Chapter One - Snake Skin Girls & Gargoyle Boys
"This is called bullying...or maybe I'm being overdramatic."
They say that a baby is born with two natural fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling.
Over the course of my seventeen years of life, I’ve managed to conquer my fear of loud noises. Falling, however? A part of me would say that I’m still afraid to fall. The larger part of me would say that it morphed into something else; something more mature, more frightening: falling in love.
It may sound like a stupid fear to you, but I swear, it’s not.
I mean, imagine opening yourself up fully to a person; literally giving them the button to detonate the bomb inside of your chest. They could destroy you with all that power if they wanted to. Of course, the easiest way to avoid this would be to just not fall in love. To not act on any feelings you may have for a person. That’s easier said than done, of course, but who doesn’t want to find their soulmate and fall in love? Who doesn’t want to experience that thrill?
Well, a lot of people including myself. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my fair share of boyfriends—both real and fake. However, I never actually loved any of them. So, I suppose I don’t really know what I’m missing.
I don’t mind it either. I’m still young. I still have my whole life ahead of me to figure it out.
I’m not really sure why I’m even thinking about love right now anyways. Afterall, this isn't a love story. This isn't a story about a quiet girl who falls for an arrogant, bad boy jock.
My story is so much more.
I suppose my thoughts on love may be a distraction from my burning calves.
I hate running. However, since it is a requirement for my gym class, I have no choice but to jog the track of Kingston High School on this hot and humid day.
A warm wind blows, heating up my face further. My braids bounce through the breeze behind me as I finish off my third lap.
One more to go.
Passing the bleachers, I peek a glance at the varsity football team. Some howl and laugh amongst themselves while others watch us girls run and by “us girls” I mean Willow Margret and Jennifer Stanley, the two prettiest and richest girls in my grade. Willow with her blond hair and piercing blue eyes is a sight to look at and Jennifer with her platinum black curls and hourglass body. They are a force to reckon with. I should know considering the fact that once upon a time ago, I used to be part of their friend group.
Speaking of Willow, she passes me in her booty shorts and tucked in T-shirt that resembles a crop-top, jogging over to the boys. Carter Locke, our star quarterback, jumps down the steps and greets her with a fist bump.
“You’re looking good out there.” I hear him say as I pass by.
Their conversation drowns out as I pick up speed, pushing myself harder and further than I’ve ever done before. Later, I’ll regret running so hard, but right now all I can think about is finishing this up.
It doesn’t take me long before I reach my gym teacher, coach Porch. She glances down at her timer and mutters, “Twelves minutes and forty-seven seconds.”
That’s a lot better than my previous run.
Nodding, I walk to the side and lean my back against the fence, regretting it immediately when it burns my back through my shirt. Annoyed, I brace myself against my knees as I try to catch my breath.
"First time working out?"
Jennifer’s voice makes me grind my teeth. She has this habit of bothering me in moments where I don’t feel like being bothered. Even her question ticks me off. Of course, I work out. Maybe not as often or vigorously as her, but I do.
"It’s hard," She continues, oblivious to my annoyance at her presence. "But you’ll get there. I remember when I use to be almost as big as you. Now, look at me."
Disclaimer: Jennifer has never once been fat. As far as I can recall, nothing about her has really changed since freshmen year if you don’t count her cup size. I mean, from an A to a D? That’s hard to not notice. Trust me when I say that it was the talk of the town during the eighth grade. It was a girls-wanted-to-be-her-and-guys-wanted-to-be-with-her sort of thing.
I’m sad to admit that I was one of those girls who wanted to be her.
"Well,” I say, finally addressing Jennifer. “Thanks for that comment I didn’t ask for."
She shoots me a dirty look before walking over to Willow who just finished her run. I can’t help but watch them as they talk, glancing every now and then at the football team. A part of me feels almost lonely and left out.
I can practically envision myself with them. Talking about boys and tucking my shirt up to resemble a crop top just like Willow. She’d hold my arm and laugh into my shoulder as she spoke about Carter and I’d pretend to smile. Jennifer would talk about Alex Goodman and how overly infatuated she was about him.
Coach Porch blows her whistle, shaking me out of my thoughts. The girls who were on the track come running over huffing and puffing and glistening with sweat. At the sight of the girls leaving, the football team openly groans as they make their way on the field to do drills. I watch Carter and Alex shove each other as they climb down the bleachers. Even from where I stand, they beam with happiness and I grind my teeth at the sight.
“Alright, girls,” Coach says, capturing our attention. “Great job today. A lot of your times are improving. You should all be proud of yourselves. On Friday, we will be doing field hockey, so make sure you bring clothes to change into. No jeans. Now, go inside, shower, get changed.”
Back in the girl’s locker room, I grab my towel from my locker and make my way to an available shower stall. Quickly, I get undress and step beneath the steaming water, allowing my sweat to be washed away. Beneath the comforting rhythmic beating of the water against my skin, I begin to drift off to my thoughts from earlier: falling in love.
Why did I even start thinking about it? Maybe it was to distract me from the pains of running. Maybe it was to distract myself from some of the boys on the football team who were openly laughing and pointing at me as I ran by.
I get it.
I’m the outcast and I have been for almost a year now. Willow made sure of that. After all, she’s practically the queen of Kingston high. Everyone who is anyone will listen to her no matter the circumstances.
Anyways, love. The thing that is showcased in almost every tv show, book, and song. The idea of love is literally burned into our DNA. As if we need it to survive. As if the only way we can truly and fully be happy is if we find “the one”.
