"Hey, did you hear what Stacy did on the weekend…?"
"Did you go to the party yesterday?"
"Oh my God, what a loser."
"Do you think Brandon might like me?"
I groaned, trying to drown out all the annoying voices that swam around my head. I could have cared less about what Stacy did, whose party it was, who the loser was, and I didn't even care who this Brandon guy was. All that these girls were talking about was nonsense and even though it may be of interest to them, I really just wanted to bash their faces in with my Biology textbook which I just retrieved from my locker. I stuffed it hastily into my backpack, and then hauled it up onto my shoulders, slamming my locker door and clicking the lock shut. I had two minutes to get to the Science classroom and it looked to me that I was going to be late once again. There were too many students in the hall and even though I was relatively tall, it was hard to maneuver through them. They bumped rudely into me if they got the chance and stepped on the back of my heel causing my shoe to slip off of my heel and make for one awkward, somewhat painful walk.
I ignored them.
Most of them were the so called "preps" at my school and the occasional jock would stick his or her foot out and attempt to trip me. Unlucky for me, one succeeded just as I was about to head down the stairs.
"Whoa!" I yelped, struggling to keep my balance, but my feet betrayed me and flew forward, crashing into the back of some grade twelve guy wearing a football jersey. He too lost his balance and we both spiraled down the stairs till we crashed to a stop at the landing. To make the fall even worse, he had landed on top of me and my breath was squashed from my lungs.
Those who had witnessed the fall were starting to gather around and point and laugh at us. From my position down on the floor, I caught a glimpse of the boy's face which had gone a bright tomato red either with anger or embarrassment. I was hoping it was the second one. I tried to push him off when he didn't seem to move, but he seemed to be rock solid—made of pure muscle. When he finally did move, I recognized him as Matthew Scott, the senior football player and best quarterback on the team. He turned his icy blue glare on me and I winced.
"Kaitlin West, why am I not surprised?" he sneered, brushing off his jersey and picking his fallen hat of the ground. "I should have known it would have been you. I could smell your loser-ness down the hallway."
I hardly heard the foul words that he called me after that and I just kept my eyes to the ground. A few more kids started to laugh at me and join in with the teasing, but it was only after did the principal come and shoo them all away to their classes, did they finally leave. With them gone, I ignored the principal standing right there and I retrieved my fallen backpack.
"Kaitlin? Are you all right?" Principal Schaefer asked.
I nodded. "I'll be fine. I'm just a little shaken."
"Alright, but get to class. The bell's about to go," she reminded me and tapped the watch on her wrist sternly.
"Yes, Mrs. Schaefer. I'll try," I murmured and continued on my way down the rest of the stairs. My head hurt from when I bonked it and I could feel a nasty bruise starting to form on my leg and ribs. Getting crushed by a football player wasn't exactly pleasant.
I trudged along the hall, navigating my way carefully to the Biology classroom with my eyes lowered to the floor. I wasn't really keen on going in there. Some of the people from my class had witnessed my little falling episode and they weren't exactly what I would call nice people. I'd probably get crumpled up pieces of paper thrown at the back of my head with drawings of me as a "scum bag."
I sighed. Why did high school have to be so difficult?
"Hi, Kaitlin!" a voice suddenly called.
My eyes shifted up to see my best friend Amber coming down the hall, waving her hands in the air like she hadn't seen me in a month. A smile spread across her pixie like face, but quickly changed to worry when I put my arms out in front of me to stop her from giving me a hug.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing. I'm just sore," I murmured back.
I didn't really want to tell her about my fall, but Amber and I always told each other everything and did everything together. I was there when her hamster died, and we both had our tonsils removed at the same time. Whatever the case was, we did everything together and that meant keeping no secrets from each other either.
"Well?" she pressed when I didn't answer straight away.
"Some person tripped me and I fell down the stairs," I explained.
Her face scrunched up like she smelt something bad. "Ouch."
"That's not worst part, though," I continued. "I crashed into Matthew Scott and we both went falling down the stairs, him landing on top of me." I rubbed my ribcage where the bruise was forming and groaned. "I feel like crap."
"You look like crap, too," Amber said bluntly, her eyes giving me a quick scan. "Come on, we'll fix you up in the bathroom."
