"I hate you.” I whimpered between gritted teeth. I was looking at my own reflection but imagined as if I was looking into every face that made me get to this point—Finn’s, Beth’s, Dakota’s, Jared’s. They flash through my mind, dissolving in the madness as my hair fell from the tight grip of my fingers. I hated the fact that I had cried so much. I hated that I cared so much.
I didn’t know my body, let alone my mind, could shelter this much hate, so much anguish.
Thinking back at what Dakota did made me want to explode. How was I supposed to go on and start over with someone who had decided to ruin me before knowing me? He explained himself, citing that they had knowledge of his sister’s suicide. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t all a lie—that the kisses weren’t forced, the short moments of kindness weren’t scripted, too. I was losing my mind, questioning every little detail, each encounter like a mad woman—hanging off the edge of my own sanity like it was a cliff.
“SILVIA!” Ronnie rushed in, snatching the scissors out of my hand. I’d cut off most of my hair already. There was no use in her taking them away from me. The damage was done. Most of my hair was in the sink, sticking to the sides and floating off the cotton shirt I was wearing. “Oh my, God. Why did you cut off all of your hair?”
“I’m having a mid-teen crisis.” I huffed.
“You’re going insane.”
I shrugged. “Same thing.”
She sighed and placed the scissors down on the sink, then led me to my room. Once again, I skipped school, but this absent garnered a reaction by my best friend. Ronnie arrived at my house a half an hour ago, stumbling in with her laptop and bags of snacks. I wasn’t in the mood for the movie marathon she had planned out for us. While explaining all that I’d felt in the last 48 hours, I had gotten to a breaking point and excused myself to the bathroom.
“I’m worried about you. First you skip school, then you won’t even consider eating any of the things I brought. Dakota told me how you fainted when he came here.”
“You’re talking to him?” I snapped.
“I don’t have a problem with him, Silvia. You do.”
“I wouldn’t call it a problem.”
“What would you call it then? Because I was just over at Heath’s and he’s been mopping around there just like you are.”
I stared at a single black strand, stuck on my thumb. “I don’t know. I wanted space from him. I can’t trust anyone at that school—besides you. If I didn’t have you, I think I would’ve been gone long ago. That, and the fact that I was two months away from graduation.”
“You might not graduate if you keep up this horrible attendance. Your grades matter.”
“It’s hard to think about academics when my life’s kind of falling apart.”
She stroked my back, frowning. “Don’t let them win, Silvia.”
With wet eyes, I blinked up at the startlingly new girl sobbing in front of me. “It’s a little too late for that.”
“This, this you can save.” She remarked, putting her hand into locks and combing it back. Before, my hair went down my back, now it curled at the nap of my neck. “It’s hair, Silvia. Hair grows back. Just be glad you didn’t give yourself bangs. I tried bangs after a bad breakup. Worst. Choice. Ever. I looked like coconut head from Ned’s Declassified.”
I sniffled a laugh. “I need to see photos.”
“Oh, those are all gone. I made sure to force my middle school friends to remove them.” She moved in closer, sitting on the edge of the counter and putting both her hands on my shoulders. “I hate seeing you like this. I want you to go back to the old you.”
“There’s no way I can go back to the old me. I’m different from the inside. I just want the sudden change inside of me to match it.” I explained, scooping the hair out from the sink and dumping it into the trash can next to the toilet. “I like the change, but I don’t know if it’s enough to give me strength to walk back into those halls and face him.”
She popped up a brow. “You mean Dakota.”
“No, I mean Ian. It’s taking all of my willpower to not drive to his house and sucker-punch that liar.”
“I knew he wasn’t telling the truth,” she snapped her fingers. “I swear, the second he said that you slept with his dad to get back at him, I knew it was too messed up to be you.”
“I still photographed his affair. That doesn’t make me a saint.” I reminded her. “I don’t feel good for what I did. I don’t feel good for the relationships I started in Maine, with much older men, only doing it to quiet down my own issues. For a moment, when Dakota was here, I could feel myself turning into that person again. It was terrifying once I snapped out of it, realizing what I was about to do. I was going to use him to shut off my own bad thoughts.”
“You didn’t, though,” she noted, pulling away from me. “You’re not that person anymore.”
“I can’t go far enough to definitively say that I’m not.” I whispered. During his visit, I had become numb to compassion and only saw intimacy as a way to escape. “I know what he did to me was far worse than what I almost did, but I can’t let myself get to that point again. And until I can figure out what it is that’s wrong with me, I don’t think I should be with him.”
Her eyes lit up, and I got worried. It was not a good sign if Ronnie had an idea. “In the meantime, I don’t see why we can’t have a little fun.”
I grumbled. “If this is about going after boys, boys like Gabe—”
“No. No,” she assured me. “I heard you loud and clear, Silvia. You don’t want to be with Dakota, which obviously means you don’t want to be anyone right now. You need time for yourself. I will respect that. I was thinking more so in the lines of getting even with the bitch who caused this storm.”
She laughed, slapping her thigh. “Not quite. I was thinking...Beth Giller. One last time, I think the old you should make a full appearance to get back at her. I mean, it makes sense. She is the one who wanted you gone from Crescent Heights in the first place.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t have the energy, Ronnie.”
