Harrington credit for seeing things that many others either missed or ignored.
What was most telling was her humility and willingness to push herself and others-
Even angsty, towering seniors who spent most of their recent days brooding.
"Thank you, Anya. That…that means a lot."
The brunette shuffled from foot to foot. "Even though you're good, I hope you feel better and that things-" she cut herself off, pausing to find the right words. Shrugging her shoulders, she added softly, "Just…get…better. I guess."
The corner of Selina's mouth twitched into a half-smile. "Thanks."
Anya appeared to stand a little taller, as though the statement of those words somehow made her lighter and her back straighter. "Cool. " She gave a last nod, jumping for a moment. Anya murmured, "Excuse me," and pulled out her cell phone. She mumbled something, reading a message Selina assumed, on the front before flipping it open. A few seconds later, the girl glanced up. "Well, I better get going," she said with a shake of her phone.
"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
She turned to walk away, her fingers passing over the chain-link fencing. Selina turned from her, a smile growing as she leaned over to pick up her bag.
Hearing her name, she lifted her head, turning toward the sound. "Yeah, Anya?"
"Are you coming tomorrow night?"
Selina's smile faltered. "I…have to work."
Anya's shoulders fell. "Oh, okay. Well, you'll be missed."
Selina squeezed her bag strap, dropping her eyes for a moment before looking back up. "Have a good night, Anya."
"You too. See you later!"
Selina watched as the sophomore walked away, hearing her give a goodbye to Coach Irving. Selina followed her path, walking along the track to the chain-link exit. Coach Irving was holding a bag of soccer balls, having just hauled the red netting over his shoulder. "You need any help?"
"No ma'am, I'm good."
Selina readjusted her bag, unsure of her next movements. Her coach chuckled softly. "Have a good night, Selina. Rest up and take care of yourself, okay?"
Selina nodded her head before walking away. "Will do, coach."
"Got an ear here if you need it."
Selina turned and smiled at the older man. "I know. Thanks, coach. For everything."
The older pair of eyes twinkled under the stadium lights. "See you tomorrow."
Selina left the track and proceed to the Whale. She sat in the driver's seat, her head plopping against the headrest. Her eyes traced the outline of the stadium as the lighting shut one by one. She thought of Mia's words, of what she thought Chris deserved. Selina knew Mia had her reservations about David. She hit her head softly against the seat once more. "You are so freaking blind…" she muttered. Mia had seen it, and she was too blind.
She wondered what Mia would say about Chris if she knew he was the mastermind, not David.
A slow hand reached for the ignition, the blue behemoth humming alive. She wouldn't worry about that now. Mia's words had found their mark, though she tried to push them from her thoughts with every stride she took at practice. Swallowing hard, she continued her conversation of one. "Alright, let's get this over with."
She glimpsed at the illuminated light on her dashboard, reading the time. If she knew the Secrests, they were probably making dinner plans. She took out her cellphone and typed a quick message to Mrs. Secrest, stating that she was bringing them something to eat. After hitting send, she backed out of the dimly lit parking lot and proceeded to the nearest eatery.
Selina found herself on the familiar hospital floor, her nervousness betraying her. She nodded her head at a couple who walked by, barely noticing her as she walked by. Selina paused by the nearby waiting room for the floor.
The room was empty.
Her fingers clutched the bag of salads. She bit her lip, thinking she should get them to the room as soon as possible; however, she couldn't bring herself to make it down the hallway.
Selina stepped into the room and took a seat. The sterile smells of alcohol and cleaning solutions were faint in the air, mixing with the scent of old coffee. Selina sighed heavily, her head resting on the light blue wall of the waiting room. Her eyes glazed over, mindlessly twitching to the movement of beams of light making their way through plastic blinds. Selina shifted uncomfortably on the plastic seat, causing a slight squeak in the room. She could hear the nearby clock ticking the seconds which gave way to minutes.
Selina shifted again, her mind reviewing the events of the past 48 hours, replaying in her mind the argument, the party, the attack-
She shifted uncomfortably again, shutting her almond-shaped eyes once more, the last image of a pair of seemingly sorrow-filled violet eyes; twisted in pain, followed by a simple "I'm sorry."
Her hands rubbed against her sleeves restlessly, shaking her head as she did that morning in rejection of the apology.
She attempted to separate the apology from the events that transpired shortly thereafter. Did the apology mean more now that something happened to Chris? It was a gut-wrenching feeling, fighting the urge to acknowledge and justify inner anger at the subject presently recovering from emergency surgery for wounds they received defending the scorned's honor.
Does that mean the apology means more? Did this somehow elevate the importance of the words?
Selina leaned forward on her arms, rocking her heels. She held her head in her hands, her shoes squeaking on the floor. "I want to hate you so much right now for what you did, Chris. Geez the freak, you were good," she said aloud. Selina knew the hard truth. He was her Christopher, and there was no way around it. He was her Christopher who betrayed her and hurt her in a way that at the time, a short time, seemed unrepairable.
But she knew deep down that short of murder, there was very little Christopher Alanardo Secrest could ever do to make her truly hate him. She had bought into the hype that everyone else had as well, except for Shawn Walters. "Seems like I will always defend you, just like everyone else, and I swear I just…"
The thought of that revelation sickened her.
She continued to reflect on Mia's words, of what she owed Chris. Selina knew she had to be beyond this. She had to.
She wasn't sure what she was more afraid of her ability to be bigger about it or the thought of seeing him.
Selina lowered her hands, shutting her eyes tightly. "Find some courage and just do it already. Just…like yesterday." She took a deep breath, nodding her head as she went. She opened her eyes and attempted to push herself from the chair when she saw that she was not alone. A shadow was there, a familiar shadow that immediately caused a cold sweat to form down her back. She knew she had been talking to herself, and she knew she did it out loud. She shut her eyes, whispering steadily, "No, no, no, no, no…" Inner monologue, idiot. Inner freaking monologue!
A thought occurred to her. Maybe she didn't hear me. You don't know how long she's been here.
Selina swallowed hard, opening one lazy eye to meet the ever-present motherly gaze of Mrs. Secrest. Selina pushed herself up, sitting up straight slowly. She couldn't bring herself to lift her head to meet the older woman's stare. Instead, she sat with her back against her plastic chair, her hands subconsciously squeezing her knees. "Hi Mrs. Secrest," she murmured.
Mrs. Secrest stood there for a moment, heat rising from a Styrofoam cup in her left hand. She waited for a beat before she positioned herself in front of one of the vacant seats next to Selina. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
She is…too calm. She heard me. I know she heard me. Selina shook her head slowly, easing herself over to make room that already existed. The plastic chair squeaked across the vinyl floor once more, breaking the white noise in the room. Mrs. Secrest moved to the front of the chair, the light clacking of her blue heels mimicking the pounding in Selina's ears. She descended to her seat in her elegant fashion, her blue flowing skirt swooshing as she settled into the chair. Crossing her ankles, she kept her eyes down, eyeing Selina's hands thoughtfully. Mrs. Secrest extended her hand with the Styrofoam cup toward Selina. "Green tea. I was going to drink it, but it looks like you might need it more than me."
She shook her head at the older woman. "No ma'am, you drink it."
"I know you like it. We like our tea the same if you remember. One minute over the steep time, half a tablespoon of honey and a splash of half and half. Take it."
Selina extended her hand, cursing herself for the trembling. Mrs. Secrest seemed to ignore it, choosing instead to meet her more than halfway. The corners of Selina's mouth twitched despite herself. She received the Styrofoam cup and rested it on her left knee, her fingers drumming it idly. She murmured thanks, still keeping her body facing forward.
"Are these for us?" Mrs. Secrest asked, pointing to the innocuous plastic bag.
Selina lost her voice. She handed the bag to the woman.
Mrs. Secrest accepted the bag, opening the top to view the contents. She gave a soft chuckle; one that exuded more happiness than Selina thought would be present. Mrs. Secrest was more blunt than anything else, but she could always go head to head with her son in terms of sarcasm. She was feisty, but Selina never found herself on the receiving end of it.
She was dreading it now.
Mrs. Secrest viewed the contents with more interest than it warranted. "Let's see. Southwest. That's funny. I was just telling John I could go for some Tex Mex. This is much healthier." She shifted the container once more. "A strawberry fields." She looked up to Selina, her head turned to the side. "How did you manage to find this? Strawberries are normally out of season now. You know John loves strawberries."
