The next morning, as my mom drives me to school, she holds my hand nervously. She’s implied that the action was for me to feel better, but in truth, it seemed to benefit her more. As I jump off the car, she gives me an anxious smile, and I return it with a reassuring one as I wave her off.
When I get to class, I find Silas standing outside of class waiting for me. He flashes me his dazzling smile and I melt.
Entering class as the bell rings, I notice Pam sitting in the seat she had been in yesterday, the one beside Silas’s seat, which is behind mine. I start to approach my usual seat with a grimace, but I feel Silas’s hand around my wrist, leading me to a seat on the other side of the class. I realize his plan as I sit down in my seat and stifle a laugh as I glance over to see Pam frowning. She takes out her textbook and slams it on the table.
I pull out a blank piece of lined paper and start a cartoon drawing of Lois Lane kissing Superman on the cheek, while he blushes. Next to it, I write “Thank you, my hero!”
I toss it over my shoulder and I hear him unfolding the paper. He chuckles lightly under his breath. I hear light scribbles under Mrs. Francis’s lecture and finally receive a response as a note lands in the middle of my desk. “Only for you, Lane.”
I smile to myself, trying to control my blushing cheeks by pressing my hands on them to absorb the heat. I have forgotten all about Pam. I don’t care that she’s in the same room as us. In this world, what matters is me and him. That’s all there is to it.
“So bitchzilla is back,” Vinh tells me at lunch as he sits beside me on a bench, Scar behind him. I smile to her as she gives me a hug before sitting down on his other side.
“Who?” I ask between bites of my sandwich.
“Oh my god, you’ve been in la la land with your lover for too long,” he rolls his eyes as he opens his microwave burrito.
“Natasha’s back, Tammy!” Scar almost whispers as she glances around, on the lookout for Natasha herself.
I stop my chewing to stare at the both of them, unsure how I feel about this. I’m not exactly scared of her. In a way, I never was, until she started threatening my mom’s job. Since yesterday, I had been trying to decide how mad I am at Natasha for paying Jeff to do that to me. I realize now that I can’t be mad at a person I had long ago lost all expectations for.
There was no betrayal in her choices and actions thus far because there was never a promise against them. She and I haven’t been friends for years, so anything despicable that she’s done to me can’t hurt me too much on the inside. With regards to her and her actions, I was numb and I might always be.
“So,” Vinh urges for a response on my part, “Are we going to come up with a protection plan or are you going to leave you mouth hanging until your food falls out?” He reaches over to push my chin up, closing my mouth. Scar’s expression shifts into amusement as well as concern.
“I’ll talk to her later,” I say, turning back to my sandwich as I finish chewing the bite still on my tongue.
“What do you mean? Talk to her? Are you nuts?” Vinh glances back at Scar and then turns back to stare at me in disbelief.
“Yeah, I am nuts. This conversation is overdue and I think she and I both need this,” I say, sounding resolute.
“Do you know where you’ll see her? I can come for moral support,” he offers, glancing back to see Scar nodding along.
“Yeah, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of her routes through the school, for back when I used to avoid her,” I catch a look of sympathy cross his eyes, but continue talking, “And no, it’s fine. I think this is something I need to do alone. Thanks, though.”
“I’m proud of you, Mama Bear. Go kick her ass. And if you actually do kick her ass, please get a picture or something. I need a new desktop background.” Scar slaps his arm and he winces at it jokingly.
“Jeff has been arrested,” I inform them. They both freeze.
“How do you know for sure?” Scarlett’s voice is tiny and her eyes show immense pain.
“Because,” I start, but purse my lips wondering if I should tell them, “he and a couple of his buddies tried kidnapping me yesterday. Silas and Damon came in time with the cops and got them all.”
Both their jaws drop, and while I am aware of how serious the topic of discussion is, I can’t help but smile at their insync reactions. Vinh throws his arms around me and Scar moves to my other side to do the same.