“How can you not? If I were you, I would—”
I cut her off. “You’re not me, though. I said I wanted to figure out how not to be a bad person, how not to turn into that girl again. Yet you want me to go deep within myself to retrieve that person.”
“I have it planned out already.”
I scoffed. “Of course you do.”
She wiped out her phone, opening up the Notes app. “I copied down her locker combo one day, staring at her put it in. I’ve been keeping tabs on when she takes breaks to her locker—”
“Sounds like you want to ruin her more than I do.”
“Hell yes,” she roared. “After the shit she pulled, I knew that I couldn’t let her get away with doing something like to my best friend. You didn’t deserve any of this, Silvia. You came to this school to escape the hell you were experiencing in Maine. But you walked right into another nightmare.”
“My whole life is a nightmare. I should just settle with the fact that I’m a doormat that people like stomping on.”
“No, fuck that, you’re not going to take this sitting down, Silvia. I don’t want to see you get walked all over. You have to show them that you can’t be messed with or this is only going to get worse.”
I sighed. “What’s your plan?”
“I outlined it into a PowerPoint, going over beat by beat the act of stealing her laptop from her laptop.”
“I hate you.” I narrowed my eyes. “Okay, send me the powerpoint.”
Friday, I woke up for school for the first time this week. I scrambled, looking for matching socks, but failed miserably. I settled with two socks that kind of matched. Squeezing my head through the hole of my turtleneck sweater, I tucked it into my high waist denim jeans. I didn’t have much time to sit down for breakfast, so I made a jam and butter sandwich, chewing on it while I walked to my car. It wasn’t until fourth period that I met up with Ronnie to break into Beth’s locker.
“If her laptop isn’t in there, then I get twenty bucks,” I grumbled.
“Whoa, when did we come to this deal? I’m a starving high schooler. I can’t take a blow like that to my bank,” she puffed, pausing from putting in the combination. “I saw her put her laptop in here after second period.”
I checked behind us, sweeping a gaze through the quiet hallways. A classroom door opened and a girl with a hall pass turned to the left, away from us, and toward the water fountains. I exhaled a breath stuck in my throat, relaxing for a second. Unclenching my fists, I sought salvation in counting to the number fifteen, calming after the third repeat.
“Got it!” Ronnie cheered in success, pulling out the gray laptop.
“Great, now we’ve got a laptop that we don’t know the password to. Brilliant.”
“Did you not read my point by point explanation?”
“No, I didn’t.”
She frowned, “You texted me, saying you did last night.”
“I said I did to make you feel good, but there was no way I was going to review a fucking PowerPoint about robbing Beth. I can’t even be bothered to read the books they assign in my English class.” I said, stepping forward and shutting the locker. “C’mon now, let’s go.”
I shuffled backwards, colliding with a body. Spinning around, I yelled at the sight of Beth in front of me. Out of pure fright, I shoved her against the chest, knocking her off her feet. She held on to the wall, not falling, and regained her footing.
“What the heck are you doing with that?” she hissed, lunging for Ronnie. Fast on my feet, I hooked her elbow and dragged her to the floor—along with myself—as Ronnie made a dash for the exit.
I didn’t want to hit her, not entirely. I knew if I threw a punch at her I’d get automatic school suspension for multiple days, along with being removed from Senior activities. Beth wasn’t worth the risk of losing my Disneyland trip. Instead, I held my weight on her abdomen, holding her wrists to the ground. She squirmed, yanking her body against me.
“Struggling won’t help.”
Inhaling deeply, she let out a head splitting scream.
One hour later, and two lectures from two separate faculty members about bullying on school grounds, I was waiting in the office for my dad to pick me up from school. I was given one day of out of school suspension and one day of in school suspension. I’d have to go to a different portion of the school, away from my peers, and work on school work while staring at blank walls.
After the adults had us pulled apart, I reminded Beth—sitting outside the principal’s office— that I had enough dirt on her to do damage if she ratted on Ronnie and I.
“You don’t have anything,” she hissed.
“Oh, trust me. I do. I have copies of your communications in Segg.” I warned.
“How did you get that?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“I don’t believe you,” she hissed. “Give me my laptop back.”
“You’ll get it back. Eventually.” I smirked. Just as I said that, I had been called in to the office.
To my genuine disbelief, I saw another parent in the office other than my father. Standing at the door, dressed in a blazer and a button blue shirt, was my mother. Her face looked fuller than before, beaming down at me with a crooked smile.
“Hey auntie,” Beth sprang to her feet, “Mom sent you?”
"Oh my God, please kill me now,” I whispered, hiding my face in my hands.
My mother told Beth to wait for her in the car. Hiking her plum colored handbag up her bony shoulder, she peered at me. “How are you, Sil?”
“How am I? I don’t know. How should I feel knowing you’ve been here all along? Where have you been staying?”
“With the Giller family. It’s a long story.”
“I know most of it already. You lied. I know you’re from here and you’re related to them in a way.” I filled in, biting the insides of my cheek to hold in the yell ready to rip out of my chest. “I thought you left.”
“Jared is out of jail,” my mom announced, sending chills down my spine. “I haven’t left town because I’m afraid that he might come to California. There were talks of him buying a ticket out to Los Angeles. When I heard that, I ripped up my return ticket.”