Selina swallowed hard, shrugging her shoulders instead of offering an answer.
The older woman offered a "Hmm" before placing the bag down. She picked up the second smaller bag, this one in plastic. She picked in it and saw two large cups of soup.
"Let's see…chicken noodle and…" She looked at Selina. "Tomato basil?"
Selina nodded her head. She shifted the tea to her other hand.
Mrs. Secrest stood up suddenly. "I'll be right back." Her finger shot out to Selina. "Don't go anywhere."
Selina's shoulders drooped. The woman smiled at her as she got up with the food and walked out of the room. Selina's eyes stayed on the doorway, a scoff coming from her lips. She wondered if Mrs. Secrest was trying to break her down before giving a tongue lashing that would most assuredly begin with something along the lines of, "Now, what in the blazes did you say!"
Another thought entered Selina's head. She was gathering reinforcements with Mr. Secrest.
Selina groaned out loud, her head hitting the back of the wall. The movement was enough to cause some of the green tea to splash onto her hand, earning a hiss from her as she waved her hand about to cool it off.
True to her words, Mrs. Secrest returned, alone. She chuckled at the sight of Selina's flailing hand. "Do you need a napkin, dear?"
Selina stopped immediately, looking slowly at the woman. She shook her head.
Mrs. Secrest turned her head to the side, taking a napkin from the bag in her hand. "Here."
Selina placed the cup on the floor and wiped her hands.
Mrs. Secrest settled into her chair once more with a soft sigh, her hands folded in her lap. "Thank you for the dinner. I brought John his so he could eat before he left. He loved the salad. It was exactly what he wanted." Mrs. Secrest tightened her hands. "You seem to know us so well… even down to something as simple as a salad selection." Mrs. Secrest never took her eyes off of Selina. Mrs. Secrest did not have very large eyes; they were small, not quite beady, two small dollops of silver with dark lashes framed by her olive skin. While Chris had his father's eyes, in shape and color, Selina always felt the expressiveness behind them was something he got from his mother. Every look behind them seemed to carry far more weight than necessary: expressive, emotive, soul-piercing, and revealing. It was a comfort and source of unease and weakness.
Selina could feel herself unraveling under the older woman's stare, the hesitation with her words, Selina assumed, proof of her mind crafting a specific selection of words. Marie Secrest rarely swore though Selina mused she was probably silently censoring herself now. "We've…been through a lot, Selina. We've been through a lot together. And I…I know that you were willing to share with me what happened that Saturday. You allowed me to be a part of that and I…I am honored and grateful that you did." She offered Selina a warm smile, but Selina did not smile back as she knew there was more to come. "But, I…I noticed you mentioned nothing of that Sunday. Christopher barely opens his eyes for…longer than three minutes at a time. And during that time, what I saw in my son's eyes, the brief moments he did open them, told me there was more going on than physical pain, and I don't think it happened that Saturday though it probably related." Selina shifted in the seat, a low squeak cutting through the air. The gray eyes never left their mark. "I…I'm trying not to pry. I'm not, but to hear you say…with such certainty and conviction that you want to hate him prompts some questions." Mrs. Secrest paused, taking a breath. "So I'm, going to ask this, and I want your honesty. Did Chris have anything to do with you being …attacked on Saturday?"
Selina's eyes shot up. "Like if he was part of it? No!" Selina's eyes shot to the doorway, aware of her volume. Lowering her voice, she added, "No, Chris would…he would never-"
Mrs. Secrest kept the same tone, though the drippings of edginess threatened to crack the civility in her voice. "Then why on earth would I hear you say that you want to hate the boy who you say helped you-"
Selina shook her head. "Mama Secrest-"
"Cared for you, defended you-"
"Cried over you-"
"Because it was a lie! It was a lie!"
Ms. Secrest's back hit her chair, her mouth partially open. "Selina…"
Selina dropped her head in her hands. I cannot be having this conversation right now. I can't! She lifted her head; silver eyes met her with confusion and the unmistakable shadow of hurt. Selina shook her with fervor. "Mrs. Secrest, I didn't mean…mean to hurt you. I would never…never want to do that. You know that, right? I wouldn't….not you, not Mr. Secrest. I would never want to hurt you. And I'm sorry-"
The hurt transformed into confusion at the apology. "Honey, it's okay-"
"It's not okay! None of it is okay. None of it has been okay! I have felt like…all because someone messed with my head!" She slammed the cup of tea on the ground, her other hand clutching her forehead. The hot liquid spilled on her hand and floor, but she ignored the sting. It didn't bother her this time.
"I hate school. I hate it. I have felt like…trash, a rug, nothing worthwhile as me. That the-the only way it means something to get through it all was to be anything but me! People….are…are so cruel and so-so mean I just….I thought I could be okay. I thought I could get through it. Just one more year, just a few more months, and I was gone. Everything would be different. That it's just high school. Its people I won't ever have to see again if I wanted. But I couldn't take it at some point. I couldn't take it. Something as simple is going to a dance with your crush only to be stood up as a…as a joke!"Selina pushed herself from the chair, unable to stop the words vomiting from her mouth. "Having…your stuff trashed by your teammates! Bag zippers super-glued shut, your clothes dumped in toilets, bags of sand left everywhere, getting things dumped on you. I can't…I can't even play my game right because…ugh! The…name-calling, the insults, the pranks, the party, I just…I couldn't handle it anymore. I …I got to the point where I really thought that….I deserved this. The one saving grace that I had, that I ever had, was Chris. He…he doesn't know half of what happened because I couldn't…I didn't have the heart to tell him. To have people dodge you in public like you have the plague or something." Selina grabbed her head again as though the squeezing of her skull might erase the memories and the words. Her eyes tightened as her thoughts flew to her mother. "To have mom be the butt of stupid insults. She was a good woman. She was a great woman. I get snarky, I get an attitude, everything else under the sun, but not her. She didn't deserve that. Maybe me, but not her. "
Mrs. Secrest had by now stood. She took a step toward her, shaking her head at the girl's words. "Honey-"
Selina moved her arm away from Ms. Secrest, refusing to be touched. "Chris was my only…my only piece of sanity. Maybe during class, because you're limited with what you can do right without drawing too much attention, but that's what it felt like. Just this thing closing in that you can't escape from. To be the stereotypes, don't be a carbon copy or…artificial. But it was me, it was me. That's eventually what I felt like, what I have been feeling like for months, to the point where I can't stand looking at myself anymore. But Chris, he…he was supposed to be my saving grace. The one person I could…I could go to tell me that I wasn't terrible, that I wasn't horrible, that maybe I didn't deserve this. But it was a lie. "
A sardonic chuckled from Selina's lips as she paced. "How pathetic are you that you have to believe a lie that tears you down so much, that you can't stand to look at yourself in the mirror but you keep going anyway, just trying to make it to the next checkpoint? Chris has probably never told you how much flack he caught for being my friend, for even acknowledging me. I really feel like it would have been worse for me if it wasn't for him. Like I know that. But he…everybody loves him. Everybody. He somehow got a pass with me, and they made up all kinds of things. I'm a sidekick, a side chick, because that's the only thing that makes sense. But it was us, it didn't matter what they thought because it was us. But he had his limit, just like me. Only mine was orchestrated."
"Honey, what was the lie?"
"I thought he would support me, not that …not that view of me. I changed my clothes, my hair, how I spoke, the things I did, just to be accepted, but it was a lie. Then it became do more of what they were doing, other people I mean. Act more like them. Be more like them. That was the key. But….what that night showed me was that. I could have traded places with them and I either would never be accepted, or I would never want to be accepted. If I had to…if I had to accept the things that guys like Shawn did to get that. I…I couldn't. And they did nothing but watch. That's all anybody ever does is watch. Every single freaking day is watch, watch, WATCH! Until Saturday and it…it wasn't for…because he…" Mrs. Secrest grabbed Selina, clutching her. She held her in place. Selina wouldn't cry. She couldn't cry but she felt hysterical. Her body would not stop shaking. There was too much fury and disappointment. It was too much. She felt her body was going to implode into a million pieces, cutting and drowning everyone within 50 miles of her. She tried to pull away from Mrs. Secrest, knowing she made no sense to her, knowing she sounded crazy and unhinged, but a small part of her yearned to be held.
Mrs. Secrest tightened her grip around her body, refusing to let her loose. She murmured in her ear, trying to soothe her. "Selina, I don't understand. Help me understand, sweetheart." A concerned head peeked its way around the opening to the room, which Mrs. Secrest shooed away with the sharp dart of her eye and quick hand wave.
