The moment Monday came around, I woke up that morning with nerves twisting around in my stomach. I would be going back to school today, and I wasn't ready. I haven't been to school in three weeks, and the last time I was there, Marci had threatened to spread rumours. Asher told me he hadn't heard any rumours, nor had he heard anyone talking about me at school while I wasn't there, but I was still nervous.
Preston, Asher, and Daniel had all agreed to meet me outside the school so that we could walk in together so that I didn't have to be alone. Just the fact that they were willing to do that for me made me feel a bit better, even if I was still nervous.
Not only that but like Preston and I talked about, I decided to go to the principal and tell him about what Marci and Carter did to me. I was hoping it would go well, but I was still anxious about it. I never liked to be in conflict with other people, which was why I usually tried to avoid it as much as possible, but this time I had no choice but to face it. I was just glad I wasn't facing it alone.
"Usually, this is where I would say have a good day at school..." Mom trailed off, "but that's probably inappropriate to say now."
We were parked in the school's parking lot. A few teenagers walked past through the parking lot, heading inside the school, and all I could do was watch from the car.
"Yeah, probably," I chuckled softly, glancing over to Mom. She was frowning, and I bit my lip, "I don't know if I can do this."
"I know, sweetheart, but you can't avoid school forever," Mom said, "graduation is only two months away, and then you won't have to look back."
"Yeah...I know," I sighed heavily. I closed my eyes, giving myself a mental pep talk. I can do this. I can get out of this car. I can walk into school. I can get through the day. I can do this.
I can do this.
"I love you, sweetheart," Mom told me, pulling me from my thoughts. I opened my eyes again and flashed her a brief smile.
"I love you too."
Then, I braced myself and stepped out of the car. I shrugged my bag over my shoulder and closed the car door, waving at Mom through the window as she waved back, blew me a kiss, and then drove off. I watched her go, and then turned to gaze up at the large building in front of me, the place I had been dreading to come back to, and took a deep breath.
I walked through the parking lot and headed to the large front doors of the school, but I didn't go in. Instead, I waited, and after a few minutes of waiting, and staring anxiously at the front doors as other teenagers headed inside ahead of me, I felt a hand touch my shoulder gently. I nearly flinched, but when I looked up and saw that it was only Preston, I immediately relaxed.
"You alright?" Preston asked me. I sighed and nodded my head.
"Yeah...just nervous," I told him.
"That's understandable..." Preston nodded his head, "but you're not doing this alone. You have me here with you, and Asher and Daniel will be here as well. You can do this."
"Thank you for doing this with me," I murmured softly, "it...means a lot to me."
"You don't have to thank me...you deserve to have someone by your side, to help you through the hard stuff," Preston said, and he held his hand out to me, "It was wrong of me to leave you alone at such a hard point in your life, but I promise, from here on out, that I will be here to help when you need it."
I nodded. Tears brimmed my eyes, but I blinked them back and took Preston's hand in mine. He squeezed my hand gently, reassuringly. He smiled at me, and I gave him a slight smile in return.
"ADRIEN, MY SWEET!" Asher's loud voice rang in my ears, pulling me out of the moment I was having with Preston. I lifted my head as I noticed Daniel and Asher approaching us, and before I could even react, Asher was running up to me and trapping me in a tight hug—well, he tried his best at least with his 30-week pregnant belly in the way.
I nearly stumbled when he jumped me, but I was able to keep my balance as I wrapped my free arm around him, laughing softly, "hey Asher, it's nice to see you again."
"Yes, it is!! You have no idea how much I missed seeing your face!" Asher cried, tears rolling down his face, "I'm so glad you're okay, and that you're still here, you know that??"
"Hey...I'm okay, you don't need to start crying," I smiled gently, reaching up to wipe the tears off Asher's face. Asher then let go of me, sniffling as he wiped the remaining tears from his eyes, and stuck his tongue out at me.
"Listen, I got pregnancy hormones. I cry over everything," Asher said, rubbing his hand over his stomach softly.
"That's true. One time he started crying when his favourite brand of ice cream was sold out because he was craving it," Daniel cut in, an amused smile on his face. He stepped forward and pulled me into a tight embrace, and I hugged Daniel back, "I hope you're doing better, Adrien."
"I am, thanks, Daniel."
"Hey, you! I'll have you know that it was a tragedy! Perhaps you should try getting pregnant and having to deal with these cravings!" Asher poked Daniel in the chest. Daniel turned his gaze back to Asher and only laughed. He kissed him on the forehead and laid his hand against Asher's back.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Asher lifted up on his tippy toes to kiss Daniel on the lips, and then turned to face me, "but anyway, are you ready to go inside?"