I nodded and she kept me balanced while I limped down the hall. A few times, I would step on my sore foot funny and would moan whenever it pained me.
"You sure you're okay?" Amber asked worriedly, putting an arm around me to keep me upright.
"I'm just sore," I reassured her, hating that I had to repeat myself. Amber was really nice and anyone would die to be her best friend, but sometimes she just worried too much and it annoyed me. Half the time she didn't believe whatever came out of my mouth, especially when I said that I was fine when I actually wasn't. Amber was one of those people that could see through any mask that you decided to put on to hide something.
"Alright, if you say so," she said and pushed open the door to the bathroom, leading me through.
"Ugh, I probably look like a mess," I moaned as I went up to the sink and stared at my reflection in the mirror while Amber leaned against a wall. "Wow, you're right, I do look like crap," I said after a moment, running my fingers through my brown hair. I managed to flatten it out, but my normally sleek bangs turned out frizzy and I gave up on them after that.
"Don't worry," Amber said, coming up behind me and fixing my hair in the back. "All you need is a good long shower and you'll be as good as new."
"It's not that simple. Not all of us can have perfect hair like you, Amber," I joked. I envied Amber's hair. Her long blonde hair was always so perfect and was always so soft and polished. Mine? It stayed like that for a few hours at the most before it sagged and died.
She laughed. "Yeah, whatever you say."
"It's true!" I protested and turned around to face her. "Hey, can you do me a favor and tell Ms. Tyson that I won't be in English this afternoon? I think I'm just going to head home now," I said, rubbing my temples with my forefingers gently as if that would soothe the aching.
Amber looked somewhat sad, but she nodded and got off the wall to hug me gently.
"Okay, get better soon," she said with a sad sigh.
I tightened my hug on her for a brief second, then pulled away and smiled. "Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow hopefully."
"Promise?" Amber asked, a hint of worry in her voice.
"I promise. I'll take some Advil, have a nap, and then I'll be as good as new. I'll call you later if it makes you feel any better."
Amber's smile returned. "You had better. I'll hear from you then, but I'd better go now. Mr. Ortega will be wondering where I went since he already saw me this morning."
"Okay, you go. I can get my stuff by myself and phone for a ride home down at the office."
"'Kay, see you later, Kaitlin."
And then with one quick movement, she opened up the door and then was gone.
Now that I was alone, I went back towards the sink and splashed my face with the freezing water, hoping it would help with my aching for a while. There was nobody home and that meant I would have to walk home in the blistering heat.
I exited the washroom slowly and walked straight ahead towards my locker. Today it was a good thing that it was conveniently located exactly where I needed it to be. On a normal day, I hated it when the musky washroom scents always made their way to my locker first. I opened my locker, grabbed my homework that would be due tomorrow, and then closed it once again before heading back down the hall. By now, all the doors to the classrooms were closed and it was silent around me except for the occasional hum of the slowly dying lights that littered the hallway ceiling. They weren't helping with my headache at all.
I kept my head down as I rounded a corner—or "the" corner as everyone here at Middleton High School called it. It was the hallway where no teachers came or any student in their right mind wandered. Druggies and the occasional Goth inhabited this hallway and if you were caught, it wouldn't be pretty.
Luckily for me, there was no one except for a dark clothed kid who was propped up against a locker and muttering things to himself. He hardly noticed my existence, but soon, my footsteps became loud and clear to him, and he shot his icy blue eyes my way, narrowing them as I walked closer.
I recognized him as Nathan Knight, the new kid who had all kids of rumors floating around about him. One was that he was a killer who gutted anyone with his bloodstained pocketknife if you pissed him off even the slightest bit. I didn't believe that one, or the one that said he transferred here from juvenile prison after he murdered his cellmate. Okay, for one, kids like that didn't get transferred to a public school after doing something like that, and second, he was only eighteen, the same age as me. At that age, he couldn't be capable of doing something like that…could he?
I found myself staring blankly at him like a pre-teen who said they were "in love". Not in my case, though. Sure, Nathan was good looking in his own way with his porcelain skin, icy blue eyes and dark hair, but I didn't like him in a crush type of way. My kind and his kind did not mix at all. My eyes moved to his forearms and my mouth dropped slightly as the sight of blood that covered it.