“Guys, it’s okay, really. They didn’t get a chance to do anything. In fact, I think one of them got a really bad head injury from Silas’s bat swing. I wanna say his name was Dan?”
“They could have done some really bad things to you! Jeff alone was,” Scar exclaims as she pulls away to look at me and then winces, “horrifying. They could have really hurt you, Tammy!”
I reach for her hand and squeeze it tightly. “I know what they were planning, and trust me, they didn’t come close to it. Nothing happened and I even got a chance to trip Jeff before he could make a run for it. My mom even got to slap all of them before they were sent to the cells.” I grin at the memory of my own mother’s fury.
“Your mom knows? This is huge. You never bother your mom!” Vinh has his hand grasping my upper arm, as if the motion would keep me steady. As if I’m phased by this.
“They wouldn’t let me go home without a parent.” I shrug. The truth of the matter is, this was a big deal, but it seems that the more I downplay it, the more it seems like a minor inconvenience. I know suppressing it isn’t healthy, but it’s the only method keeping me afloat so far. I don’t want to admit that it scared me, because the moment that I do, all hell breaks loose in my mind.
“Well, at least you’ve got both of your handsome knights come to your rescue,” Vinh wiggles his eyebrows.
I sigh, “Vinh, you know I’m with Silas.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t stop Damon from wanting to save you or be with you. I’m just saying, I feel for the guy. He probably still has a chance since Silas is so… messy.” Vinh takes a massive bite from his burrito.
“What do you mean messy,” Scar asks before I do and I smile at her. I’m glad she has Vinh with her.
“Well, he’s surrounded by assholes in his team. Then there’s the issue of Bigtit Pam,” Vinh chatters mindlessly until he catches the looks on mine and Scar’s face, “Okay, I didn’t come up with that name. Don’t blame me. Gossip’s gone crazy over the three of you.”
“No, he’s right. They all made it up and they’re all talking about you and Pam getting into a mud fight for Silas,” Scar tugs at my arm and scowls at the thought.
I laugh. “Mud fights are overrated.”
“Fine. Jello fight or whatever alternative there is to it,” Vinh says with a mouth full of burrito.
After school, I have to remind myself not to follow the path that I had made up to avoid Natasha and her two minions. As I now approach her, I see that her minions still follow her mindlessly, even after the drug incident and her suspension. Who says the brainless can’t understand the concept of loyalty?
I watch as each one of them raise an eyebrow at my presence in their line of sight.
“Natasha, can I speak with you, please?” I point at a bench placed between two columns.
“Why should I?” she snaps at me. There’s a sliver of fear shown in the eyes of Karen and Wendy, something I’ve grown used to, dealing with Natasha.
“You’re going to regret this, if you won’t listen.” I head toward the bench on my own, without looking back to see if she follows. It doesn’t matter to me.
She waves the other two off and starts strutting toward me. I roll my eyes at her flare of drama.
“What do you want?” She sits down, facing forward instead of looking at me. I sit facing her, with one of my legs bent flat on the side and my ankle under the knee of my other leg.
“Unless you want me to tell the cops about your involvement with Jeff, I suggest you listen,” I tell her calmly. “And anyway, this might give us both some good closure.”
I try to gather my thoughts, but it’s been so long since I’ve decided to suppress these memories that pulling them out now seems like a call for disaster.
“Well? Are you going to say something or do I have to look at your stupid face all day?” Her voice is sharp, cutting through my cloud of doubt.
“Do you remember in fifth grade, when my mom tried dating around and found that one guy, Chú Chinh?” I swallow hard. Even my mom doesn’t talk about him often, but not for the reason I don’t.
“Yeah, what about him?” Her curiosity is starting to silence her attitude.
“He had a friend, who also befriended my mom,” I start feeling sweat in my palms. “Whenever she went out with Chú Chinh and needed a babysitter for me, she would call his friend.”
