Lourdes Rodriguez was in deep shit.
Lou, as she was known to everyone who really knew her, everyone who mattered, dodged the wildly wayward punch thrown by L'Jean Jenkins. She wanted to laugh, strangely, though the situation was not at all funny. Something about L'Jean's expression, her attempts to puff herself up and seem larger, more fierce, were quite comical. A part of Lou, detached from the angry and reactionary parts of herself focused on fighting L'Jean, were already making plans for her now-bleakly wide-open future once she was removed from the Elspeth Home for Girls. She had lived at Elspeth for almost two years now, but she wouldn't really be sorry to leave.
That detached part of Lou knew they were going to send her to Juvenile Hall, once the fight was over. But Lou had no intention of going to Juvie. That detached part of her mind was planning escape routes, hiding places, and what she'd need to steal once she was hidden.
L'Jean's fist barely brushed Lou's cheek, but the blow stung, more to Lou's pride than in actual pain. Lou hadn't been hit, not really hit, not in anger, since the last couple to foster her. Which was the reason she lived at Elspeth in the first place. She hadn't let her last foster parents beat her twice and she wasn't about to let a fat, frizzy haired bully like L'Jean F-ing Jenkins get away with it. Feeling L'Jean's balled up fingers graze her cheek recalled all Lou's focus, honed it onto the single-minded determination that lived within her. It was as if everything around her suddenly froze and everyone began to move in slow motion, like a throng of angry insects mired in honey, allowing Lou to move with absolute precision.
Her balled-up fist came up in a flash and she easily ducked L'Jean's next wildly thrown punch. Lou twisted herself, put her shoulder under her arm and used the force of her entire tensed body, from ankles all the way up to shoulders to deliver an uppercut punch smack into the underside of L'Jean's exposed, flabby chin. The resulting thwack sounded like a thunderous boom to Lou, who felt the familiar rush of pleasure seep into her fingers like a smokey fog of happy memories. It washed over her, memories which must have belonged to someone else. That rush came anytime Lou won a fight. Aside from her incessant need to prove herself more capable of taking care of her own life, it was her primary motivation to fight. To win. The last time she had lost a fight she hadn't spoken a word out loud for sixteen months. Memory of that low feeling more often than not was the reason she could always find an extra bit of strength. Strength necessary to keep fighting and win, when any other little girl would have given up in the face of overwhelming odds and cried.
Lou Rodriguez was not an especially large girl for twelve years old. But she made up for it with the fierceness of a combat soldier. Since coming to live at Elspeth she had obsessively trained herself, due in large part to a movie she had seen about a girl who looked as harmless as Lou appeared at first glance. Million Dollar Baby. The girl had been motivated by an old man to become a world class boxer. Lou often thought of herself as kindred to Rocky too, but she'd never have admitted it aloud. Thought she was not large for her age, she had developed strong musculature and her timing was excellent. She occasionally had participated in games of slap-boxing the other girls enjoyed, copying the boys they met on the street. Lou's innate inability to restrain her violence coupled with the fact she never lost caused the other girls to eventually refuse to play with her. None of the other girls would admit they were afraid of her, showing that kind of weakness was verboten at Elspeth - they were by nature tough girls who had the need to seem tougher etched onto them. Instead they would claim some excuse, beg off, knowing enough about Lou to know if you didn't challenge her she would leave you be.
Now, Lou, lost in the rush of pleasure, stood above a comatose L'Jean, the larger girl splayed across the floor in front of her, L'Jean's arms and legs akimbo in obviously unnatural ways, she had clearly been knocked out unexpectedly. Lou shook, almost as if she were shivering from cold, but the other girls saw hot rage still in her eyes. They knew why she shook - she was warring with herself, trying to suppress her fighting demon, trying to control the thing which gained control and clarity at the moment L'Jean's fist had brushed Lou's cheek. Not that any of them could have articulated what they saw in Lou's eyes, but they knew to stay back.
