Friday passed in a breeze. The Homecoming and hockey games approached quickly, and I went all day without seeing Lynna at school, which was odd. Jacelyn hardly spoke to me in class or in passing which I found oddly pleasing. But her problem wasn’t the only one I had now. Justin completely ignored me and went out of his way to make sure I was segregated from the rest of our pack of friends. Ella was the only one who treated me like a friend. She and Kyle weren’t speaking to each other, and her best friend was her enemy now.
When the bell rang, ending my last class of the day, Ella caught up with me as I walked out of the building. “Jacelyn’s going on and on about winning the vote for Homecoming Queen. I can’t believe her. Why would anyone vote for her? I know she’s pretty but she’s a heartbreaker and a…a cheater! She is so full of herself. I didn’t vote for her today. I hope others had the same sense not to after the antics she pulled. I still can’t believe she went out with Kyle! She knew we were together! How could she do something like that? I thought we were friends!” She cried out, tears flying from her eyes.
Oh boy. Ella couldn’t stop crying; her fits changed like the wind. I reached over and pulled her close, giving her a side hug. Her sobs quieted once more.
“Thanks, Garrett,” she cried into a tissue. “I’m so upset…” she trailed off. “I don’t know what to do…” she sniffled and wiped her nose.
A white convertible Porsche pulled up by the curb next to us. Justin sat in the passenger’s seat while Jacelyn sneered at us from behind the wheel. “The mighty Garrett’s social status just fell another notch,” she goaded, tossing me an empty potato chip bag. “Here’s something else to take to the dumpster.”
Ella charged at her as she tried to drive off, but she didn’t make a clean getaway. Ella kicked her taillight and broke it. Jacelyn slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car, making sure she parked it first.
“You bitch!” she screamed at her former best friend. “That’s going to cost you!” She hurled herself at Ella, aiming her sharp fingernails at my friend’s eyes.
Justin jumped out of the car as I wrestled myself between Ella and Jacelyn. One of Jacelyn’s sharp nails scratched the skin above my left eyebrow. Blood trickled down into my sight, and I had to blink the red liquid away to see properly. I dragged Ella away from Jacelyn and turned around, so Jacelyn’s nails would scratch my back instead of my face. Eventually the pain stopped as Justin pulled Jacelyn back towards her car.
The whole scene didn’t go unnoticed. The few students around us stared at the commotion with their mouths hanging wide open, and one of the teachers made her way for the four of us. Ella still fought against me, trying to knock me aside so she could go after Jacelyn, but I didn’t let her go. Ms. Holloway reached us as Justin drove away with Jacelyn, who screamed openly at us both from the passenger’s seat. Ella finally stopped struggling and sunk to the ground in a fit of tears. I let go of her then, now that the danger was past.
“Mr. Reed!” the teacher exclaimed at me. She bent down to console Ella. “What is going on here? Are you alright, Christianella? Did he hurt you?”
Pain suddenly exploded in my head. I reeled away from the cause, tasting blood on my lips and in my mouth as my teeth pierced the skin. When I looked up at the intruder, Kyle aimed another blow with his fist to my stomach. I caught his hand before he could land his punch and twisted his arm behind his back. He fell to the ground, trying to break my hold, but not quite succeeding.
“What are you doing?” Mrs. Holloway screamed. “Stop this now!”
I released Kyle.
He jumped up massaging his arm. “He started this! He was hurting Ella!” he yelled.
“I was not,” I retorted. “Surely you saw…”
“You man-handling her!” Kyle shouted before I could finish my sentence.
Ella stood up and faced Kyle. Mrs. Holloway tried making sure Ella was fine. “Honey, we’ll take care of you. None of this is your fault. We’ll call the authorities and they’ll take care of Garrett…” she consoled her.
“No,” Ella sobbed aloud.
Kyle looked shocked. “What? Ella, you’re not thinking clearly. Garrett…”
“Helped me,” she interjected. She stared at Kyle with complete fury. “This is your fault.”
Kyle’s face fell. “I care about how you’re treated Ella. Garrett was holding you while you struggled against him…” he pleaded with her.
She shook her head. “How dare you suggest that Garrett would do anything like that? You’re wrong about this whole situation. I was trying to attack Jacelyn and he pulled me away from her!”
Mrs. Holloway shot me a look.
“But Jacelyn’s not around!” Kyle shouted. “Quit lying for him!”