I see the concern in her eyes, knowing that she probably noted the fact that I didn’t give the friend a name. He didn’t need a name. Monsters often don’t. Not when they stay hidden.
“He was nice at first, or at least nice enough. One night, he came over smelling like alcohol, but not enough that my mom noticed. So she and her date left me with a drunken man. At first, I was confused because I was young and unaware of how much can be taken from me. But that night was the first of many.
“With every time that he came over to take me under him, he got more and more violent, like he knew it was wrong, like he knew he was hurting me, like the only way for him to cope with it was to hurt me enough to reach the brink of death. I wanted to die, but luckily, after months of torture, my mom broke up with Chú Chinh and his friend never came by again.”
Her mouth is slack and her eyes have tears brimming, ready to fall. There is a slight quiver on her lower lip and as I stare at it, I realize that tears have fallen from my own eyes. I continue, knowing if I stop, it won’t be enough.
“I had to hide my bruises and throw away the clothes that he had torn apart. He never hit my face or anywhere visible, but occasionally, I had to pull out a band aid to stop some bleeding. I didn’t want anyone to know, because I felt ashamed that something like that would happen to me. I didn’t want my mom to know because she would only blame herself. I was numb from it all for a while, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. It was a dirty secret from my past, something I wanted to forget.
“But when you kept trying to kiss me in sixth grade, it somehow all came rushing back and I felt like my life was out of my control again. And I know that you apologized for your advances, but every time I saw your face after that, I am reminded of Chú Chinh’s friend. It was like ripping open an old wound to make a fresh one every time.
“I still didn’t want to tell anyone about it, but I couldn’t stand the flashes of memory tormenting me. So I had to stop being friends with you. I know you thought that it was because I was being homophobic toward you, that I was disgusted by your sexual preferences. I’m sorry for not clearing that up and for giving you a lame reason for the fall out. I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”
By the end of my explanation, my voice was barely audible. I spoke through whispers as I choke on my words with the ball in my throat and the snot in my nose. Tears stream my face and I feel myself getting dizzy. She was crying, too. Sobbing, actually.
“All this time,” she started with tears falling over her cheek, “I thought you didn’t want to be friends with me because I liked girls. And when you became friends with Vinh, I was so confused. He’s bi. Why did you leave me when you’re clearly okay with him? I was so mad.”
I reach for her hand to comfort her, knowing that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve had an open and honest conversation with her. She accepts my hand and squeezes it, then let go.
“I’m so sorry, Tammy! I didn’t know that something like that happened to you and-” she pauses and stares at me with wide eyes, “Jeff. I sent Jeff to do that to you. I don’t deserve this closure! Why are you being so kind to me? I’m a horrible person.” Her eyes show pain and she starts screaming through her sobs as she looks down, away from my eyes.
“He and his guys were going to rape me. They’ll be getting what they deserve in prison. But I’m give you this last chance, to know the truth, to live a more positive life. I won’t be telling the police about your involvement, but that doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear. Jeff could point you out. I wanted to talk to you today to get it all out and to warn you about him. If he ever comes out, you might be his next target.”
She shivers and I could tell that I’ve finished what I wanted to say here. I stand up and gather my things. “I’ll see you around, Natasha.”
I had already made plans to meet Matthew in the library to work on our project. The presentation itself can be done on a joint powerpoint slide online, which is what we plan to do tonight as homework, but we still had some things to straighten out before that.
I wipe away my tears and enter the library to find that out of all the tables, Matthew has chosen to sit at a table near Silas’s group. Catherine and Pamela are shooting daggers at each other when they spot me at the entrance and focus their laser beams at me.
I quietly sit beside Matthew and pull out the assignment details along with my notes and outline. He gives me a warm and polite smile, but it drops as he asks, “Tammy, is everything alright?”
Silas’s head shoots up to look at me. His eyebrows immediately meet at the center as his eyes fill with worry. I shake my head silently at him with a small smile on my lips.