"I…" Selina gulped a few breaths, pulling her head away though she couldn't look at the woman. There was no way she could say all of what happened, or give even a semblance of what she was feeling. She couldn't say this right now, not all of it. Mrs. Secrest may not even believe her-
Or she may not even care, not with her soon drifting in and out of consciousness just a few rooms down the hall.
Selina shut her eyes tightly, shaking her head. She lowered her voice, fighting to return sanity to it. "With all due respect, this…is between us. I…was made to-to-to feel some certain way. A horrible, terrible way. And I wanted it. I wanted it, just to make it stop. To make it all stop. The compromise was I had to see myself as…I secretly always felt. I always felt…less. It didn't matter so much because…because he was there to….counter to…and he knew it. He knew it all, he used it and now I am…so …so ashamed of me. I just…" Selina continued to shake her head at herself. "I should have never gone Saturday. I thought that was it, the end all be all, how things were supposed to be, go in to observe, see what I made of myself. It was a lie - the looks, the acting, the friendship, the interest, everything- and bought and paid for with my crumpled self-esteem." Selina tightened her arms around the older woman, burying her head into her cardigan sweater. "I'm-I'm…I'm sorry I just…I c-can't-"
Mrs. Secrest continued to hug Selina, urging her to sit. "You're okay, dear. You're okay. You don't…you don't have to say anything else. I'm sorry for bringing this up. Truly. I just…" The woman squeezed her tighter, her hand finding the back of Selina's head, her fingers rubbing her scalp. Her jaw tightened as she bit back a choke when her fingers felt the edge of Selina's stitches. "I'm sorry, dear. Don't tell me anything else, unless you want to. I…you can't keep bottling everything up inside, Selina. Talk. You have to keep talking. So much has happened so quickly. You'll make yourself sick, honey." She pulled her face away, her hand moving from the back of Selina's head to her shoulder, pushing her back. "I want you to remember something, okay? Look at me, honey. Look up."
Selina's body trembled as she raised her head. She attempted to open her eyes, but the moment she met the loving pair of gray, the cold shudder of shame washed over her again, the bits and pieces of her outburst still ringing in her ears. She jumped when she felt a hand, a warm hand, touch her face. Selina knew the spot as it was where one of her bruises was on her face. She could feel the warm fingertips, smooth and soft, passing over her skin, leaving a trail of warmth with every pass. Selina hadn't realized how fast her breathing was until she felt it slow down with the ebbing of the gentle hand. She could hear Mrs. Secrest's slow inhale as she spoke, her voice and full of warmth as her comforting hands. "You are nobody's rug. It doesn't matter if you felt that way for…for whatever reason, I am telling you today that you are not anybody's rug, and you are never to allow yourself to become one. You are so much, so much more. Your mother was a great woman, a wonderful person, a caring human being, a beautiful, beautiful person, and so are you. Her heritage is your heritage, and you have so much to be proud of for it. Honey, open your eyes. Open in your eyes."
Selina did as instructed, her body deflating when they met the familiar gray pair. "Selina, you are…so, so beautiful. You have no idea how beautiful you are. And if other people cannot see it, refuse to see it, then it is their loss. If they are blind to it, pray that they get some glasses. I…I know things were hard for you. I…People were cruel to your mother and….she and I shared some…common heartache. " She paused, struggling with her words. Selina could see the flash of the memories, the long tear-filled conversations she remembered her mother having with Mrs. Secrest. She knew their friendship was anchored in love but spurned on by grief. Mrs. Secrest took a deep breath, her eyes searching the ceiling. She licked her lips that had gone dry, her hand touching Selina's cheek with a sad smile. "That's…that's not something you can get over very easily and there is some stigma with it," she sniffled, "on top of everything else she endured. Your mother and I promised each other we would look out for our little ones as our own if something happened to either one of us because of it. I had many children come from me but God let me keep only one of them." Mrs. Secrest choked, bringing a hand to her mouth. "O-out of that sorrow, He gave me your mother, your father and He also gave me you. You are mine, by your mother's permission, but equally important, by choice, and I…would make that choice over and over and over again simply because you are you. You are precious."
She held Selina's face in her smaller hand, forcing her to look at her. Selina gritted her teeth so not to cry. "Do you understand me? My opinion may not mean much but I am sitting here telling you right now because you are. And don't even get me started on your father. He…it's been so difficult for him because you are growing up to look so much like your mother. It's an immense blessing to have that piece of her right here in you, living and thriving even though it may not have felt much like living the past couple of years." Her mouth tightened at the thought of her next words, her voice dripping with disdain. "People can be cruel but you cannot shut out the rest of the world because of…of a pair of idiots, or a school of the blind. But you must be you. You must always, always be you, whatever that may be. As long as you don't harm someone else, hurt people, then you are perfectly fine. And if you need to be reminded of that from time to time, you come see me. Look at the joy you bring me every time I see you, every time John sees you and your father. Chris…" She released Selina's face, looking down at her lap. The older woman shook her head; the internal struggle was palpable and thick. "I…I don't know what all he had to do with this. It sounds like he…he has some searching he needs to for himself. You say that he was supposed to be your peace. Well, I know that you were his. You are his. It may not feel that way right now for whatever reason, but know that you are his and not because you taught him how to skate or helped him ride a bike. You always made him feel bigger, stronger, and better than what people told him he was. He proved them wrong because of you. " Selina looked away, her eyes shutting as she thought of him, of his words that Saturday. She wanted to be angry, she needed to find a reason to be angry, chocking up the feelings up to a guilty conscience seemed a perfect scapegoat for it.
But as she shut her eyes, Selina could see his, that pair of deep-blue that never ceased to pierce her, cutting far more effectively than a hot knife. And with those deep blue knives, she could see the reflection in the steel, a window into him. Just as vulnerable as he made her, just as weak, wounded, and defenseless as he made her, he couldn't hide anything from her, he could shield nothing. He was great with masks, but it never worked with her when she saw his eyes. There was much emotion there, a flurry of emotions, but there were a few moments they shared of pure innocence and peace that prompted internal sighing. Selina wondered if they would ever return to that place, a time of offering peace and solace just by being together. She had much she had to sort with herself, but she knew she couldn't begin to heal without that, in some form.
Mrs. Secrest squeezed Selina's hand, pulling her in for a hug. "C'mere love…you're okay." The older woman held Selina, rocking with her a moment. After about a minute, she pulled away, resting her head against the side of Selina's. "Will you eat with me?"
Selina struggled to find her voice, clearing her throat profusely. Her heart rate had calmed, returning to normal levels. Her entire body sighed under the embrace. "I uh…" she pulled away, still unable to look at Mrs. Secrest as the embarrassment of her outburst replaced the momentary wave of tranquility. "I…I got that for you."
Mrs. Secrest bumped Selina's head with hers, a smile on her lips. "Share it with me. Please? We can eat here if you'd like. You can have the soup."
"W-What about Mr. Sec-"
"I told him we might be a minute. He's fine, dear."
Selina took a deep breath, knowing the little Italian woman before her would not take no for an answer. She nodded her head. "Okay."
Selina stayed with Mrs. Secrest in the waiting room for another hour. There wasn't much else mentioned between the two, something Selina appreciated. They hugged and parted, with Mrs. Secrest separating to go to Chris's room. Selina watched her walk away, telling herself she should follow her and see him, whether he was awake or not. The last image she had was not of his face, only a lifeless bottom half...
Her hand found her bandages, rubbing them as though it might take away her fear. It didn't before-
And it didn't now.
She shook her head at herself and she proceeded to her vehicle, rehashing her outburst of the evening. She had no more words; just a suffocating blanket of feelings weighing her down, though her conversation with Mrs. Secrest seemed to help, as convoluted and messy as her verbal assailment was. She hoped she wouldn't need any more sessions like that one.
Selina drove to the beach and parked the van. She hobbled into the back and laid down on her fleece blanket after she opened her sunroof. The sky was clear and stars bright, twinkling at her. The corners of her mouth twitched as she whispered, "Peek-a-boo, mom." She remained this way for a while, her thoughts attempting to assemble some image of what it meant to be her. Mrs. Secrest said she must be her. Aside from her room, Chris's room, their yards, and her tree house, the only time she felt remotely free, remotely like anything was when her feet hit the green.