“I’m not lying! She was just here!” Ella shouted back.
I nodded. “She was just here. The scratch above my eye was caused by one of Jacelyn’s nails that got me before I could pull Ella away from her.”
“And where is she now?” Kyle demanded.
“Justin drove her away from here,” I answered.
Mrs. Holloway glanced at Ella. “Is that the truth?”
Ella nodded. “I went after her because she made a hurtful comment towards me, and Garrett pulled us apart.”
Mrs. Holloway studied her face for a moment. “Are you sure? You stated that Kyle started this.”
Ella sighed and looked down at the ground, heavy with her heartbreak. “We broke up yesterday because I caught him cheating with Jacelyn.”
Comprehension quickly changed the teacher’s composure. Her eyes filled with compassion and sought out Ella’s face. “Well if that’s true, then Christianella you know it’s wrong to fight during school. This behavior can warrant you suspension.”
Ella met her gaze briefly before nodding. “I understand.” She seemed ready to accept her punishment and never protested her behavior to the teacher.
I expected Mrs. Holloway to feel sorry for the girl rather than punish her, but she surprised me with her words.
She smiled at Ella. “But since it’s after school, I think a detention will settle the matter. See me after school on Monday.” Mrs. Holloway glanced at Kyle. “You too, Mr. Hasmond,” she added.
Kyle started protesting the sanction immediately. “But…”
She cut him off quickly with a look. “However honorable your intentions were, fighting is not the answer, and it turns out that we were both mistaken in what we thought was the truth. I think you owe Mr. Reed an apology for how you treated him when he was trying to help Ella.”
Kyle scowled. “But he attacked me as well!”
The woman wasn’t fazed by his outburst. “He defended himself from your attacks. You threw the first punch.”
He grimaced and accepted his defeat without another word to her, though when he apologized to me though he sounded more frustrated than sincere. “Okay, fine. I’m sorry.”
Mrs. Holloway looked satisfied by his reply, even if his tone was grudging and insincere. She focused her eyes on mine. “See you at the game, Mr. Reed.” She faced Ella next. “Ella, take care of your self. Jacelyn isn’t worth the fighting.” Without another word, she left us, headed for her car.
Ella sighed and turned towards me. She made a face once she saw the scratch above my eye. I was having trouble seeing with the blood pooling there, but I hadn’t had a chance to clean the wound. “I’m sorry Garrett. I just lost control.”
“It’s fine, Ella,” I said to her, really meaning the truth behind my words. She was having enough trouble as it was with the current situation, and anything I could do to ease her pain had become a priority for me.
She gazed intently at my face and swallowed. “You’re bleeding.” Her fingers reached up and touched the wound.
I shrugged but let her touch the spot. I was used to bleeding and bruising and knocking teeth loose. That was a part of hockey. A bleeding nail scratch above my eye was no different.
From the corner of my right eye I caught Kyle glaring at me. He was furious that Ella’s attention was fixated on me and not him, even if he was the one to blame for their breakup. Ella never noticed his presence; either that or she purposefully ignored him. I was willing to bet the latter.
“We should go take care of that,” she stated while pulling out a Tigger keychain from her purse. “I have keys to the first aid locker in the field house. Come on.” She grabbed my arm and hauled me towards the building before I could protest.
Kyle caught up from where we left him glaring at me. He touched her shoulder briefly but withdrew his hand once Ella shot him a nasty look. “Ella? Can we talk?”
She didn’t bother looking at him again. “No, Kyle. Please go away.”
He kept pace with us. “Please, Ella. We need to talk.”
This time she threw him a nastier expression than the one she first gave him when he touched her shoulder. He shrunk back, affected by her demeanor. Ella paused on the sidewalk. “Go away, Kyle. I don’t have any good words to tell you right now. You need to leave me alone.” Without waiting for an answer, she resumed pulling me towards the field house. Her grip on my wrist was strong and I could’ve broken it if I wanted to, but she wasn’t hanging onto me like I was about to run away from her. She hung onto me like she needed my strength to support herself while refuting her ex.
I glanced back at Kyle, wondering if this time he listened to her. He had stopped following us, but I swear I saw jealousy etched in his eyes as he stared at our retreating figures. He was jealous of me, and Ella’s grip on my arm. He apparently didn’t understand that it was him that messed things up, not me, and not Ella. We entered the field house and Kyle’s envious face disappeared.
