This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
I eyed the ledge of the overhang two feet above my head. This morning it had done its job and shielded us from the rain. Now, however, it served as a challenge. “I can do it.”
Kate clapped her hands and grinned. Being the challenger, she’d be happy to see me fail. But I could do it, I knew I could.
“Qora, no.” Maximina, my impulse control and best friend, said. She leaned against one of the supporting poles, a look of exasperation that was her trademark.
“Qora yes.” Kate laughed, negating Max’s judgement call. And Max was right; I could easily lose my grip and fall. Or get caught by a teacher. But I’d been wondering if I could do it for a while now and I was never one to back down from a dare.
I jumped once, twice—third time’s the charm. Hanging on, I pulled myself up onto my elbows, then up to my waist, flipped over, and threw my hands triumphantly into the air as I scooted onto the wet overhang. Being as tall as I was, and as lazy, supporting my own weight had seemed impossible.
“Hey, genius,” Max called, backing onto the grass, hands on hips, and eyes squinted up at me. “How the hell are you going to get down without breaking something?”
“That . . . is a great question.” I said, looking at the ground, eight feet below me. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, you won’t slip and fall and crack your head open,” Kate said sarcastically. “I’m sure it’ll be just fine.”
“Yup,” I muttered, eyeing the fall. “I’ve survived much worse than this.” My mind snapped back to eighth grade when I fell off the roof of my house and broke my leg. It was then mom and dad figured out me and Alec’s hiding place and refused to let us back on the roof. We still went, of course, but only at night when they were sleeping.
I scooted to the edge, feet dangling, the crowd of girls in my gym class watching, and jumped.
The ground rushed up to meet me.
It was not a happy reunion.
“You’re in idiot.” Max declared, wrapping the gauze bandage around my ankle. She carried it in case I did something stupid (like jump off the overhang) or got into a fight (which happened more often than not).
“Not a total idiot.” I winced as she twisted the gauze around. It wasn’t sprained, I think. I’d just rolled it on the landing. “I wasn’t dumb enough to stand when I did it.”
“I’ll give you that.” She sat back and stretched out her legs. We sat on the floor of the girls’ locker room, not wanting to be around the chatter of the other milling students. I’d have sat on the bench, but I had already fallen trying to put on my pants and refused to get up. My ankle would be sore for a few days and I’d have a slight limp, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t handle.
The door was pushed open and a girl walked in. I’d seen her in gym in passing, but already knew I didn’t like her. She looked she thought everyone should worship the ground she walked on. To make it worse, she was just a freshman.
I’d thought it was stupid that the upperclassmen hated freshmen when they were freshmen too, once. But as an upperclassman, and a senior at that, I understood completely. Freshmen were the source of evil and no one could convince me otherwise.
She gazed down at us in disgust and stepped over us and leaned over to pick up her bag. Max pretended to gag at her emoji print joggers.
I snickered as the girl stood up straight and glared. “What the hell are you laughing at?”
“Nothing you’d care about.” Max said. She waved it away with a flick of her hand and focused again on my ankle, making sure the gauze was wrapped tight, before helping me to my feet.
She scoffed. “Whatever. Dykes like you would never talk about anything I like anyway.”
The playful grin slipped from my face. “What did you say?”
“You heard.” The Root of All Evil said. “You and I would never have a decent conversation. Because you’re a dyke.”
Max grabbed my shirt and locked her arms around mine. The girl backed into the wall, but she still looked hostile—maybe hostile enough to actually fight me. And I was itching, yearning, to hit her. What right did she have to make judgement calls on me when she looked like Spoiled Rich Girl™ and had all the amenities that came with it?
“Count to ten,” Max coaxed. “Just count to ten and walk away.”
She was right as much as it pained me to admit it this time. I made a promise and I needed to keep it. I took a deep breath.
One. I will not hit this child for calling me a dyke. Two. I will not punch her lights out for calling my best friend a dyke. Three. I will start the year off right. Four. I will control my temper. Five. I will prove I can control my temper. Six. I will not hit this child. Seven. I will walk away. Eight. I will walk away. Nine. I will—
The girl stuck out her chin. “Someone broken and defective like you isn’t even worth my time, fag.”
Max gasped and released me. “Go for it, honey.”