Even that had been taken from her, willingly given up, something. High school ball caused so much more tumultuousness in her life than travel ball. Travel ball was machine and rote like, she felt like a droid of some kind.
But high school ball was the only time she felt she had a chance at playing freely.
And she hid from it almost every time. She chalked it up to the meaning behind being different. High school ball to help her get through school, to be solace. Travel ball, the national teams… those weren't for solace or peace, escape or expression.
She snorted to herself as she thought of her freshman and sophomore years. The few times she felt completely free-
And the aftermath that followed.
She wanted peace, but it eluded her.
If she didn't have that, then what was she playing for? Her thoughts drifting to school and her team. She had to do something about her team; she had to do something. Play for something. The emotional weight of the week made her feel a foot shorter and her body exhausted. "Maybe I'm overreacting," she said aloud. She snorted at the comment, correcting herself. "There's no maybe about it, baby. You are officially a bonafide drama queen." She half-smiled as she watched the stars, her smile fading as the ever-present rush and sinking of emotions threatened to slam against her once more. She shut her eyes and for once, instead of continuing to see the sorrowful blue, she focused on the warm pair of gray and a familiar pair of hazel she remembered and loved.
Selina took a deep breath as she fished out her cellphone from her pocket. There was a missed call from Mia. She rested the phone on her chest, her fingers thumping it. She refocused on Mrs. Secrest's words. In what she considered being a single act of courage—probably her only for the evening—Selina looked at her clock. It was an hour before closing at O'Connell's. Her supervisor would be there. Taking a breath, she called her supervisor to request Thursday evening off.
Her supervisor obliged her, stating that she assumed she wouldn't be in this week. Selina spoke to them earlier in the week so they would know Chris would be out and relay her hospital excursion from that Sunday.
Selina secretly hoped her boss would say no, but she mused the universe had grown tired of giving her excuses and reasons to say no.
She concluded the phone call and texted Mia a simple, "I'm in." Her fingers hesitated over the phone as she thought of something else. Only one word came to mind.
The next day, Selina found it a little easier to wake up that morning. She did not wear her foundation. She walked into her bathroom to ready herself, internally chastising herself once she realized she went in and out of the room without looking at herself in the mirror. Selina stood at her doorway, daring herself to reenter the room and look for only 10 seconds.
Her shoulders slumped, and she turned away.
School was uneventful. Reggie did not bother her, and she found herself alone in front of her locker. Nathan greeted her in Advanced Composition. She thanked him again for the jasmine. She noticed that his newfound boldness did nothing to address his case of easily blushing.
She skipped lunch in the courtyard and went to the library, though there was a moment where, in passing, she caught Richard's eyes. He gave her a soft smile. Tyler and Jeff, who were standing with him with their backs to Selina, appeared to recognize the change in his expression. When they attempted to turn, he stopped them, giving them a look and murmuring something. His eyes rose again and gave her quick nod. The corners of her mouth twitched, silently saying "thank you" as she walked away.
Soccer practice was light. Their opponent was a new one, St. Corsini. They re-watched the highlight film from the previous week, Coach Harrington reminding the girls of their defensive and offensive strategy, which, unfortunately, often changed from game to game. Coach Irving assumed their playing flexed based on their opponent. Selina thought she recognized at least four of the players from track. She knew they had speed, as she only remembered meeting them during regional meets. Selina looked around the practice room, watching the girls as the coaches spoke. The majority seemed to be half paying attention while the rest spoke among themselves.
She noticed a few girls eyeing her arms. Her hazel eyes fell to them, noticing her sleeve slipped up when she rested her arms on her knees. Her hands shot to her sleeves, pulling them down with a yank. The inquisitive eyes made contact with Selina. Selina willed herself not to turn away; they gifted her with an eye roll in return. Her jaw tightened, and she breathed deeply, her eyes narrowing. The two pairs of eyes turned away, their owners resuming their conversation.
Selina returned her eyes to the screen, repeating the jersey numbers to herself as a distraction. While she never directly interacted with the players, Selina remembered running against two of the girls in the 400. She remembered falling in between the two girls during the first heat of the track meet, but beating them overall in the finals. Selina remembered trying to give them a handshake as she did the other four runners, but they refused. She remembered finding their crystal blue eyes to be especially chilly. There was always something hidden beneath them that never settled well with her. She chalked it up to intimidation and disappointment in the loss. She hoped it would not appear at their game.
Soccer practice ended early, allowing the girls to go home and prep for their carb dinner. Selina was slow to gather her belongings. She noticed Mia seemed more distant than usual. She spoke few words to Selina while they were watching the film and fewer when they were scrimmaging. Selina had just brought her bag over her shoulder when she saw Mia speaking with Jessica and Mackenzi. She walked toward the group but found her head and her feet were not connecting. "Get it together, Lina. Geez…" she mumbled. A tipsy-turvy feeling formed in her gut as she walked toward the group. She passed Janna, Regina, Anna and Caitlin as she went. Her eyes locked on Janna's for a moment before Janna turned away, refocusing on Regina. A crackle seemed to flow through the air. Regina, sensing the mood change in Janna, directed her eyes toward Selina. Selina gave her a head nod as she continued walking.
Regina dropped her head and continued her conversation with the other three girls.
Selina sighed, continuing her trek to Mia, Jessica, and Mackenzi. Jessica caught Selina's eye. Selina nodded her head toward her in acknowledgment. She could see Jessica smile, though she appeared to be gritting her teeth. Selina's trek slowed when she saw her throat bobbling, followed by a quick dropping of her head and shifting of feet. As if synchronized, Mia and Mackenzi turned around, a smile gracing their faces. Selina knew that look.
They were talking about her.
"Hey Selina!" Mia said, entirely too enthusiastically.
Selina's footsteps slowed to a stop. "Hey…you guys." Her eyes drifted between the three as she rocked on her heels. Any thought of conversation, any purpose of her walking over evacuated her mind. Crap, she thought to herself. She took a deep breath and tightened her hands around her bag strap. "So, I uh…was…um…" Think Selina! Say something you idiot besides meditation noises! "Just saying hey. I…was able to get off tonight from working so I'll be at the dinner."
Jessica nodded her head. "Great! Mia told us. I'm glad you're able to come." The rest of the girls nodded their heads.
Selina immediately thought of bobbleheads. She coughed into her hand, "Right! So, I guess… I'll see you guys there."
Mia nodded her head. "Yep…guess so."
Selina shifted on her feet. Right… "Okay, well," Selina gave a quick wave, "I guess I'll see ya when I see ya." She pivoted and walked away. She could feel the wave of relief from the girls, her ears picking up the collective sigh. The bit of confidence she carried with her during the day vanished like a puff of smoke. After that, she made it a point to block any and everything else she encountered on her way to her vehicle.
She feared what she would hear.
Angelo's Italian Ristorante was a one-story building built with brick and stucco walls, clay half-cylinder shingles, and electric lanterns around its perimeter. Selina sighed as she placed the Whale in park. Her hands circled her wheel as she eyed the entrance. Selina enjoyed Italian food and, under normal circumstances, would be excited to try out a new place.
She had a feeling she wouldn't be able to enjoy the food.
When she entered the restaurant, a female staff member greeted her. She looked a few years older than Selina, wearing a black dress that flared out from her waist, stopping just above her knees. "Hello ma'am." Selina's mouth twitched at the reference of ma'am. "Welcome to Angelo's. How many in your party?"
Selina furrowed her eyebrows. Her eyes darted around the lightly lit entrance. She saw multiple wood rectangular tables covered in white tablecloths and red lace. She didn't see anyone she recognized. "Oh, uh…I'm not sure. I was meeting a group here."
Selina tightened her hand around the purse strap on her shoulder. "Uh, yes…yes that's right."
The woman offered a warm smile, stepping away from the podium. She extended her hand to the right. "Right this way."
"Thank you." The woman made a motion to another employee, asking them to take her place at the entrance. The employee, a boy who looked about Selina's age, took her place. He offered Selina a quick smile before returning his attention to the front door.
Selina's eyes wandered around the restaurant. The inside of the restaurant matched the exterior, with the brick and stucco walls on the inside. Various paintings adorned the walls: vineyards, countrysides, and stone buildings. The lighting inside wasn't particularly bright, decorative red and gold lanterns draped across the ceiling sparsely. Light music played on the speakers, an instrumental of some kind. "Have you been here before?"
Selina murmured an "excuse me", having bumped into a chair accidentally. Returning her attention to the attendant, she said shook her head. "Um, no I haven't."
