Chapter I : Ten to the Negative pH

The main problem, I reflected as I absently worked on a sheet of pH equations for shits and giggles, was that I wasn't a violent type of person. I had no experience with violence. I was an only child which could explain a lot; no bratty sibling had ever goaded me into giving them a good smacking. In elementary school I'd been the silent nutbar who sucked on gluestick and swapped yoghurt-covered raisins with her imaginary friends. I barely talked let alone got into schoolyard fistfights and everyone avoided me anyway because my favourite colour was brown.

That grubby, weird little girl had evolved into the compassionate wimp that I was today. I wasn't able to kill spiders or ants when I found them lurking around the house. I didn't eat meat. I cried whenever I heard stories about rape or child molestation on the news. I have a big phobia of anyone yelling at me. In other words, I was basically a non-confrontational, passive softie.

Which was why the very idea of a dud like me beating the shit out of someone was entirely a la Dodo Bird, i.e. non-existent and crap sounding. Especially if said someone was a six foot two, rich-ass, popular linebacker. Me against him would be reminiscent of those mosquito verses donkey fables, because yeah Conner McGregor was completely a jackass of the first water.

"Jackass of the first water," I snarled in a thick Newfie accent to mix it up. I began scraping my teeth against my smushy, white eraser to relieve some brain tension. I generally thought I was an okay person but in trying times like these, it wouldn't have hurt to be a bit more like that Kill Bill girl and a bit less like Florence Nightingale.

The cheesy wanna-be punk rocker sitting next to me gave me a cynical, revolted look and raised a heavily pierced eyebrow at me. He was a grade A bimbo; judging from the tattered patches safety-pinned to his health hazard of a schoolbag, he didn't seem to know that Green Day and Good Charlotte and Billy Talent weren't real punk. Way to fight the establishment buddy.

"Only by taking the negative log of your H3O can you find out the pH," I intoned, showing him my chemistry binder.

"Fucking weirdo," he growled and went back to scratching out some angsty poetry on his arm with a blue Uniball.

I contemplated this snub. Only in a high school setting could an idiot wearing eyeliner and sock cuffs around his wrists get away with calling a lover of the Sciences a freak. Well I would live. I was sure that he'd do a good job mowing my lawn and pruning my hedges once I became a wealthy Chemical Engineer. I gave him my constipated smile. "If you are given the pH and wish to find the H3O then you must remember that H3O is equal to ten to the negative pH. Any monkey knows that."

Pseudo-punk boy gave me the finger. He was hardcore like that. He was also any monkey.

I returned to pondering my too kindly nature. It wasn't like I was scared of Conner McGregor...well okay yeah it was. Conner McGregor was hulking mass of beef. His biceps were the size of my head and it was rumoured that he could lift a car after drinking half a keg of beer. Whether this idiotic claim was actually true or not (I was leaning heartily towards a 'yeah fuck no' myself) did nothing to negate the fact that Conner had done a very horrible thing and deserved to be punished for it. You couldn't always rely on karma to take care of bad shit because karma was known to be on the slow side. I didn't want some spawn of Conner's to pay for his crappy ways some twenty years down the road.

This was why I, Jane Beatrix Hazelton, was planning on taking karma into my own hands and teaching an evildoer a lesson. True, I might not have been the type of girl who could lay ten kinds of beatdown on Conner's bullying ass but I did have a respectable fifty dollars sitting in my Chequings account. I figured this sum would be enough to hire someone to do the beating down for me.

I glanced over at pseudo-punk boy. He was now defacing his desk with his house keys. "Hey chump," I hissed and spit some eraser bits at him. They got stuck in his wacky green and black spiketastic hairdo.

He pretended not to hear me.

"Say you broke both your hands in a...um mosh pit and you hadda beat someone up 'cause he's a big dick, who would you get to help you out?"

Pseudo-punk boy gave me his undivided attention. I had finally snagged his full interest with talks of violence, the uncultured heathen. "I'd go find Jamal Williams and Tyrell Jones and all them guys. They can totally fuck you up."

A gang of angry black guys pounding the piss out of one lone white guy wasn't exactly what I had in mind, especially when a couple of those guys played football with Conner.

The girl in front of me turned around. She was wearing a baggy 'Lord of the Rings' t-shirt and had frizzy, bleach-blond hair, dark brown roots and a retainer. "No no, if you wanna get a big old ass-whooping going on then those crazy Arab guys is where the pain's at." She pronounced Arab 'A-Rab' because she was classy like that. "They're pissed off 'cause people stereotype them and think they're all terrorists. They don't speak a lotta English but if you point out someone you hate and do a few punching moves, they get what you mean."