Lou still shook with rage when the Security Officer, Mr. Grimes, came trundling in; the director of Elspeth, Mrs. P. Hart, or Phart to all the girls who lived at Elspeth, came waddling in behind. A two foot billy club in his hand, Grimes was already swinging at Lou. His face was alive as it was rarely ever was. Had Lou been in the right state to observe him, she would have seen the same light in Grimes's eyes she had seen in her last foster father's, a man called Tyrus Cooper. Cooper had always wrapped a belt around his hand before he tried to beat his wife Alexis. When that wasn't fun anymore he'd aimed his wrapped fist at Lou. Flashing back to the Cooper's house, Lou's rage bloomed. Normally Grimes wore an expression of such bland disinterest, the look of a bored stoner, he only rose from behind his ratty, little desk and seedy magazines hiding behind tabloid decoys when there was the possibility of the kind of fighting before him now.
Grimes - a large, fat, and lumpy man - ran in plodding footsteps towards Lou raising his billy-club-wielding arm high and let out a shriek of delight which might have doubled for his token attempt at giving Lou a warning, or possibly the scream of an excited eight-year-old girl. Lou heard Grimes's girly squeal, snapped out of her pleasure rage and sensed his approach. She twisted at the last moment as his arm came swinging down. When his blow didn't connect Grimes fell forward, toppled over the body of L'Jean, who was again bowled over when Grimes kneed her in the face. Grimes let out a surprised and shocked woof as he hit the floor. His baton flew, landed right at Lou's feet with a clack like one of Cooper's beer cans after he threw it at his wife, missed, and it hit the wall instead.
Everything went back into slow motion for Lou - each time the baton wobbled seemed to have minutes between.
The other girls moved backwards as one, sensing before they could even verbalize it Lou was about to have access to a weapon.
Phart, who had been hung back behind Grimes saw the Security Officer go down and began to to flee. Likely she would make for the nearest phone where she would call Swilly the horrible policeman who terrorized Elspeth over the smallest pretense. Swilly was very fond of low budget "Scared Straight" sessions arranged between himself and Phart. He would belittle the girls, pick on them individually, if he could. All of them except Lou. Swilly, like almost everyone involved with her, sensed something about Lou, something which made one wary.
Grimes landed on his massive backside, eyes, wide with shock, glued to Lou. Slowly but surely he came to the realization he was outmaneuvered, unprotected, and without his weapon.
Afternoon sun streamed in from the windows in sliced slants broken up by the surrounding buildings, mostly warehouses, not as high as in a place like New York City or Chicago, but tall for San Diego. Little dust motes hovered, suspended in the sunlight, as though the light was made of clear gelatin.
Lou bent down and scooped up the still bouncing baton, twisted her shoulder as soon as she had a grip on the club. She threw her weight behind her swing, so her whole body felt the vibration when the baton smacked into Grimes' unprotected head. The Security Officer tried to raise his arms, but had not been quick enough. Reverb from the blow knocked Lou off kilter and she spun, lost control over the baton, which flew out of her hand and crashed into a glass-fronted inspirational poster hanging on one of the walls, a poster which read Winners Make Their Own Luck. The poster fell to the floor, its glass front shattered, sending shards of glass across the floor.
Grimes's eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he fell backwards unconscious. L'Jean was still out as well. Lou scrabbled to her feet, watched in quiet, wary disbelief as the other girls fled and the sounds of sirens approached. All Lou's plans to escape burned up like so much mist in the heat of a noon sun. She knew she was stuck, come what may. Instead of trying to flee she scrambled to the corner of the room, away from the slants of sunlight, away from the shards of glass, where she dropped to the floor. Lou pulled her knees in tight and tucked herself into a ball, head inside her arms, eyes fixed on the floor under her legs, counting the little asymmetrical dots. Little flecks of washed out green and brown which littered the cheap vinyl Parquet flooring. She sat there, balled up, until the police arrived and one of them handcuffed her, to lead her away to Juvie. Swilly lifted her up to haul her off there were no tears in her eyes. Lou nodded at him tersely, one adult to another, as if to say, "I accept this.“
Swilly returned the nod and somehow she knew he understood. If she hadn't accepted her Fate, she would have died before she allowed herself to be taken away again.