The woman remained just ahead of Selina as they walked. "Well we are happy to have you and hope it won't be the last."
Selina soon passed a room with a glass wall with a wooden and iron framing. The entrance was an ornately decorated wooden door. Inside the room, she could see what looked to a long rectangular table, though she assumed they pushed together the tables. At the table, she recognized players from her team, chatting away. "Here is your party. Your server should be with you shortly." Selina saw Amy eating a breadstick while listening to Anna talking about something. Regina was talking to Janna and Shelby, her fingers moving wildly in the air. She made eye contact with Anya, who promptly waved wildly at the window.
Selina couldn't hide her smile at the gesture. Reaching for the door, Selina said, "Thanks again."
"My pleasure." The woman gave her a quick head nod and proceeded on her way.
Anya had by now gotten up from her chair and speed walked to the door. "Selina, you made it!" she said, reaching in for a hug. She paused for when a wave of hesitation hit her.
Selina bit back her snort. She reached one arm in and proceeded to hug her. "Hey Anya."
"I thought you weren't coming."
Selina shrugged her shoulders. "I uh…sweet-talked my boss."
Anya clasped her hands together, her bright blue eyes widening. "I'm glad you could make it. Have you been here before?"
"Uh, no. No, I haven't."
Selina followed Anya toward the table. "It's been a while since we've been here."
Quinn jumped in, responding between bites of her breadstick. "I thought we were gonna get banned."
Selina narrowed her eyes. "Why?"
Shelby, the second team goalie, jumped in this time, snickering as she took a sip of water. "Janie kept hitting on the waiter."
Jessica shook her head, muttering, "Like borderline harassment."
Janie shrugged her shoulders, shooing her teammates as she went, her gold bangle bracelets clinking on her wrist. "He was playing hard to get."
Jessica's fingers clasped around the gold cross at her neck, sliding it along the chain absently. "There was nothing hard to get about him."
Jessica rolled her eyes, giving Selina a head nod. "Hey Selina."
Selina's mouth twitched as the subject change. "Hey you guys."
Selina noticed the factions that formed around the table, the larger division being between the upper and lower classmen and subdivided from there. Selina noticed Mackenzi associating more with Mia and Jessica, mimicking what she had seen earlier in the day. Caitlin and Amy seemed to be huddled up while Janna and Regina, Janie and few other seniors sat together. The groupings seemed off to her. She had the same feeling in her stomach that was produced when she saw Chris's friends and the great divide.
Selina licked her dry lips, her free hand patting the sides of her dark blue jeans. "Uh…so just…sit anywhere?"
"Yeah," Jessica said. Pulling out an open chair, she motioned to it with a pat. "You can sit here if you want."
Selina nodded her head, making her way to the seat. "Alright." She shrugged off her jean jacket and placed it on the back of the wooden chair. Selina could feel her thumbs tugging at the material of her black turtleneck, looping themselves into the hem of the sleeve to keep the sleeves down. She changed her badges before she came, but she felt as though the sleeves were going to creep up the material.
Selina slid into her wooden seat. She looked around the room. It was more lit than the other spaces she passed in the restaurant, but not by much. The room consisted of three walls of wooden and iron framework, glass paneling in three-quarters of the wall. Part of the glass, she realized, had various vine etchings in it. The remaining non-glass wall consisted of dark wood paneling with faint brick imprints. Three large paintings were on the wall, each appearing to reflect the same countryside side at a different angle.
It wasn't long before the waiter came, asking Selina for her drink order. She asked for water. Her glass was already present, so he poured it then. Selina faintly wondered if this server was the same one the girls mentioned earlier. He seemed a little older than them and did not appear to hold any reservations with serving them. Selina made eye contact with him and noticed that his eyes were a deep blue.
They reminded her of Chris.
There must have been something in her expression that caught him off guard as the next thing Selina knew, she was jumping from the sudden cold wetness on her arm. The waiter's widened before averting them altogether. He murmured an apology, snatching a cloth from his front pocket and proceeding to dab.
Selina jumped at the motion as by reflex he reached for her arm. She gave a nervous laugh, taking her napkin from the table and swiping her arm. "I've...I've got it." She sighed, shaking her head at the moment. If this is the guy, I certainly didn't help our case... she looked up to the man who by now stooped to floor and was finishing wiping the floor. "I'm sorry," she murmured. She folded her hands in her lap. "You…remind of someone. I'm sorry for staring."
He froze, a curious look crossing his features as though taken back to have received an apology at all. He bit his lip, offering a half-smile. "No trouble. I'm the clumsy one with the water pitcher." He extended the glass to her. "My apologies."
She reached for the glass and tipped it toward him. "Thank you."
Selina took a quick sip and returned her attention to the group. There were multiple conversations occurring. She did her best to follow one to see which she could jump into.
"This so sucks! I had to strip my hair again-"
"We were supposed to go to the movies, but I got stuck babysitting my sister-"
"I can't believe Brian said that to you! I wish a guy would tell me that-"
"I don't know what I'm wearing to the dance-"
Selina shut her eyes for a moment before focusing on the tablecloth. She told herself to just pick a conversation, anything to jump into, but she found her confidence waning with every second that went by. Wasn't this supposed to be a strategy dinner? Can someone please mention the game or something?
As if on cue, Mia spoke up. "So, what do you guys think of Corsini?"
Caitlin's eyelids shimmered under the dim lighting. "I was ready last week. I'm ready this week. I'm not worried about them."
Janie snorted at the comment. "Please, you weren't listening to half of what coach said."
Caitlin's perfectly pink mouth dropped with indignation. "I was listening."
Mackenzi laughed. "Ha! No you weren't. I know more about your fingernail polish than I do about Corsini. Color me blush…Am I right?"
Selina took a sip of water from her straw. "I uh…I know a couple of their players run track. Long distance sprinters."
Caitlin narrowed her green eyes, pausing as though she were going to make comment. Instead, she chose to roll her eyes, taking as she went. Selina half hoped her eyes would get stuck in the back of her head with how dramatic her eye roll was. "Sure." She offered a sickly sweet grin and returned her attention to Janie. "Anyway, I don't think speed will be a problem."
Selina tapped the table, shifting in her seat. "Not sure about that. I know them from track because I saw them at regionals. So that means they won in their districts, they placed 2nd and 3rd –"
Caitlin leaned back in her chair with a huff. "Since when were you worried about how fast people are? Are you actually planning on doing something this time around?"
Anna's brown eyes widened. "Caitlin…"
Selina froze for a moment. She turned her head to the side, her hand flexing at the table. Her voice was calm and sharp, a challenge underlining her tone. "What are you talking about?"
Caitlin's lighting covered shoulder shrugged up in indifference. "Nothing," she said, her fingers brushing out a wrinkle on her rose-colored top. "Just find it interesting you're so interested in…saying something and I guess doing something…" she turned her attention Janna who sat to the right of her, one chair down. "Right Janna?"
Janna sat in her seat, her brown eyes on Selina. She swept her red hair into a bun, a few strands hanging down the sides of her face. Her face appeared to be on the brink of a scowl. She said nothing, cutting her eyes toward Caitlin, offering a silent warning.
The brunette shirked ever so slightly from the glare, her eyes widening, waiting for support from her self-appointed leader.
Regina, eyeing the two, said in a low voice to Janna. "You're being awfully quiet."
Janna lowered her hands to her lap, declaring, "Well, because part of the reason we're here is to eat and we haven't even ordered appetizers. I could care less about Caitlin's nail polish. Give me something worthwhile to talk about and then come see me."
Regina, taking her cue from that statement, quickly changed topics. "So what are your plans for the weekend?"
Selina looked back to Mia and Jessica. Jessica was slowly chewing on a breadstick, her eyes down. Mia held her straw to her lips, sipping from her glass, though Selina wondered how any liquid could still be in the cup she held the straw to her mouth for so long. Selina looked back around the table. Silence filled the air, outside of Janna's comments toward Regina's question. As if snapped from a trance, the girls at the table continued their broken group conversations, dropping the subject altogether. "So what, that's it? Nothing else about the game?"
Amy placed her breadstick on the small porcelain plate. She heaved a sigh while turning her face toward Selina. "So I know you haven't been doing too many of these, seeing as though you don't ever really…participate in much. But yeah. It's chill time."
"I guess I just…kind of thought we would talk more about the game, strategy."