There were a fair few Muslims at my school and the cooler guys had formed something of a posse. They all wore black puffy thug jackets and spent their time scowling, talking loudly in Arabic and, like most students around here, smoking pot in the parking lot. They seemed to live in peace with the black posse, nodding to each other and exchanging complicated hand gestures, unified in their struggle against their white oppressors...namely the Vice Principal (the actual Principal spent all his time golfing and hitting up the casinos) and the Guidance Councillor.

"I was looking for something a little more subtle actually," I said, quickly picking up my pencil and scribbling a bunch of wavy lines across the top of my page. Mr. Holtz went back to listening Stanley Stevens blab on, satisfied that I was analyzing 'The Edible Woman' like I was supposed to. "Like just one guy, you know?"

"If you wanna fly solo then Rafe Moretti's your man," pseudo-punk boy replied. "Once he was so pissed off that he beat the fuck outta three Phi Kaps with a two by four."

"And that was while he hadda broken leg," Lord of the Rings piped up.

"Put one of the guys into ICU for like a month too," pseudo­-punk boy added as Lord of the Rings nodded knowingly and slid around her retainer.

This was all sensational news to me. "I've never heard of this guy."

They both exchanged significant looks. "That's 'cause you're a big time nerd."

I gnawed a bit more on my eraser. This was true of course, though really, who was a chubby 'Lord of the Rings' fan to talk?

"I heard Moretti ran over this Lebanese dude 'cause he was talking smack about his Mom," pseudo-punk boy told Lord of the Rings.

Lord of the Rings bounced excitedly in her seat. "I heard that too, it was at Devon Randall's party last month!"

They continued to gossip until Mr. Holtz threatened them both with detention.

After English class, I had a free period. I dumped my books into my locker, retrieved my lunch and drifted around asking random people if they knew where I could find this Rafe Moretti character. No one knew for sure; most people either hadn't heard of him or merely launched into lengthy tales of his infamous doings. One upstanding young fellow told me he'd give me ten bucks if I showed him my bra. I thought about it before politely declining; I was only wearing a boring black thing from the Bay and not an exciting coloured one from Le Senza. Buddy was in my French class so it was good to know that I had a source of extra cash, should an occasion warrant such funds.

Eventually Lou the janitor heard me interrogating a group of annoying chicks, all of who had matching sparkly mauve cell phones, and Lou informed me that Moretti was outside with Katrina Edwards. He knew this because he'd told Katrina off for writing shit about her KCL teacher on the side of the school in white-out. I knew Katrina Edwards pretty well...in grade one she'd peed on the story time shag rug and blamed it on me. Everyone called me Pee-Pee Pants for the rest of the year. In grade seven, she leaked red pen all over my seat so that I walked around all day like I was on the rag in my cool new white jeans. After that, I never worn white again.

I wandered around outside but couldn't see Katrina's bright auburn hair anywhere. I started on my lunch since futile searching made me hungry. Stuffing my face, I approached two grungy skaters who were busy bickering over who had more board-related injuries. In between their squabbling and smoking of cigarettes most stank, they managed to point Moretti out to me. He was all the way at the other end of the parking lot, leaning against what looked like a real wreck of a car, a tall black dude at his side.

"Yeah well what about the time I cracked my head on the railing outside the Bank of Montreal man?" one skater was demanding as I left them to it.

From a distance Rafe Moretti seemed like a pretty normal guy; tall and lean, dark spiky hair, dressed in olive green cargos and a sleeveless black t-shirt. Nothing to suggest a vicious temper and a fierce desire for violence but hey, that's what drugs and booze were for. As I came closer and closer to Moretti, something else became blatantly apparent...this guy was not the hardened Italian thug I'd been envisioning.

He was cute. And by cute, I didn't mean 'Omigod what a ripped hottie' Brad Pitt in 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' cute but more like a pinch-your-cheeks cuddly wuddly schoolboy 'Aww shucks' kinda cute. Moretti had a smooth complexion the colour of clotted cream and a face full of cinnamon freckles. His eyes were wide, dark blue and fringed by lashes that were longer than mine and Katrina Edwards put together. This guy wasn't a guy but a lad. He didn't look Italian at all, he looked like a fifteen year old Irish schoolboy. Throw a chappie hat on him, soot his face up some and he could be selling newspapers for a shilling in the 1800's.

I had the biggest, overwhelming urge to pinch his cheeks. I really, really wanted to. How was I to help myself? He was just too damn adorable! Course maybe this was why he had decided to pursue to a life of crime...too much cutesy cheek pinching from junior high teachers and matronly Aunts? Too much Irish chap and not enough Italian stallion?

Even the fact that he was wearing what appeared to be a length of wire around his neck, had a detailed tattoo of a scorpion on his muscled bicep, sported a large, nasty abrasion on his other arm and was sharing a joint with his pal couldn't diminish his utter, innate cuteness.