My character, Aadya Valencia does not need a man. Nor does she need love in order to be happy. A brooding character like herself finds happiness in fighting for her queendom and saving those who are in need of saving. Yet, I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Aadya would be so good with Jarek Bozem, a desperate man in search of his kidnapped sister.
Is the choice to make the independent and strong Aadya fall in love with Jarek a reflection of me as a writer? Am I putting too much of myself into this piece?
My thoughts come to a halt when there is banging at the stall door. “Hurry up!”
Rolling my eyes, I turn off the water and dry off before wrapping myself in my towel. Upon exiting the stall, the first thing I notice is my locker wide open, stripped clean of all my clothes. On the floor, my bookbag is opened and my notebooks are scattered everywhere.
Slowly, my eyes shift up and over to a line of football players holding different pieces of my clothing in their hands.
My heart sinks.
Someone chuckles, drawing my attention. Carter Locke. He holds up my blue polka dot underwear. The sight of it in his hand makes my stomach churn.
"Give that back!" I scream, but it sounds more like a sob in my ears.
Without thinking, I run at them. They laugh, entertained by my reaction even though I’m seconds away from having a panic attack. Out the locker room they go, like monkeys playing a vile game.
I feel it coming. Wheezing, lungs tightening, the world slightly spinning. Oh gosh, I’m making this worse. I should’ve just stayed in the locker room and told Ms. Porch. I should’ve walked over to their coach’s office and told him that his team stole my clothes. I should’ve done anything but this.
Someone tugs my towel from behind, loosening it. I cling on tightly to the cloth in order to keep it from falling. They chuckle, maneuvering around me with skills I’m unable to keep up with.
"What’s wrong, Quince? Got your panties in a twist?" Carter teases, eyes glistening with mischief.
I watch, helpless as he tosses my underwear at the top of a locker, mimicking shooting a basketball into a hoop. His teammates cheer him on until Principal Warner makes her presence know.
“Boys!” Her voice is like a bullet, piercing their laughter and fun.
Like insects, Carter and his team scurry, tossing the remainder of my clothing to my feet.
"Not again." Principal Warner sighs once reaching me. She bends down, picking up my outfit before placing them in my hands. "Quince, they will be disciplined greatly for this. I will not tolerate this type of behavior."
I can’t even count on my fingers the number of times she has said those exact words to me. There was that one time during my sophomore year when the boys filled my locker up with roaches. Surprise, surprise! The school now has a roach infestation.
Due to the fact that they’ve grown to be a few of Kingston’s rising players, the only reasonable punishment Principal Warner could think of giving them was two weeks’ detention. They had to help the drama department prepare for their spring musical.
Doesn’t really sounds like a punishment to me, but fine. Whatever. Maybe this time she’ll step out of her bubble and think of something more severe.
"Go and get dressed.” Principal Warner says, squeezing my arm before walking off. “This will be taken care of."
A stray tear falls from my eyes. Quickly, I wipe it away and turn around to the locker that my undergarment is stranded on. I jump when instead of a steel blue door, I come face to face with broad shoulders. Slowly, I lift my gaze up a tall, lean figure until I lock eyes with Mateo Dela Cruz.
I’ve heard his name swept through the halls here and there. I’ve even had a few classes with him back in my sophomore year that he barely showed up to. I’ve heard rumors and I’ve seen him on multiple occasions throughout the school, but never have I been this close to the legendary Mateo.
If Willow saw me now, I know she’d be so freaking jealous.
His dark eyes gaze down at me. They kind of hold this softness to them. Pity. That’s what that is. The sight makes my stomach churn.
He saw it. He saw what Carter and his friends did to me.
Oh goodness. Can this day get any worse?
Clearing his throat, Mateo stretches his hand out towards me. In the center of his palm, lies my polka dot underwear.
Well, it just got worse.
I pluck the cotton fabric from his hand and quickly tuck it away into the pile of clothes in my arm. My ears burn as an overwhelming amount of complete and utter embarrassment settles inside of me.
If only the ground would open from beneath me and swallow me whole.
"What those guys did to you wasn’t cool." He says, tucking his hands into the pockets of his sagging sweats.
“Uh, yeah. It wasn’t.” I mumble.
He lowers his head slightly. It almost seems like he’s embarrassed. I should be the one embarrassed. I’m literally standing in the middle of the halls with nothing but a towel on. In less than six minutes, the bell will ring, and a sea of students will rush out of their classrooms. They’ll freeze in their haste to their next period class at the sight of me, laugh, and take pictures to post and share on social media.
I need to go back to the locker room and get changed before that can happen.
"Um,” Mateo says, capturing my attention. “Whenever I have bad days, my mom always tells me, no es el final de la historia."
“Cool. Cool.” I mumble, nodding my head slowly. “I have no idea what that means.”
"Oh, right, um, it means it’s not the end of the story."
I furrow my brow, equally confused and intrigued. What a peculiar thing to say in order to make someone feel better. Out of all the heartfelt responses like “I’m here for you” or “it’s going to be okay” or literally anything else, his mom tells him that.
And I suppose she’s right. It isn’t the end of the story.
I don’t realize I’m staring until Mateo locks eyes with me. In that instant, one word pops into my mind: love.
It makes butterflies flutter alive in my stomach and has my heart beating five times faster than it was just moments ago. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what’s happening to me right now.
Suddenly, the spell is broken. Mateo walks away without saying anything. I watch him with furrowed brows as he speeds down the hallway with his head lowered and shoulders tense. Soon, he disappears around the corner, leaving me equally confused and enlightened.
Sighing, I head back to the girl’s locker room and quickly get dressed before the bell can ring.