Amy sighed heavily, throwing her eyes at Selina. "We kind of talked about it last week. Not much has changed since then."
Selina could feel the quick bite of heat touch her cheeks. Her right hand flexed into a fist, before relaxing completely, her palm resting on the table near her forks. "Oh…right. I uh…I guess it hasn't."
Taking that as a sign of defeat, Amy returned her attention to Anna. Selina glanced at Janna, who continued to say nothing. Selina's eyes wandered the table, waiting for an additional statement or comment.
There were none.
Selina shook her head, taking a deep sigh. Even when she's not saying anything, she's saying something…
The server came by within a few minutes to take orders for appetizers. Selina shared mozzarella sticks and fried ravioli with Mackenzi and Jessica. As she ate, Selina noticed Janna staring at her periodically throughout the night, though she continued her bout of silence. Aside from her comment to Caitlin, it was as though Janna lost all ability to deliver any quips toward Selina. Selina smirked at herself for remotely thinking she missed it and instead told herself she was perfectly okay with Janna ignoring her presence altogether. Most of the discomfort was felt from Caitlin's camp. Selina knew Caitlin had loyalties to Reggie but she also knew she was afraid of Janna. The schism present prompted more questions than answers for Selina.
Mackenzi, Mia, and Jessica seemed unusually cautious around Selina, enough to generate a feeling of being on edge and on the outskirts. Selina found herself at the awkward crossroad of not being part of any of the conversations. She spent the first half of the evening picking at her salad, rolling a lone olive around on her plate.
Selina could feel the constraint in the conversations held that included her. The unspoken questions and dying to know looks. She didn't know if it was better to be completely ignored or endure forced idle conversation.
She cleared her throat quickly and pushed herself away from the table. She jumped when she felt a hand on her arm. "Sel, where you going?"
Her hand paused over her chair, directing her attention to Jessica. "Uh…bathroom."
A look of relief graced Jessica's features. She shifted in her seat as she spoke. "I'll go with you." Laughing, she added with wide eyes and a joking whisper, "I was waiting on someone else to do it first."
Selina nodded her head, her body robbed of any energy to laugh, let alone smile. Mia and Mackenzi got up from the table as well, taking their purses with them.
Selina led the group out of the space, ignoring the eyes that trailed her. Of the three girls who accompanied her, none of them walked beside her. Instead, they remained behind her, trailing her. She could feel their eyes, a sharp-pointed feeling in her back. She likened it to being held at knife point.
Get over yourself, Lina. Her hand found her arm, rubbing her bandages as she walked.
The four made it to the bathroom with little fanfare. Mackenzi held the conversation the entire trek to the bathroom, an act which both amused and bewildered Selina that she could literally find any and everything to talk about. The bathroom was large, outlined with ceramic tile and stucco, similar to what she saw outside. There were four stalls, all of which appeared to be empty. Selina averted her eyes from the large mirror and went straight for the stall. She smirked as she watched Mackenzi continue to chatter, not missing a beat as she pulled out the contents in her purse and applied lip balm. Jessica proceeded to the far stall while Mia stood at the sinks with Mackenzi.
Selina entered the first stall, locked the door behind her and stood in silence. She stared at the tile on the wall in front of her for a moment before sitting on the toilet, imagining for a moment that they could see her feet facing the toilet. She already knew there were rumors about her; she didn't need to substantiate with the original Radiohead to purport it. After checking the seat, Selina sat on the toilet, dropping her head.
Had it been an earlier point in the year, she would not have been at the table to begin with. Selina never went to the carb sessions. She always magically had something else to do.
Selina muttered to herself at her desire to belong, a secret longing she was growing tired of villainizing and victimizing.
She just couldn't figure out what she would settle on.
She squeezed her arms when she noticed her trembling, her feet bouncing. She had no energy to smile at people, but harbored all the antsiness in the world.
She could faintly hear someone calling her name, asking if she was okay, to which she responded with her telltale yes. Nothing more, nothing less. Of all the places to have a panic attack, Selina thought ruefully to herself. Thoughts of hyperventilation and the recollections of exactly where she sat both humored and repulsed her. With little to do, she stood, huffing softly. Flushing the toilet by reflex, she exited the stall; three pairs of inquisitive eyes met her. The stares startled Selina. Selina nodded her head as she eased her way to the sink. Turning on the warm water, her eyes rose to the reflections in the mirror, being careful to avoid hers. She felt she should make sure her foundation was in place, but she didn't have the strength to; she felt she would either cry or punch the mirror, neither being very viable options for her.
She dropped her eyes, reaching for the soap. With a shrug of her shoulders, she blurted with a forced chuckle. "Yeah, I'm fine. Nothing magical going on here."
She was greeted with three head nods that asked nothing further of her.
The four returned from the bathroom only to be met with an additional awkward silence. Amy held the ghost of a smile on her lips. Caitlin appeared to be the only one laughing. Not even Janna held a smile. Mia could feel her pace slowing, regret bubbling in her stomach for leaving the table. She knew she should not have left; at least keep Mackenzi there or something to keep everyone in check.
Mia was no oblivious to the awkwardness of the night. Her patience had grown thin with the newly formed factions. The rumblings at school, the side commentary at practice, all of it. Her eyes fell to the latest mouthpiece for Reggie and Shawn. Her jaw tightened at the heightened pitch of her teammate, her voice likened to that of a high pitched alarm, huffing and puffing about with indignation.
"Oh shut it Anya, like you would know. Don't act like you guys aren't curious or something. I think it's a pretty weak cover story if you ask me, even though we don't know what it is. I bet she probably took a blade to her arm or something, because there is no way…" Caitlin trailed off as her eyes met the group. Mia's eyes narrowed as she saw Caitlin though she knew she wasn't the one to watch.
"Crap…" Anna mumbled.
Selina's footsteps slowed to a stop at the table. Her eyes roamed the table for a moment until they settled on Caitlin's sharp green ones. the rest of the table turned to face the door, vying to see what caused their speaker to go silent.
The silence at the table was deafening though a low festive Italian beat played lightly on the air. A collective breath held as everyone watched for Selina's reaction. Mia's eyes caught the subtle movement in her periphery, her eyes immediately falling to Selina's hands which had currently flexed into a fist, in and out, in and out, in and then out. Mia's eyes flew up to Caitlin, whose eyes has also made their way to Selina's hand, watching with earnest until the movement stopped. Her skin, a shade darker than the porcelain quality of Janna's appeared to color, aligning more closely with her rose-colored shirt. She appeared to fidget, shifting in her seat as she placed her arms in front of her. Mia wondered if she was readying herself for a physical fight.
One she would sorely be outmatched in, Mia assumed, against Selina.
Mia knew the person to watch would not be Caitlin or her freshly done nails. It would be 5'11'' girl who was slowly making her way toward her chair. Her steps were calm, far calmer than Mia would have assumed they should be. She considered it a blessing that she was moving away from Caitlin. She wondered if Selina was simply letting it go.
Or maybe she was grabbing something to assist her with dealing with Caitlin, though Mia knew a well-placed fist would be all that was needed.
What am I thinking, Mia thought to herself, slowly following Selina to her seat. She was no better than any of the rumors if she continued to let her mind run rampant the way it was. Mia reached her chair before Selina settled in front of her's. She waited for her to sit, though she was unclear why. While she wished no harm on anyone, she certainly would not feel bad for Caitlin, not enough to stop it.
At least not immediately.
Selina did not sit down. There was an eerie calmness about her stance. Her fingers didn't tremble; she was steady as she reached for her black purse. It was small, not much bigger than half sheet of paper. A wave of murmurs filled the table as she unzipped the bag slowly. Selina's fingers sunk in, pulling out a plastic wrapper. Mia recognized it immediately: it was a towelette.
Caitlin, unnerved by the silence, cleared her throat loudly. "Oh please! You guys are ridiculous!" Her voice had a shrill quality to it, the pitch grating to Mia's ears, causing her to squinch her eyes.
Selina's fingers gripped the towelette harder, raising the napkin material to her face, wiping her face softly then roughly.
"Cate…" Jessica warned, "I don't know what you were talking about, but I highly, HIGHLY suggest you shut your face right…now."
"Why? Why? Everybody here is thinking it. Everybody. And if not here, then at school."
Every word Caitlin said made Selina scrub her face even harder. She pulled the napkin away, her eyes roaming the material. She crumpled the napkin and threw it across the table, nearly hitting Caitlin.
