The moment Savannah Miller stepped out of the cafeteria line, she knew something was wrong. It wasn't the glances cast in her direction or the cloud of whispers that always surrounded her; it was the approaching figure—a hulking mass she recognised anywhere.
Savannah's first instinct was to run, but her fingers tightened around her tray and her sneakers were rooted to the ground. Black shoes because it was easier to clean.
She didn't expect Mike Thompson to attempt this in such a public area, but he was probably mad that she had managed to evade him for so long. Savannah's luck never lasted.
Instantly, Savannah regretted her choice of lunch. Spaghetti was the worst pick, she should have went for a simple sandwich or even an apple. But there was no longer time for regrets, all Savannah could do was watch as Mike approached. He was cutting a straight line through the masses, his direction was clear—right towards her. His thick slashes of eyebrows were slightly furrowed and his square jaw made his show of teeth menacing.
It was too soon when his red jacket dominated her vision. Savannah prepared herself.
"Hey, fatty. You've been avoiding me haven't you?" Mike stuck his face right up to hers. He enjoyed invading her personal space. Savannah tried not to breathe, she didn't like the musty smell of sweat he always carried.
"No." Savannah said in a quiet tone, her hazel eyes turned down to the floor. The setting of her shoulders signalled defeat.
"What did you say? I can't hear you?" He turned his head and cupped his dinner-plate hand to his ear.
"No," Savannah said slightly louder.
"Now you're lying," His breath was pepperoni pizza, Savannah could only hold her breath for so long. "You need a lesson, you fat cow. It makes me sick to just look at you."
Savannah had a second to close her eyes; after those words, she knew what would happen next—she wasn't wrong. The sensation of red sauce hitting her face was a wet feeling. It was made the more unpleasant when some got up her nose.
The tray in her hands made a clattering sound when it fell to the floor, but the real noise came when the plate shattered into jagged shards on the ground.
"Look what you did, fatso. We expect you to pay for that too." Mike's mouth was stretched wide. He was always the happiest when someone else was suffering. Especially by his hands.
Savannah saw movement from her peripheral vision. The teacher on duty was exiting through the large glass doors—Savannah expected nothing less. It was just the kind of school Ashwood was: a corrupt institution ran by donations, a place where teachers were too willing to turn a blind eye, where a student's worth was determined by their family name and net worth.
No one had ever helped; no one ever would.
"Are you listening to me, you maggot? You're not even worth the slime on my shoe."
Savannah continued to look down. She ran out of tears for Mike Thompson long ago.
"Mike," The tone was sharp, audible over the hushed voices that remained. The whole cafeteria immediately quieted. There wasn't even the clanking of cutlery.
She knew that voice, everyone in Ashwood Academy recognised that voice. He was the undisputed authority. The first rule you learnt in Ashwood: do not piss off Layton Rochester.
"Enough," Layton commanded from his usual position at the centre of cafeteria. His table was packed full of people, but it was clear who they gravitated towards. Layton sat in the chair like he owned it, arms stretched out and his head tipped back, strands of black hair fell into his eyes. "I'm trying to enjoy my meal. You're making that very hard."
"Sorry," Mike called out. Even a wall like Mike listened. "Do you want me to take this outside?"
Layton's cerulean eyes turned towards Savannah. His gaze was always direct—penetrating—a whole different level of intimidation.
"I don't care what you do. Just get rid of her"
"Come on," Mike jerked his head in the direction of the courtyard. "Don't make me drag you. I'll get more pissed off."
Usually, Savannah would go along, resigned to whatever fate the bullies had planned for her. But today, she was tired, her bones ached, her body was heavy, and her soul was broken. Each day was so meaningless her reality blurred.
For once, Savannah lifted her head up and took a moment to look around the room. Everyone was staring at her, some were expressions of pity, others relief—relief because it wasn't them. There was also those who watched with disgust on their faces, and others with a smile full of teeth. They were enjoying themselves, those vultures.
A white hot feeling flooded her body. It was rage. Savannah was brimming with it and it lent her strength.
Suddenly, Savannah stood taller. She flung her hair back and straightened her shoulders. "Fuck you," Savannah snarled. "All of you. I don't know how you live with yourselves."
The students were taken back. Her demeanour was completely different to what they were used to; she was normally a shy, quiet thing that never spoke. Even Mike seemed stunned and his mouth could catch flies.
"Are you done?" Layton's tone was cool. "You've wasted enough of our time. No one wants you here."
His words were like razors. Because it was all true.
Savannah couldn't help the tremble that passed through her body. She didn't know she why put with this for so long; maybe some small part of her hoped that things would change, that she would finally be accepted, belong. Savannah knew now that it would never happen. Her hope had diminished into ashes long ago, it only took her this long to realise.
God, she was a fool.
Savannah couldn't stay. Her eyes were wet despite she thinking it wasn't possible to cry anymore. She walked swiftly towards the exit.
Layton spoke again. But his words were lost because her heart was beating too loud.
Savannah cried all the way home.