"Not really," I shook my head, "but...I gotta get it over with I guess."
"I'll punch everyone who gives you a weird look," Asher said, taking Daniel's hand into his own, "well, let's go in then."
Asher followed Daniel to the front doors, and with hesitance, I followed after them with Preston by my side, our hands still intertwined. It was still early, as there were about 25 minutes until the first period started, so thankfully, there weren't too many people. We decided to come early since I wanted to talk to the principal first thing and get it over with.
When we stepped inside the school, the main foyer was mostly vacant minus a few students walking by to head up the main stairs or head down to their lockers. I followed Preston, Daniel, and Asher to the office. I bit my lip, giving myself a mental pep talk as we walked inside the office. One of the secretaries was sitting behind the desk, and she lifted her head when she noticed us walk in.
"Hello guys, what can I do for you?" She asked. Taking a deep breath, I let go of Preston's hand and I walked up to the desk, Preston coming to stand beside me.
"Is the principal available?" I asked her, "I need to talk to him...it's important."
"Yeah, I think he's in his office," She said, standing up, "I'll be right back to go see. What's your name hun?"
"Alright, I will be back in a minute," She told me, and then walked off.
When the secretary finally came back after a few minutes, she flashed the four of us a smile, "he's available. I can show you to his office if you'd like. Do all four of you need to go, or?"
"Uh, just me, but is it alright if Preston comes too?" I asked her. She nodded.
"Are you going to be okay on your own?" Asher asked me, placing his hand on my shoulder. He had a concerned look on his face. I turned to face him and smiled briefly.
"Yeah, I'll be okay."
"Alright...I'll see you first period then?"
I nodded. Asher and I exchanged a quick hug, and after that, I watched him leave the office with Daniel. Once they left, Preston and I then followed the secretary down the short hallway to the principal's office, and when we got there, she told us to wait outside his office for him before she left.
Preston and I stood outside the principal's office, and as the minutes passed, the more nervous I got. But finally, after a few minutes of waiting, the door opened and our principal, Mr. Taylor, stepped out, his gaze landing on us.
"Preston," He greeted, "nice to see you back at school."
Preston snorted, "nice to see you too, Mr. Taylor."
Mr. Taylor smirked at him, and then his gaze went to me, "Adrien, nice to see you as well. You two come on in."
He gestured us into his office. Preston and I stepped into his office before him, and we took our seats in the chairs in front of his desk. Mr. Taylor closed the office door, and then came around to sit on the edge of his desk.
"I've been meaning to see you once you came back, Adrien," Mr. Taylor mentioned, crossing his arms over his chest. He flashed me a soft smile, "Your mother came to see me while you were in the hospital and told me what happened. I'm sorry you have been having a rough time. How are you feeling?"
"I...I am okay. Doing better than I have these past few weeks," I nodded, "I just came to talk to you because I wanted to tell you about some stuff that happened."
"Yes of course," He said, "go ahead."
I bit my lip. I fiddled my fingers in my lap, hesitating for a moment before I finally gathered the courage to say what I wanted to say, "this past month I have been experiencing a lot of bullying from my peers. It started with Marci Elliott and Carter Alinsky. While I was at a party, Carter came up to me when I was alone, and he forced himself onto me. He kissed me when I didn't want him to and he wouldn't get off of me. Marci had recorded the whole thing and spread it over social media, and made everyone think that I cheated on Preston, and then the whole school started making fun of me, calling me names. She also came up to me one day when I was alone, and threatened me. Carter also came up to me one time and told me I deserved all of this, and that I asked for it..."
I rambled on before I could stop myself, and when I was finished explaining to him the entire situation, about how it led me into attempting, and into therapy. Mr. Taylor listened intently the entire time, brows furrowed in concern.
"I will have Marci and Carter come down to talk to me about this," He said, "I'm sorry this happened to you, Adrien. I will not tolerate any kind of bullying in this school. This is unacceptable. You know, you can press charges on Carter if you would like to. He sexually assaulted you by definition. That's a criminal offence."
"I know," I sighed heavily with a frown, "I just...want to put all of this behind me. I don't want to have to go through that whole process if I'm being honest. I'm exhausted as it is."
"I understand," Mr. Taylor nodded his head, "well...I will still be able to punish them. I will have a chat with them. You don't have to be there while I do so as I'm sure you wouldn't want to sit in the same room as them."
I nodded my head, "Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I really appreciate this."
"You don't have to thank me," He chuckled, "this is my job, after all, to ensure this school is a safe space for my students. Now, the bell is going to ring soon so you should get to class."
Mr. Taylor stood up from the desk and walked back over to the door. Preston and I got up from the chair and followed after him as he opened his office door. I thanked him one last time with a brief smile before stepping out of his office. Just as Preston followed, he stopped to face Mr. Taylor with a smirk.