"What the hell, Freak! Don't-Don't throw your trash at me!" Selina cut her eyes at Caitlin so sharply, the girl jumped in her seat. Her jaw was tight and taut. Mia knew it had to hurt her to grit her teeth so tightly. It had to have. It surprised her she didn't hear Selina's teeth cracking her jaw was so tight.
Selina had by now removed the plastic straw from her water glass and sprayed her water from her cup to the napkin she discarded just minutes prior. Once sufficiently wet, she scrubbed her face again. Her free hand flexed, her breathing become deeper, louder, heavier. Mia walked toward her this time.
"Jan, you always said she had a nose like a bull. I guess she snorts like one also…"
No one appeared to hear Caitlin's empty comment. All eyes were on Selina. "Selina...what…what are you doing?" Anya asked, her voice a little above a whisper.
She finished wiping her face, balled the stained napkin and hurled it at Caitlin, earning another jump from the table. Caitlin began to form a protest with her lips, but her eye contact with Selina stilled her lips. Mia took a breath as she looked at Selina's face. Selina's skin always had a caramel coloring; her deep dark brows, long lashes and light eyes starkly contrasted that. Her jaw was still tight and firm, her face sharp as though carved from granite. What caused Mia and everyone else to pause at the table was the discoloration that appeared. They were athletes; bruises were nothing new, but there was something particularly menacing about Selina's, especially under the current lighting. Crimson marks, resembling strawberries, splotched Selina's normally brown skin; they outlined every spot she rubbed the towelette and napkin. It was the other areas that held everyone's breath. Green and dark blue splotches outlined her jaw, her cheek, and under her eye. There was one marking in particular that unmistakably was the outline of a hand.
Selina kept her eyes on Caitlin, not blinking, not flinching. Her voice was calm, just like her footsteps, not a minute before. "You want to know what happened?" Her breathing increased as she turned to walk. "You wanna know so badly, huh? Fine."
Caitlin stumbled out of her chair, her eyes never leaving Selina's. Her green eyes darted around the room. She shrugged her shoulders with a dramatic shrug, though she couldn't hide the underlining lacing of fear. "What? You gonna do to me w-what you did to Shawn? Another roid rage no doubt, right Janna?"
"Selina," Jessica warned, "don't."
Selina raised her arms to her ebony hair, tugging at the elastic holder. "No, no…" she muttered as she took her hair down. "Inquiring minds wanna know, right?" She looked around the table, her voice rising. "Right! Fine!" she barked. She created a part in her ebony strands, whirling around as she went. She stooped down, edging her way around the seats. Some girls leaned forward and onto the table to get away. "Look at this!" She paused, turning her head, pulling her hair. "Look at it, stitches from getting my head slammed against a wall REPEATEDLY because I told that bastard no. I think the spot got softened up when he swung me into the wall the first time for trying to leave the room I walked into BY MY SELF! Not with him, not trailing him. Me, by myself! The bastard followed me into a room and greeted me with a few shoves into the wall!" Selina's hazel eyes seemed to have fire in them. The normally cool emerald leapt with each of her words. She directed her eyes around the table, settling on Amy.
Amy swallowed hard, her necklace fluttering at the base of her back. She shirked in her seat when Selina offered her a hard smirk, almost a sneer.
Mia reached for Selina, shaking her head. What is she doing? What in the hell is she doing! Mia swore at her bracelet, having gotten caught on her navy blue knit top dress. She ripped the threads, grabbing Selina's shoulders. "Selina stop. Don't do this."
Selina recoiled at the touch, whirling on her heels. Mia stumbled backward, catching herself, jumping from the quick action. She felt cold suddenly, as though she couldn't get enough air, her lungs burning and constricting for a split second-
She was actually scared.
Selina grabbed Amy's hand, ignoring her fighting, and placed it on her neck. "What are you doing!" Amy's tried to yell but it came off as a loud, harsh whisper.
Selina held Amy's hand in place; Amy froze at the motion, the recognition hitting her at the placement. "This on my neck was from him choking me and squeezing my jaw out of place so I would stop telling him no. See the lovely handprint? See how…how it fits just right on the face." Laughing, she threw Amy's hand away. It was a harsh laugh, grating, and heartbreaking. "His fingers are a little bit bigger than yours but…you …you get the gist of it, right?" Amy's face scrunched, her eyes watering. She pushed herself away from Selina, shoving the chair next to her.
Selina's tall figure, more towering and menacing, turned to Caitlin, stalking toward her, pointing to her own face. "This…under my eyes? From yelling for help, telling him to stop and him," she paused slapping the back of her hand against her other hand, earning a jump from the table, "…well he didn't like that. And these?" Selina shoved her sleeves up her arms, revealing the white bandages. Her fingers began to fumble with the white tape and wrapping.
Mia's voice trembled as she walked toward Selina, her words thick in her mouth. "Se-Selina…"
"Oh no…no, it's show and tell time, right?" Selina spat, yanking the gauze from her arms. Mia reached for her, but she yanked her arm away. "I can show you better than I can tell you." She yanked the tape off, unwrapping as she went. "Took a blade to my arms, right? Because I'm just….so dramatic and just…have to go over the top right?" The white cottony material fell innocently to the ground. Selina held her arms up for the table, showing them. "You think I slit my wrists? Going for the gold with my veins ALL the way up my arms?" She shoved her arm in front of Caitlin. "Look closer." She tried to look away, but Selina wouldn't let her, continuing to shove the arm in her face. "Look! Look at it! It's freaking fingernail marks. Onetwothreefour...five! I wrestled with him on the floor, trying to get him the hell off of me and this…this was the souvenir: his marks from me kicking him off of me." She grabbed Caitlin's forearms, earning a whimper from her.
"Selina let her go!"
Selina jerked her shoulder away from Amy and squeezed. "He held me down, my arms, just like this," she spat, ignoring the jerking from Caitlin, squeezing as she went.
Her wide eyes became wet. "Seli-"
"He held on so tight that when I finally kicked him the hell off of me, he sliced through my arms with his damn nails!" She threw the arms away from her, Caitlin scrambling in her seat. Selina took a deep breath, a second and third, anything to calm herself. Her pinewood eyes, narrowed in anger, widened when she saw Caitlin's. Mia saw Selina search Caitlin's eyes. She knew what she was used to seeing. It was the same look at the team it felt gave her repeatedly: one of disdain and mockery.
Mia didn't need a mirror to see her own face. She imagined it looked like everyone else in the room, save Selina. Nothing but fear. Mia couldn't help the burning that came to her eyes. Her vision blurred as her eyes swelled with hot, stinging tears. Had Selina had a mirror that night, Mia was sure she would have seen the same reflection as her teammates. Her conversations replayed, conversation with friends, other girls and other people who had the pleasure and pain of having a relationship with Shawn Walters. People whispered, but no one talked. People saw but they didn't really.
She saw Selina that night.
How did she not see this?
Selina stumbled backward, choking back a cry, her lips trembling. She dropped her head, choosing to look at the innocuous wooden planks beneath her feet. Her hands were frozen at her side. The muscles in her arms twitched, her hands rising and falling ever so slightly as though internally debating. Finally, in defeat, the arms ceased their twitching.
Mia covered her mouth, her eyes remaining on the scraggly lines of pink flesh. The skin had begun to heal, but there were some areas that were deep, some where flesh appeared ripped off. "S-Selina you…" Mia tried to swallow but her mouth was too dry. "You don't-"
Selina kept her head down, focusing on her sleeves. She yanked them over her arms. She balled her hand into a fist when it appeared she saw the trembling in her fingers; her head shaking from side to side. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath. "I fought him to get away from him and once I was clear, I was mad as hell, and I was angry." She stooped to the floor to pick up the gauze and padding. "I slapped him, kicked, and did whatever I could because I yelled for help, I needed help and help wasn't coming. It was just me." Her furious hazel eyes made contact with Janna.
Janna's eyes appeared fixated on Selina's arms, her face stoic. Mia watched as upon hearing the words, Janna's eyes fell to her lap, her perfectly lined jaw tightening.
"In that moment it was just me, feeling like every other moment in this school and on this damn team!" She whipped her head to Caitlin, whose eyes were on the tablecloth. "Ugh…dammit!" She shoved an angry finger at herself, her eyes frantic as they darted around the table. "Why do I have to defend myself? Why! Why! You really think I just go around beating up guys just kicks? Seriously? Or is it really that much easier for you? You sleep better at night thinking it… JUSTIFIED because it's your precious Shawn Walters?"