"What are you looking at? Move along," he growled at me, pulling down his sleeves to hide his fresh cuts; I could see the blood soaking through the thin fabric.
"Uh…I…um…" I stammered and tried to avert my gaze, but I couldn't take my eyes off of his blood soaked sleeve. I took a step away from him, but didn't do as he told me to. I wondered if there was something I could do to help him—the pain in his eyes told me something was wrong…or perhaps his cuts were just stinging.
"Didn't I just tell you to get going? Stop stammering and get the hell away from me," he said, his voice tense like he was fighting to keep from yelling.
"What hap—" I started, but he cut me off again.
"I'm fine!" he snapped and I flinched away before taking a step towards him again. It wasn't until I did so that I noticed the pocketknife that he held behind his back and my stomach sank. He did that to himself…
People who cut themselves hit me hard which is why I hated those fake "emos" that just did it for the image like it was part of the look's job description. My younger brother had cut his own wrists for a long time before he ultimately took his life two years previous because everyone at school had called him a "fag" after he came out as gay. I didn't want that to happen to anyone else. I took another step towards Nathan, forgetting all about how sore I was for the time being.
"Can I ask why?" I asked gently.
He was silent for a moment. "Why should you care for my best interest? No one cares," he muttered.
"I care," I said, taking another half step towards him. I caught sight of the knife half hidden behind his back and I half gasped in fear as he pulled it out in front of him and looked it over. I could see along the edges that there was fresh blood and every time he turned the knife, it rolled along the blade. He seemed transfixed by it, and he didn't even look at me when he spoke again.
He ignored me. "It takes away the pain, the suffering, the depression. It's the only other treatment besides drugs, and even then, it's not enough. Depression pills don't do shit either. I've gone through three bottles and if anything, they only made me feel worse."
I watched him with sympathy as he slid up his sleeve again and drew a thin line over his forearm with the tip of the blade. When he looked back at me, his expression was hostile and I began to feel slightly frightened, but he didn't make any advancement on me.
"Why am I telling you this, anyways?" he growled. "Leave me alone, I don't need your damn sympathy or help."
I took a step back from him, but I still didn't leave. "I know what you're going through—my brother used cut himself before he died. I just don't want anyone else to do what he did or go through the pain that I did." A lump formed in my throat at the thought of my brother Christopher and I swallowed painfully.
He narrowed his eyes. "Like I said, nobody would care. Leave me alone already."
I realized I couldn't talk any sense into him and I obeyed him. "Goodbye, Nathan," I said over my shoulder.
With one final glance at Nathan, I pushed through the doors at the end of the hall and stepped out into the hot and humid air. It was like this all the time in Florida and I wondered for a brief moment how it was that Nathan was able to stay so pale in a place where it hardly rained and didn't reach temperatures below 25 degrees Celsius.
The sun beat down on my head as I trudged up the hill, making me feeling nauseous and my headache returning even more painful than ever. I put a hand to my forehead and ran my fingers through my bangs so that I wouldn't be so hot, but it didn't seem to have any effect. I continued to stumble upwards, my shoes slipping on the mud that never seemed to dry. It oozed over my feet and made that sickeningly gross squishing noise. I ignored it and walked along the grassy field that led to my house, but my thoughts were haunted by Nathan. Why was he like the way he was? He never said why he was cutting himself…did he even have a reason?
I looked up into the sky just as a faint breeze blew by me. For the longest time, I just stared up into the puffy white clouds and blue sky as if I was looking for something.
"Christopher, if you're really up there, then please help Nathan. He doesn't deserve to have to suffer the way he does," I whispered.
I wasn't exactly the religious type, but I remembered what my Mom had told me when I was a little girl and I was sad. She said that if I was ever sad for myself or someone else, then all I had to do was pray and ask God for help. I hardly believed that now, especially after everything that had happened in my life.
I looked back down and was surprised to see and feel water droplets fall in front of me. Was it raining?