She led me to one of the many benches in the trainer’s room. There were a few students milling about the place for a myriad of reasons; they all stopped and stared at my shiners. Some peered over at me in between their workouts. They all wondered the same thing, but no one said a word or asked questions as to how I got this way. I figured it must be bad if they were all looking at me and not at Ella’s attention towards me.
Ella disappeared into the trainer’s supply closet. She returned a few minutes later with a box of goodies. She opened the case and pulled out some gauze, alcohol pads, and a band-aid, along with anti-bacterial cream. She got to work, cleaning the wound near my eye. The alcohol stung briefly, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought the pain would be. Eventually she had the cream smeared on and the patch put in place. She assessed my face and noticed some more scratches along with the busted lip I sported from Kyle’s punch. She opened the box once more and pulled out more supplies to fix the bleeding, because it hadn’t stopped yet.
Drew walked into the room. I watched him walk across the room, right past us. He headed for the fridge and took out a bag of ice. Once he turned around after getting what he needed, his eyes caught sight of me. He smiled and nodded hello in greeting before walking out of the room. I was amazed by his composure over my battle wounds. But less than a minute went by until he returned. This time he was shocked.
“Garrett?” he quizzed me.
“Yeah,” I moaned out as Ella held my bottom lip in her right hand.
He whistled and bent down for a closer look at my wounds. “Man, what happened to you?”
Ella pursed her lips but didn’t say anything.
“Well, I got caught in a fight,” I stated, but it sounded more like, “Wehigahcaughinnnafighh.”
“What?” Drew asked, confused by my mumbled words.
This time Ella sighed and explained what I could not. “He got caught between Jacelyn’s nails and me. And then Kyle punched him in the jaw.”
Drew grimaced and straightened back up. “Sorry bro; your face is colorful,” he chuckled.
I stared up at him. Then I trained my eyes onto Ella who suddenly seemed more interested in my lip than my face. I was really worried about her.
Out of the corner of my eye, Drew shook his head. “Better not let coach see you, otherwise he might not let you play tonight.”
I frowned as Ella finally released me. I don’t know why he looked so concerned for me because I hardly felt any pain at all. But Ella pulled out a mirror from her pocket and held it up, so I could see what all the talk was about. Drew wasn’t kidding. My face was already bruised. My eye was blue and purple, swollen where the cut from Jacelyn’s nail sliced me. My lip was puffy and red from where Kyle punched me. Patches of blue, green, and black surrounded my lower cheek on the left side. In addition to the bruises, my eye was almost completely swollen shut. Odd thing was, my vision wasn’t impaired in the slightest. I saw perfectly fine out of both eyes, and not like one was half shut.
“Hunh,” I grunted, not knowing how to respond. It was the worst I’d ever looked to my knowledge. There was no point in going home now. My mom would ask questions. It was easy to explain my shiners as hockey injuries, but this was completely different, even though it was honorable and not entirely my fault. I did get in between Jacelyn and Ella, and Kyle.
Drew shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around my face. “Put some raw meat on that. Hopefully, you’ll look better before the game tonight, but seriously I don’t see how you’re going to avoid Coach.”
“I’ll be fine,” I answered him and hoped that I would be fine and allowed to play in tonight’s game.
He didn’t look convinced by my confession.
Ella put away the supplies while we talked and threw away the used swabs and bloody gauze. She returned and stared down at my face. “Do you need a ride home?” she offered me.
I shook my head; I could drive since I was able to see fine.
“Are you sure? Your eye is almost completely swollen shut.”
Drew interjected before I could respond. “Ella, take him home.”
“No,” I shouted hurriedly. I calmed down and got quiet once more; they both looked surprised by my reaction. “I’ve got all my stuff here, I’ll just wait.”
Drew frowned at me. “Fine. Just do something to help your face. Otherwise Coach won’t let you play if you show up looking like that. Get Ella to put some concealer or makeup on it.”
I didn’t want to admit it, but he had a point about my face.
Ella looked sideways at Drew for his comment about the makeup. “Do I look like a makeup artist? No amount of concealer is going to hide that kind of damage. He’d be better off if he wore one of those rubber masks.”
Drew laughed. “Yeah you could be someone else tonight at the game, but the mask won’t work with the helmet, Ella.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know that.” She looked back at me. “Damn, Kyle. He screwed us both you know. If you can’t play tonight I’m going to be even more pissed at him.”