The principal paced in front of me. His hand were clenched behind his back as he sneaked glances at the freshman, whose name was something like Carmen, and sighed. Her face, I was proud to say, was no longer pretty. My ring had given her a shallow cut on her brow and her lip was bloody. A nice, purple-ish bruise was cropping up on her pale cheek.
“Miss Karimov,” he sighed. “Every year we have the same conversation. You’re a senior now; know better than to pick fights.”
“I didn’t pick the fight.” I shifted my weight and gently massaged my scalp. Carmen had fought like most girls I’d come into contact with: she grabbed whatever was closest and pulled. “I was just minding my own business when she called me and Max dykes because of our clothes.”
Mr. Jaquez stopped and turned toward Carmen. “Is this true?”
She muttered something incomprehensibly. Mr. Jaquez raid his eyebrow. She sighed and shifter her weight, one hand on her hip and the other holding a pack of ice to her cheek. “Yes, I called her a dyke.”
She flapped her hand in my direction. “Look at her.” Our principal spared me a glance, taking in the Chuck Taylor’s I’ve had since freshman year, my faded jeans, my beloved black and grey flannel shirt, and Sam Smith snapback. So shoot me for shopping the men’s department. God forbid women have pockets or comfortable clothing.
“What about her?” he asked.
Max smothered a snicker as I rocked back and forth on my heels, waiting for what I knew was about to come. Carmen just groaned and stomped her foot. “You just don’t get it.”
“You’re right. After so many years of being around Miss Karimov, I still don’t know why people call her such names.” He turned to me and Max. “You two already know the drill. ISS for two weeks. And make sure to tuck in your shirts this time.”
He turned to Carmen who stood rigid with shock. “Miss Wood, please head back to the nurses office. I’m sure your parents will be here and when that happens, I’ll make sure my schedule is cleared for the talk ahead. You may leave.”
The assistant principal led her out. Mr. Jaquez glared at us and I fought to keep the grin off my face. “You two are nothing but trouble.”
“Aw, come on, sir,” Max wheedled. “I was holding her back. In the beginning.”
He rolled his eyes and collapsed in his chair. “I count down the days until you both graduate.”
I snickered. “At least you don’t grey hair. Yet. Or that Kate was there.” Kate wasn’t nearly as violent, but she was always happy to see someone knocked off their high horse.
“Your strategic pauses are what’s going to give me grey hair. Now shoo, I’ve got to mentally prepare myself for this one’s parents or guardian.”
I rolled my eyes at the ‘this one’ comment. He referred to all freshmen as such so as not to get too attached and start showing favoritism. He had to skip this process with me, Max, and Katie two weeks into school, seeing as our names were brought up so much. “If they’re anything like her, I apologize in advance. And if they’re nice and accommodating, I never apologized.”
“Oh, shut up.” Max laughed. “We’re leaving. See you again, Mr. Jaquez.”
He waved us out, shaking his head and muttering. Max nudged me, smiling. “Just think, this is better than when we were freshmen. You broke someone’s nose on the first day.”
“Bullies just piss me off,” I shrugged. “I can’t help it. Just like I can’t help you taking the fall for me as well.”
“You stopped trying eighth grade after we both got fines for that locker room fight. Which, might I add, wasn’t even a fight. She punch you, you shoved her into me—by accident—and I tripped her.”
“You tripping her was no accident.”
“Tomato, tomahto.” Max taped her knuckles against the glass of Mrs. Kim’s door. I repressed a shudder at having to stay in the same room as her. She had, on the first day I met her, turned her nose up and stuck in the front of the class. This wouldn’t have been strange if, contrary to the many fights I get into, I was a bad student. Which I’m not. Most of the time. I do my work and turn it in on time and I don’t talk too much. But honestly, putting Max across the room only made the distraction worse.
Mrs. Kim snatched open the door and frowned. “In trouble again?”
“Only a little bit.” Max said, hustling past her.
“We got ISS for two week. Just think, Mrs. Kim: fourteen whole days without us. It’ll be a dream come true. For us—and you too, of course.”
Her frowned deepened as she pointed to my seat and walked stiffly to the front of the class. When faced with sarcasm, she did what teachers did best and ignored me.
Settled in, for the time being, I laid my head down, listening to her drone on and on about the green that makes the world go ’round.
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