"See? I told you that Carter guy deserved the beating I gave him--"
"Preston," Mr. Taylor rolled his eyes, "do you ever shut that big mouth of yours?"
"Not really, no."
"Well, you should," He told Preston. He paused for a moment, glancing around before he looked back to Preston, "but yes...he may have deserved it. Not that I condone any violence, Mr. King. You should know better."
Preston laughed, "see you, Mr. Taylor."
"You behave now. I don't want to see you in my office again for getting in trouble," Mr. Taylor pointed, and then, he stepped back into his office.
Preston waved at him, and when he finally turned to face me, I gave him a dry look. Preston smiled innocently at me and walked over to drape his arm over my shoulder.
"What are you giving me that look for?"
"Because Mr. Taylor was right," I commented, "you do have a big mouth, you cocky shit."
Preston laughed loudly, "why, that's a compliment."
Preston said nothing else and instead smiled at me, keeping his arm draped over my shoulders as he guided me out of the school's office. I shook my head and followed beside him, wrapping my arms around his torso with my head resting against him as we exited the office, and headed up the main stairs to our lockers.
The first two periods went better than I thought they would. Preston and I had stopped at our lockers, and when the bell rang, he walked me down to my first-period literature class. He had given me a hug before he left, and when I walked into class, I got a few brief stares, but otherwise, everyone was silent. My first-period teacher welcomed me back, and then I sat with Asher for the rest of the period while we worked on our assigned readings.
Second period, my spare period, I was called down to the principal's office and Asher came with me. When I got there, Mr. Taylor informed me that Marci confessed to everything, and so she has been suspended, and Carter had been suspended as well (again, may I add, since he had already been suspended because of his fight with Preston), and he also banned Carter from all school events, which included prom, any sports teams he was on, and field trips. That was a relief because I could still go to prom without having to worry about him.
Now, it was lunch. I walked with Asher to the cafeteria, where we'd be meeting the rest of our friends for lunch, and I wasn't going to lie, I was a bit nervous. Kourtney, Joseph, and Phoebe all had called me the week I was at home, and they apologized for their part in not believing me and not being there for me, and said that they would do better as friends.
Phoebe, in particular, had expressed her guilt for saying what she said about me and apologized, and honestly, I was still a bit mad at her for saying what she did about me. But she apologized and realized what she did and is wanting to do better. Marci and Carter would never apologize. They wanted to hurt me, and they weren't sorry for what they did, but my friends were, and that's what mattered to me.
When Asher and I wandered into the sitting areas of the cafeteria after buying ourselves food, Kourtney, Phoebe, Joseph, Daniel and Preston were already seated at our usual table. I followed Asher to the table, and once we got there, Phoebe was the first to notice. Her eyes widened and she squealed, and in an instant, she was up from her seat.
"Adrien! You're back!" Phoebe exclaimed, pulling me into a bone-crushing hug the moment she reached me, nearly knocking the food out of my hands. Luckily, Asher took the food from my hands right before she crashed into me, and I wrapped my arms around to return the hug.
"Yeah, I am," I chuckled softly, Phoebe pulling back as she placed her hands on my shoulders, a wide smile on her face.
"I'm glad you're back," She said sincerely, "and that you're doing better."
"Me too," I nodded, smiling briefly at her before Kourtney interrupted as she walked over, and she pulled me into a much gentler hug than the one Phoebe and Asher gave me. Joseph had also come to give me a hug, and after I was pretty much embraced by everyone in my friend group, we all sat back down around the table. I found my seat next to Preston, whom I noticed was eating fries with his sandwich, and so I stole a fry from him.
"Hey!" Preston exclaimed with a scoff, "you have your own lunch!"
"And? Says the one who always steals from my lunch," I said, taunting him as I put the fry in my mouth, "call this payback."
Preston shook his head in feigned disbelief, "and to think, I was going to buy you a cupcake from the bakery after school. I guess not."
I scoffed at him, "I'm still getting that cupcake."
"Yeah? We'll have to see," He smiled cheekily at me, and then, took a bite out of his sandwich. I shook my head at him, before digging into my lunch, stabbing my fork into my penne pasta.
Lunch was spent with chatter bouncing around the table, and it was at that moment, as I watched everyone talk amongst themselves around the table, talking and laughing, I realized how much I missed this. How much I missed having my friends around me, and all the fond memories we've had during our four years of high school.
After everything that happened this past month or so, I enjoyed coming back to school to some sense of normality. Even if I knew it wasn't going to be the same as before, it made me hopeful that I would be able to get through this and get my life back.