"You can stuff a duck into a pair of galoshes," I thought, chewing on a mouthful of banana, "and call it Duck a la Mer but sometimes a duck is still a duck."

It was the freckles and Cover Girl skin. Moretti could get a thousand tattoos done, he could be bruised within a centimetre of his life and pick his teeth with a switchblade and every old lady in Canada would still wanna take him home and feed him apple pie. He just gave you a lot of maternal urges. I half wanted to lick my thumb and smooth down his eyebrows myself.

"Hey pal, you Rafe Moretti?" I chucked the banana peel onto a nearby Nissan Pathfinder and sauntered up to the guys like I was a cool fellow smoker of the weed.

Rafe tilted his head a few centimetres in a nod, blew a mouthful of dope into the air and looked perturbed at my presence.

The black guy frowned at me. "Girl, don't be chuckin' shit, that ain't tight."

"I'm regurgitating biological waste as a statement against the oppression of Mother Nature by SUVs and Petro Canada," I declared dramatically, even though I was doing no such thing. That hulking tin can belonged to Melinda Towner and I was pissed because she had stolen my idea for the Biology research project and now Mr. Miller thought she was awesome and brilliant and I wasn't. I hate when teachers don't think I'm awesome and brilliant; they're the only people around here who are impressed by me. Even my Grandma thinks I'm a weirdo stick-in-the-mud but then again she likes to smoke cigars and brew her own beer.

"Word," the black guy said. He may not have known what I was talking about but he sure as shit understood oppression. Rafe passed the joint back to him, the black guy gave him a twenty and then he strutted off, telling Rafe that he'd hook up with him after school.

I leaned against the car, caught a whiff of Rafe's reefin' ways and coughed myself silly, eventually spitting up a loogie the size of a twoonie. I nudged Rafe in a buddy-buddy sort of fashion and nodded towards my spit, which gleamed in the noonday sunlight. His freckles were even cuter up close. "Good haul for a chick eh?"

Rafe looked like I'd taken a dump there instead. My daydreams of creaming him in a spit-off were instantly dashed. "I have a girlfriend," he told me flatly, sans le Irish accent.

"I nod knowingly," I replied, nodding knowingly.

He scratched at his neck, looking harassed. His arms were really buff.

"That barbed wire must be some scratchy." I frowned as I unloaded my cramped schoolbag onto the rusty hood of his lemon. My biology book weighed as much as eight Eritrean kids. "Or I guess I mean itchy don't I? Scratching's what you do once the itching happens. It's always been a confusing matter to me, like papaya and jackfruit, mostly 'cause I don't like either. My neighbour's gynaecologist said that papaya smells like a woman's hooch and that's probably why he gets woodies around tropical fruit salad."

Rafe began edging away from me like I was some kind of STD. Okay, so I only have one friend and virtually no social skills. What was I suppose to do about that, other then pinch Rafe's iddle widdle cutie cheekies? How could I help it if society refused to encourage my alternative conversation methods? "Don't put your bag on my car," he finally snapped.

Geeze, talk about snotty city. "That weed guy had his bag on your car," I pointed out. "Remember the weed guy? He was schoolbagging all over your rust-heap."

Rafe patted his car, like I'd wounded its junky feelings and scowled. "Bryson paid me twenty bucks for the privilege."

Well that was an opening if I'd ever heard one. I leaned in close to him and slyly said, "How about we forget your car and I give you fifty to beat someone up?"

Rafe leaned away from my banana breath. "...what?"

"I have it on sorta good authority that you're the man for solo jobs," I bragged, buffing my nails on my zip-sweater in a suave fashion. I met his annoyed Atlantic Ocean eyes with my warm turd ones to convey my sincerity. "I'd do it myself but sometimes I have trouble opening heavy doors because my arms are like linguini, all limp and weak and good to chew on but not having a lotta taste. Know what I mean Jelly Bean?"

The pot clearly was having an effect on the poor 'bloke'. He rubbed his eyes with his fist and that made me wanna tuck him into bed and kiss his forehead. "You want me to gank someone for you."

"That would be nice."


"Conner McGregor."

Rafe's eyebrows shot to his hairline. Everyone knew Conner, he was one of the most popular and the most shitty guys in the entire school. No one messed with him. Rafe stopped edging away from me and looking annoyed. He seemed serious now. "Why him?"

I dumped my schoolbag onto the ground so as not to further offend Rafe. Now came the crucial parts. "Do you know who Suril Shah is?"

"Yeah, he tutors me in Pre Calc. sometimes."