Reaching tentatively up towards my face, I wiped my cheek with my sleeve and a wet smudge appeared on it when I looked back at it. I sniffed up the oncoming tear and hastily wiped away the ones that had escaped my eyes. Why was I crying though? I always knew that I was overly emotional about almost everything, but if I was crying for Nathan, then that made no sense. Today was the first day that I had talked to him and yet, I was crying for him and maybe for myself because I knew that I was powerless to help him.
"Why do I even bother?" I muttered and angrily wiped away the remaining tears from my cheeks just as I heard someone shout my name.
"Kaitlin!" and all too familiar voice called. I turned around to see my only other friend, Adrian, racing up to me with a smile on his face.
"Hey," I said, my voice cracking and I quickly coughed to cover it up so I didn't already look like I had been crying. But Adrian's smile quickly faded when I coughed and I knew that he already suspected that something was wrong. His moss green eyes softened and his eyebrows furrowed into a frown.
"What's wrong?" he asked, noticing a stray tear on my cheek and I slightly flinched when he reached towards me and wiped it away. "Why are you crying?"
"It's nothing," I immediately lied and Adrian sighed, placing his hands on my shoulders.
"Kaitlin, we've been friends since we were three. I think I know you well enough to know that you're lying."
"Really, it's nothing. I must be coming down with a cold. You know my eyes always run when I sneeze," I reminded him. That must have convinced him because he removed his hands and he smiled warmly down at me.
"Fine, I'll believe you this one time, but if you ever feel like telling me later, I'm just a quick phone call away," he said with a laugh as though trying to cheer me up.
I just nodded and backed a step away from him. "Thanks. See you tomorrow," I told him and began to walk away.
"Wait, where are you going?" he asked, his frown of suspicion returning.
I sighed irritably as his persistence. Adrian had always been like this. Nosy, not knowing when to take a hint, and always managing to find a way to butt his way into peoples' business—mine most of the time and it had been getting worse as we got older. I decided just to tell him the truth. I turned around to face him.
"Home," I replied simply. "I fell down the stairs on my way to class and got a major headache." I scrunched up my face in pain and rubbed my head where the bump was, muttering "ouch" to add extra effect.
"Why don't I just give you a ride home?" Adrian fussed, wrapping me in a gentle hug as though I would break.
"Thanks, but no thanks," I said, pushing out of his embrace.
Adrian sighed. "You sure? It's really no trouble at all."
"I'm fine, Adrian. Go to class. Amber will be wondering where you are."
Adrian bit his lip. "If you're sure… Okay then. But get well soon, okay?"
I smiled. "I will. Bye, Adrian."
He gave me another hug, then waved as I walked off, and I breathed a sigh of relief once he was out of earshot. It was no surprise to anyone that Adrian had a crush on me, but cute as he was with his messy blonde hair and moss green eyes, his over protectiveness of me was a little much. If I had told him the actual truth about why I was crying, he would get jealous and kick the crap out of Nathan. That's just the way he was and had always been.
For the remainder of my trip home, my headache subsided, but returned once I came through the front door. Mom wasn't home to my surprise, but I just assumed right away that she was out getting groceries or something like that.
I threw my backpack off to the side and entered the kitchen to get some Advil. Our black cat Jinx was there on the table and her bright blue eyes glanced my way when I passed her. For a split second, she reminded me of Nathan with her black fur for his hair and her eyes matching his… I snapped out of it and stroked her between the ears, starting up her purr motor.
"Hey Jinxie," I cooed and kissed the top of her soft black head. Jinx continued to purr and hopped down from the table to rub up against my legs. I stepped carefully away from her and went into the medicine cabinet to get the Advil. The Advil usually worked and I downed three of the pills with a glass of water. Jinx followed me as I headed into the living room and sat on the couch. She leapt up beside me when I sat down and I pulled her onto my chest as I lay down with a sigh. Almost immediately, Jinx curled up and was asleep within a few minutes. I looked over at the coffee table where a picture of Christopher and I stood. I reached over and grabbed it, tracing my hand down the picture of us at the beach. Chris looked so happy and care-free with his million dollar smile and I smiled at it, the lump returning to my throat.
"I miss you every day…" I murmured to the picture and hugged it to my chest.
Whether it was the Advil finally kicking in or Jinx's snoring, I eventually closed my eyes and fell asleep.