I can barely move. The fear takes a hold of me daily, right as I get ready for school. I know I'll have to see him and everyone will laugh and stare and I will feel shamed yet again. I stare at myself in the mirror, examining the features there. Gentle hazel eyes that lean towards the green side stare at me, too big for the small gaunt face they inhabit. I used to not be gaunt. My face used to look healthy and bright, until he stole it all from me. It's not only him I blame. It's my mother and father and the friends I supposedly had and all the others who let him get away with what he did and left me feeling like it was my fault. My mother told me that I deserved it, for putting myself out there like that. My father was disgusted with me and told me I shouldn't have been such a little whore. My dear little sister, Raya, still loves me because she doesn't understand that I am now a pariah, in our family and our town.
Forcing myself to remove my gaze from the mirror, I head down the stairs to placate my mother's demands for me to get to school. I brush past my mother, heading out to my beat up old car, relaxing as I leave that house that has become a silent prison. After a bad incident on the bus with a guy tapping my shoulder and causing a panic attack, I was allowed to drive, but with restrictions: only to school and work and home. Maybe to the grocery or to pick up Raya if needed. It's like my parents think I actually have a life after what happened.
On autopilot towards school, I'm consumed with dark, threatening thoughts.
"You deserved it for being such a slut." My father.
"Why did you let him do that to you, if you say you didn't want it?" My friend.
"He said he was sorry… So why are you still mad at him?" My mother.
"It was just sex. She's mad because he said she wasn't worth his time anymore and he didn't call after." His lawyer.
"If you tell them that it wasn't rape, he'll be able to get off with probation." My lawyer.
"It doesn't look like rape to me." The cop.
My grip tightens on the wheel, my knuckles going white as the road blurs.
"Why are you fighting me? You love me." Him.
"Come on Ella, it's no fun if you cry." Him.
"Quit crying! I can't get off seeing your ugly, puffy, red face!" Him.
Suddenly, my vision turns red as his voice floats into the dark mass. As my anger starts to rise, I hear my beloved little sister.
"I wuv you Ewwa." I feel her little body hugging me as she ran into the room after my parents came home to find the police in our house. All of my anger and fear dissipates at her optimism and hope.
"Thank you Raya…" I whisper as I pull into my parking spot under the large shade tree. I wait in my car, watching all the happy students walk into the school. I mourn the days when that was me, happy and carefree and whole. When a majority of the crowd has disappeared, I open my door and reach for my bag. As I turn, a large shadow falls across me and a scream escapes my lips before I can stop it, making the person stumble back, hands up in a surrender.
"Whoa! Sorry! I didn't mean to scare you." The voice is feminine but rich and velvety, sending shudders down my spine. I squint into the sun, trying to make out who it is come to intimidate me. The person who stands in front of me shifts to the side, revealing a tall, curvy woman who should scare me. Instead, I find myself comfortable with her.
"What do you want?" I ask her cautiously still, wary of the feelings she induces. My bag over my shoulder, I climb out and edge around her.
"I wanted to see if you were okay. I saw you sitting here by yourself for a long time and thought you might need help."
"Being lonely is a side effect of being a slut." As she takes in my sarcastic words, her eyes glide over me, taking in my appearance. I know what she sees. High collared shirt, well-fitting jeans, tennis shoes, a light jacket and no jewelry or make-up.
"If you're a slut, then what am I?" In turn, I take in her black corset, jeans and boots, blue hair and multiple piercings and the generous black eyeliner. I smile internally at her joke, but outside there is still a dose of wariness.
"Are you new? I'm the resident pariah." My tone is dry, sarcasm the only thing keeping it from catching on fire. She makes a noise of realization.
"So you're the one everyone has been talking about." I tense, waiting for the names, the shaming, the cruelty. As I wait for her viscous response, the first bell rings, giving me five minutes to get to class.
"Go ahead. Say something cruel so I can get on with my day." Without waiting for her to speak up, I start walking briskly towards my first class.
"Why would I?" she calls after me, jogging to catch up.
"Well, every person in the school hates me."
"Not this one." My eyes slide to see her pointing at herself. Together we make our way into the school, my walk hesitant, her walk confident. When I ask for her name, she tells me Sapphire. Go figure. I tell her mine is Ella and she smiles, telling me that it's very pretty. I stop as I reach my first class.
"Well… Bye," I say awkwardly, starting for the doorknob.
"Bye? I have journalism first period too." Her statement makes my breath catch in my throat. Surprise must be evident on my face, because Sapphire grins again and we both move into the classroom, where I take my seat in the back corner just as the bell rings.
"Alright class, settle down. We have a new student, Ms. Sapphire….?"
"Just Sapphire." The girl I just met's pink lips curve up into a smirk and forces me to look away.
"What a freak…" Jessica whispers at the front of class as Sapphire passes. In response, Sapphire sticks out her tongue, showcasing a clear blue tongue ring. She hisses at Jessica, making her startle and fluster.
Pleased with herself, Sapphire saunters to the back, sitting next to me. The teacher ignores the whispers and continues on with class. I pull my text book up to hide my face, paranoid the whispers are about me. Sapphire joins me behind the book and starts chattering away, her breath making the area behind the book really warm. She spins a tale of a brave little girl who emancipated herself from her alcoholic mother who beat her on a daily basis. My heart twinges for that little girl, for Sapphire, but she brushes off those sympathies and asks for my story instead. I tell her the boring, cracker version of perfect parents-who mentally and emotionally abuse me-, of a perfect house and of a perfect little sister.
"So what's all the talk about, then? Did you just date the wrong guy?" She asks the inevitable and most avoided question.
"Kind of," I squeak as my shields raise against her. I lean in close to my work, writing quickly. Thankfully, Sapphire takes my hint and goes back to talking about nothing as we work, effectively passing time. The bell rings and people stand with a shuffling of papers and books and the sound of zippers being shut and feet quickly escape a hell they'll be right back in in five minutes.
"What's your next period?" I ask, slowly gathering my books, shoving them into my backpack. My hair falls to hide my face and I'm grateful for it, my facing blushing a gentle pink as my question registers with her.
"Looks like… Chem II." Standing up faster than intended, I smile, brighter than any that I can remember.
"Great! Me too." I quickly clear my throat, looking away. "I mean, that's great because I can show you and not be late." Sapphire snorts and mutters something and walks on, still chattering away. Turns out, we share four out of seven classes. My normally gloomy days are suddenly brightened by this blue-haired girl's snarky quips and dark sense of humor.