Caitlin's mouth fell lax. She attempted to make eye contact with Janna, but Janna would not look up. She kept her brown eyes on her lap. Caitlin leaned in, seeking confirmation from her self-proclaimed leader. "That's…that can't be-" her hand rose, touching her neck, feeling frantically for her necklace. She turned her attention to Selina. "You…you goaded him-him on though-"
"Because I was freaking furious. I wanted to scratch his eyes out after what he did...what he tried to do! I went from being…completely terrified to furious to weak to freaking nuclear. That all happened in a moment. And…I…I'm not sorry. It's not roid rage. Just pure rage that's all! Just the lack of…ugh." Selina stopped pacing and proceeded to walk to her chair.
"Selina why would you-"
She slammed her fist on the table. "Because nobody cared! It felt like no one cared. That's what he said! Nobody would care! Nobody! I yelled for help and nothing. I come out of the room, crawling at one point, only to have beer poured on me as my reward and someone's foot in my ribcage because I was 'in the way.' Because nobody gave a damn. He's too chicken to pull that in the open but he …I wonder if the outcome would have been different. I got away once but I just, I was so angry and then that got the better of me and he got me again and I really…I really thought for a moment, this is actually…this is actually gonna happen, this is it. And then I got away and I just…" She shut her eyes tightly, raising and lowering her balled fists. "He started talking all that stuff in front of everyone, showing how big and bad he was. And the answer for me? Leave. Just leave. Let him rant, spread whatever and just run away! I wanted him knocked down and I wanted into front of everyone. Because for a moment, there was one moment I had him. I had him on the ground in pain. A knee to the groin and stomach just to try to get away. I felt so furious seeing him on the ground like that. I wanted more. I wanted to make him pay for what he did, what he tried to do. And...and then to…try to save face, you start spoutin' BS, like you're all BIG and-and BAD! I wanted him to hurt but even more, I wanted people to know just how weak and pathetic he was. So I called him out. After what he did, I just…I just didn't care." Selina gave a derisive snort. "If Chris…golden child, silver-tongued Secrest couldn't even get people to rally to him," she shrugged her shoulders, a bitter laugh coming from her lips, shaking her head as she continued, "then I had nothing to lose. I had nothing to lose."
The waiter with the deep blue eyes and another gentleman in a black suit entered the room. The man in the suit took a step forward, his beady green eyes peering around the room. "Ladies, um," the presence in his voice made nearly all those present jump in their seats. The man cleared his throat, his eyes darting around the room. "We are…getting some complaints about the volume in here. Please keep it down or else we have to-"
Selina held up her hand, grabbing her dark blue jean jacket from her chair. "Don't worry about it. I'm leaving. Seems I'm the cause of every terrible thing." Mia tried to grab her arm as she placed her arms through her jacket sleeves, but Selina snatched it away. She stuffed the balled up gauze and wrapping into her pockets, keeping her eyes cast down, refusing to look at anyone. She dug into her purse, grabbing a twenty and a five and slipped it under her water glass. "Enjoy your pasta…go Panthers." Her feet hesitated for a moment before turning to leave the room. She murmured excuse me as she passed the waiter and the man in the suit.
Jessica glimpsed at the table when she saw no one else making a move. "Selina, wait," she called out, "don't leave!" She jogged after her, pushing her way past the two men at the room entrance. Mia stutter-stepped forward, but shame kept her in place.
The older gentleman murmured something to the younger before walking away. The waiter continued to stand in the doorway, notepad in hand. Swallowing hard at the sight of the room, he took a nervous step forward, nearly tripping over his feet. "W-would…anyone like anything to drink? Refills perhaps?"
Nineteen pairs of eyes shot up at the man, causing him to backpedal.
Regina propped her head up with her hand, her fingers pressing into her temple. "Unless you feel like handing out shots," she began, her voice saccharine with a smirk to match, "I think we're good."
The server looked around the room once more, before backing away. "I'll…bring you some more bread."
Regina nodded her head, the sarcasm never leaving her voice. "Yeah….you do that."
The table remained silent. Mia plopped into her seat, her hand still covering her mouth. She, like the rest of the upperclassmen who attended the party began recalling the events as they had seen them or at least as they could remember. Mia knew what she told the police, play by play of Chris with Shawn, but she realized she made no mention of Selina. She knew she had no facts to point to, only what she looked like at the conclusion of the party. Mia could remember the slight feeling of indignation she felt when Selina froze her out. She could remember the despondent and angry and cold look on Selina's face. There was a fury behind her eyes; she felt it when she approached her. It caused the hairs on her neck to stand on end, as though she was approaching a feral cat ready to maul.
She shut her eyes as she remembered watching Chris fight.
She didn't go by Selina; she was too enamored with the punches being thrown.
She remembered the comments Selina made during it to somehow deflect Shawn from Chris.
She still didn't go to Selina. Instead, she tried to get her to be quiet.
Her back hit her seat at the thought of feeling alone during that moment. She knew Selina didn't say half of what Shawn did; she didn't have to.
Mia looked to the door, knowing she should follow Jessica out. Mia's interaction with Selina had been limited at best. She went to see Chris with Jessica, not understanding why Selina's wouldn't want to see her friend who defended her so vigorously, not at all understanding the full depth of not what happened in the crowd, but what happened in the private, in the room when she really felt alone.
She recalled hearing the conversation Selina had with Mrs. Secrest. She wanted to tell her she was wrong to think that everyone just watched, watched, watched, but even as she recalled the evening prior to the carb night and now, she had no evidence to point to anything else.
Shifting at the table pulled Mia from her thoughts of the conversation she wasn't meant to hear. She lifted her eyes when she saw Anya shift in her seat. Her blue eyes were wide, full of their telltale innocence, her eyes on the door. "Poor Selina…" Anya mumbled, shaking her head.
Anna tapped her fingers on the table. "You…you think it's true?"
Mia's green eyes flew up. "Selina wouldn't lie about that." Anna jumped in her seat at the tone. Mia turned her head away, her mouth tight in a scowl as remembered Selina at the party. She wondered why she didn't pay more attention to her.
Anna swallowed hard, directing her attention to Mackenzi. "Mack, you were with Richard. What do you think?"
"Richard, he…came to help her. It was after. He-he said he found her later. Janna went to get him."
Janna's brown eyes shot up. "Mackenzi-" Janna warned.
Mackenzi narrowed her eyes at Janna, looking to her teammates, ignoring Janna. "Janna got everyone, Richard, Tyler, Jeff, Chris. She got everyone, at least the guys."
"Janna…how did you…how did you know-"
Regina tightened her hands around her napkin. "You saw it, didn't you?"
Janna took a breath, keeping her eyes down. Like the rest of this week, Janna had no words.
"Why didn't you help? Pull him off or…something."
Janna remained silent. She lifted her eyes to Regina, who looked as though she was going to speak. With that one look, Regina leaned back into her seat, her finger tapping the table.
Mackenzi leaned in, her voice rising. "Janna, say…say something."
Janna gritted her teeth, chewing the inside of her cheek for a moment. She took a deep breath, before exhaling slowly. She shook her head slowly, her cheeks beginning to color. "Don't put this on me…don't you dare turn this around on me." she slammed her hands on the table before pointing a shaky finger at Mackenzi. "I wouldn't have been able to do anything. He…he was out of it and I…" She lowered her hand, gripping the napkin in her lap. "I've seen that before. I knew better so I just-"
Caitlin's eyes widened. "Wait…what?"
"Don't be stupid, Caitlin." Janna snapped. "You aren't that ignorant. Selina's wrong about one thing, though. I know the outcome wouldn't have been any different if it was someone else, not with him. She was just able to get away. Not everyone does."
"You really want me to start calling names?" A few pairs of eyes widened. "Cuz' mine isn't the only out there. The only difference is that she could fight back, and she actually had someone else fight back for her after the stupid fact."
"No one at this table, apparently," Mia mumbled. "For this or anything else."
"I mean there…were rumors and…" Caitlin fumbled over her words. "R-Reggie, he…he said…"
"Screw Reggie, and Mike for that matter," Janna mumbled. She dug into her purse, pulling out her money. "I just lost my appetite. I'll see you guys tomorrow."
"Wait, you guys! Shouldn't…shouldn't we talk about this?"
"There's nothing to talk about, Anya." Janna looked at the table. There were a few girls there who held a similar expression. "Just know some of us have more in common than you think."