Seeing as how Suril was top in our honours Calculus class, this didn't surprise me. He tutored a lot of dumbasses. "Conner beat the shit outta him this weekend." As I spoke, I noticed a fat orange caterpillar oozing along the asphalt, near the tire of the car next to us. I had a vision of the poor little guy flattened with x's for eyes and his tongue hanging out. He deserved better than that, I thought, just like Suril deserved better than being beaten up by a shitheel. I scooped up the little wriggalata and biffed him over Rafe's shit-on-wheels onto the lawn behind us. "Suril's my best friend you know, ever since he moved here from Edmonton in grade seven. We're like a Hydro-Carbon bond."

Rafe was frowning as he glanced between me and over his shoulder, no doubt concerned for caterpillar's safety. "Why would McGregor go after Shah?"

"Because he's a racist shit-bully," I said, sniffing miserably. I wiped my nose on a pack of gum I found in my pocket.

"McGregor's girlfriend is that Su Ling chick," Rafe pointed out. He narrowed his eyes at me. "So try again."

I pensively chewed on my lip before shrugging. If he didn't wanna help me out after this, then I supposed I could always go the route of the Arabic gang. "Conner's a homophobic shit-bully," I amended.


"Not that Suril's gay or anything," I hastily added, as visions of Rafe regaling the whole school with this news filtered into my brain. "Conner just er...thought he was."

"I don't give a shit what Shah's into." Rafe scrutinized me. "You're serious about this?"

I nodded gravely. "Suril's never hurt anyone in his whole life. Why should he be attacked because of something he can't help? That isn't right."

"And still it happens all over the world," Rafe said quietly. A dark expression crossed over his face; I supposed I could see how he might be dangerous once riled. "So what do you want me to do exactly?"

"I've got it all figured out." I was proud as I'd been plotting and planning ever since yesterday. "Conner's having a big party this weekend 'cause his parents are going away right? And next weekend he's playing in that game against Maplewood right? And he's all psyched 'cause it's the last game of the season and some big recruiter from the States is gonna be there to check him out right? So all you need to do is go to his party, break his legs and maybe a few ribs for shits and giggles and then he won't be able to play next week and all his hopes and dreams will be mashed up like a bad case of diarrhoea."

Rafe stared at me for a while. I could understand that; he obviously needed time to ingest such a convoluted plot, the poor smoker of the dope. "And you're gonna give me fifty bucks to pull this shit off?"

My extravagant budget didn't seem to impress him much. "Well I can swing another ten from this buddy in my French class who wants to see my bra, maybe even twenty if I show him my undies."

"Christ." He shook his head, like I was a shame to his ancestors.

"Well it's not like he'll be getting ten bucks worth 'cause I'm not stacked. But if you saw the guy then you'd know why he has to pay to get some action."

Rafe suddenly smiled; maybe me in my underpants wasn't that disgusting of a concept to him. "You haven't told me your name yet."

I thought about that. I guess I hadn't. "Jane Hazelton," I proclaimed regally and thrust my hand out.

He shook it gingerly, perhaps recalling that it had sheltered a fatso caterpillar not so long ago. "You're fucked up Jane, you know that?"

"Suril tells me that all the time, only he says 'messed up' instead of 'fucked up'." I sighed wretchedly and stared off into the distance. "And still he's my friend. He doesn't even care that some mornings I get so brain dead that I wouldn't even be able to tell you that a gas's rate of effusion is inversely proportional to the square root of its molar mass." Suril was the best person ever. He had a heart of gold and was a fellow science-lover. It didn't matter to him that I trouble relating to people because he did too or that during exams I got so nervous that I brushed my teeth until my tongue was numb or that I ironed when I was bored. He liked me just the way I was, a la Mark Darcy to Bridget Jones. And Suril's Mom loved me too, like a daughter, and she always stuffed me stupid with awesome Indian food.

"Forget the money," Rafe said abruptly, jostling me from my sudden craving for biriyani and poori.

That took me a moment to register, clearly I was inhaling marijuana via osmosis, and when it did, "Okay!" I flashed him a mouthful of fillings. "You're in? For sure?"

He shrugged and slouched. "Shah's decent and McGregor's a dick."

"Le Chatelier couldn't've put it better himself!" I screeched, right into Rafe's ear, judging by the way he winced. "Are you sure you don't want any money?"

"Yeah." He gazed at me, all dark and intense and attractive. "I want you instead."

Well that was something you didn't hear every day.

He couldn't elaborate further as Mrs. Walsh chose that moment to stick her head out her classroom window and shrieked for Rafe to get to her class.

"I'll find you later Jane," he said and stalked off.

"Wait!" I chased after him and when he turned around, I gave in to my urges and twisted his cheek in a good, hard pinch.

I hoofed it when he lunged for my throat.