Drew glanced at her. “Hey, don’t beat yourself up over Kyle’s actions. It’s fine; we all know he’s a jerk.”
“No, it’s not,” she stressed and ran her fingers through her hair. “This is a really important game for us. We can’t lose. Garrett is one of our best players and we can’t afford to have him sit out because Kyle lost his temper and misconstrued things.” She met his gaze. “You do realize that we lost the football game last week to these guys! We cannot lose again; if we do…well…it won’t be good!”
Some of the other guys in the room grunted their approval of her statement. She headed over to the fridge and returned with a small bag of ice.
I stared at her, wondering what caused this cheery speech. She looked enormously stressed out, more so than before. I took the ice pack she handed me.
Drew finally sighed and took his leave. “Well I’ve got some stuff to work on before the game. Take care of him, Ella.”
I didn’t bother to watch him leave the room. I focused my mind on Ella. She looked like she might lose it any second. “Is this all about Kyle?” I asked her.
She bit her lip and blinked away some tears that swelled up in her eyes. “You know, my mom has some steaks at home in the freezer. You can chill with me for a few hours before the game.” She picked up her things and waited at the door for me.
I grabbed what I needed and followed her out. Somehow, I got the feeling that she shouldn’t be left alone.
Those next two hours were spent in silence. I never once spotted her mom in the house, mostly because the structure made a mansion seem tiny, but she was probably in her private study as usual. Ella used the time to flip through the Netflix queue while I soaked my face in the raw steak, but never once did she decide on something. The time crawled by, but eventually I had to go back and get ready for the game. She drove me back to the field house, again in silence. But once we reached the parking lot, she finally opened her heart about what happened.
“Garrett, I’m sorry for throwing you in the middle of this,” she apologized without looking at me.
I really didn’t want to meet her eyes, so I settled for staring at the dashboard. “You didn’t. Jacelyn called me trash too.”
Out of the corner of my eye, she shook her head. “No, I meant about Kyle and me. Jacelyn directed the trash comment at me, not you.”
I took in a deep breath and let it out. I was about to admit something so shocking to her that I had yet to admit it to our other friends although I knew that they heard or witnessed what I did yesterday. The thought alone was enough to shock me, but not at the time I committed the act. Now looking back on it, even I was amazed I did something so uncharacteristic of my behavior, but I didn’t regret my choice and I never would. “Ella, I took Lynna Ashford home yesterday.”
“Oh, yeah. I thought I saw that.”
She didn’t sound surprised at all by my actions which made me wonder if she truly was alright.
“What drove you to do that?” she asked, curious rather than shocked like our other friends would’ve responded with.
I shrugged, not knowing how I would explain myself. “I had some questions I needed to ask her, but I can’t remember what they were. I’m having a tough time coping with the blackout issue. Some of my memories are gone.” I knew I couldn’t say much to her, but hopefully it was enough that she understood my mind was a bit crazier than normal. However, she’d probably wonder now why I needed to speak with Lynna about my blackout issue and lost memories, which would bring up more questions and answers I’d have to provide. I hadn’t thought of that avenue. I should’ve played dumb and kept my mouth shut.
Ella sat in thought for a moment or two, practically setting my mind into a frenzy, because I didn’t know what she thought about all of this. “Well, if you need to leave the game early I can be your ride out of there,” she finally said.
I smiled genuinely surprised that she wasn’t worried about all the things I thought she’d be worried about. It also made me wonder if Ella was as flaky as Jacelyn or if her previous behavior was all an act to be her best friend. I hoped the latter was true. It had been a long time since we hung out as friends when not surrounded by others. “Thanks, though. I’ll see you at the game.” I got out of her car and slowly made my way indoors.
I was opening the door to the field house when Ella exclaimed, “Now that’s a plan!” to herself. I turned back to ask her what she meant by that statement, wondering why she was following me inside, but her car, with her body behind the wheel, pulled out onto the street. The windows were down though, so she must’ve yelled the statement, but that didn’t make much sense to me. I don’t know how I heard her comment as though she was standing right beside me. After scratching my head for a minute at this new revelation, I grabbed my things from inside and drove to the rink. Now was not the time to ask questions like that. I had a game I needed to prepare for, and I couldn’t wonder or ask myself how I heard something that I shouldn’t have heard in the first place.