Without saying a word, Matthew and I go over each other’s notes, scribbling extra things on them to enhance the information.
“So Catherine, did you know that Silas and I have known each other pretty much since birth?” Pamela flips her hair and reveals a deep cleavage. I roll my eyes and catch Silas staring at me with amused eyes.
“Oh, really? So you’re kind of like his sister?” Catherine challenges, causing a frown to crack onto Pam’s face.
“No,” she snaps at Catherine, “Kind of like I’ve known him longer than anyone ever has.”
I try to ignore her, going over the notes as quickly as I can so I can get the hell out of here.
“Sounds like a recipe for boredom,” Catherine remarks.
“Or just a lot of memories to reminisce,” Pam gloats over her clear advantage.
“Silas and I have a few memories we can reminisce, isn’t that right,” Catherine starts, and I clench my jaw. Silas looks to me worriedly. “Like that hot kiss we shared at last week’s party.”
Catherine’s face grows red, but she manages to collect herself enough to continue her gloating, “Oh, that’s nice. But Silas and I have more profound moments together, like how…”
I am just about finished with the notes and start collecting my things, giving Matthew a polite smile as I shove my notebook into my bag.
“We were each other’s first kiss,” Pam drawls with a dirty smirk.
I could feel my face getting warm and I don’t want to face them to see Pam’s smug face and her stupid boobs. I start walking out of there with top speed and as I step outside, I feel Silas on my heels. I turn around and he jolts back, standing only inches away from me. I am momentarily mesmerized by his eyes, but remembering what Pam had just said, I become blinded with envy.
Envy. Because he was clearly hers first. That’s what she wanted to convey and she’s succeeded. I don’t have the right to be jealous, just envious.
“Wait, Lane. I’m sorry. I should have told you,” he explains as he tries to get me to look at him.
“I’m not mad, really. I’m just… really tired right now,” I start to slur my words.
“What happened? Why are you tired?”
“I just had a talk with Natasha to straighten things out. I’m tired from the crying. I don’t have the energy to deal with Pam in there and I need to get home to start and finish the project so that Matthew and I can turn it in tomorrow.”
I run out of breath, just from that explanation. I spot Damon turning into the hallway we were standing and I turn back to Silas. “I’ll catch a ride with Damon. You should go back in and get your project done.”
I kiss him on the cheek and walk toward Damon. I hear him going back into the library and I sigh in relief.
“Hey, Tammy,” Damon greets me with a dazzlingly warm smile, “What’s up?”
“Can I get a ride? I’m exhausted.”
“What’s the magic word,” he sings with the same smile.
I pout and simply state, “Lotion.”
He laughs out loud and his joy echoes in the hallowed hallways. “Alright, not what I was expecting, but I’ll take you home anyway.”
As soon as I get in his car, I fall asleep. Maybe it was all the crying, or the emotional exhaustion, or even Damon’s scent in his car, but I was tired and I felt safe.
I endure an irritating dream where Pam, without a word, steals things from my toolshed. She then proceeds to come back and take more things: a hammer, a nail, and even pieces of wood. In the end, she leaves me with nothing but a bucket of paint. I try to grab at it, but she comes back and I-
“BITCH, DON’T” I jolt awake in the passenger’s seat of Damon’s car. I turn over to see an amused look on his face, as well as surprise.
“Bad dream?” He gazes at me with a smile and I groan. Looking out the window, I realize that it is considerably later than I expected.
“How long have I been asleep?” I rub my hands on my face.
“An hour or so,” he answers, straightening his papers that lay on his lap.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” I blink at him, but he just continues to stuff his papers in his binder and closes it.
“It’s okay. You said you were exhausted. I figured it was alright since I had some homework to do anyway.”
I give him a grateful smile as I unbuckle myself and step off his large truck. “Thanks, Damon. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I walk inside and text Silas to not come over tonight, knowing that we both have our own projects to complete tonight. I needed the solitude. I needed the space.