5 | Outcast
I stayed there by Ashton’s grave for a long time, talking, laughing, crying, thinking. Every little detail of my life poured out as if he was really sitting right there.
But he wasn’t. After several hours, I finally stood up to go.
“I wish I could stay here forever.” I said, a single tear running down my cheek. “You’re the only one who has every really understood me.” I sniffed and wiped away the tear. “I thought Demi knew me, but in the end…” I couldn’t finish.
I stood there silently for a minute. “Was it worth it?” I finally asked. “Would you do it all the same, knowing how it ended?”
I knew I’d never know for sure, but knowing Ashton like I did, I knew the answer was probably yes. I didn’t understand it, but that was the way he was. When I was born, he’d decided that he wanted to join the Marines when he grew up so that he could protect me from bad guys. Over the years, the details had morphed, but the desire to protect me and everyone else always stayed the same.
“But you can’t protect me when you’re not here.” I said softly. I kissed the tips of my fingers and pressed them to the top of the gravestone. “I miss you every day, Ash. That will never change.” I tried not to start crying again, but the tears streamed down my face anyway. “But you broke my heart and I’ll never forgive you for that.” I finished, sobbing. I stood there silently for several moments and then wiped my eyes.
“I love you, Ash.” I whispered, barely getting it out.
I swallowed. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing. I hadn’t said it at his funeral, or any of the other times we’d visited his grave. Saying it meant letting go completely and I couldn’t do it.
Every time we visited, I had this internal battle, telling myself that I had to let go and say goodbye, but I never did.
Now I stood there again, trying to say it, but wishing there was no need to. It felt like a betrayal. Like if I said goodbye, it meant that I wasn’t coming back. Like he hadn’t come back.
I sniffed and wiped my eyes again. “I’m sorry.” I whispered.
I turned and walked away, the tears streaming down my face.
When I got home, the reporters were no longer at our house. I paused before I entered the house, silently vowing that from here on out, I would not cry. I didn’t need everyone to see my tears and sympathize, I wanted to be treated normally.
Swallowing, I opened the door. First, I had to face Mom. As soon as I shut the door, she appeared in the hall.
“Hayden.” She opened her arms and I walked into them. I could tell that she’d been crying too. “I’m so sorry, sweetie.” We stood there for close to a minute, not saying a word.
Finally, I let go and stepped back. “What did I miss?” I asked softly.
Mom took a deep breath. “Your Dad was arrested at work last night.”
I nodded. I knew he would be, and I was glad, he deserved it. But hearing it blackened my world a little.
She continued. “When the press got a hold of it, they all showed up here trying to get an interview. It took a few hours, but the police finally got rid of them.” She sighed. “I’m sure that makes a great headline. ‘High School Soccer Sensation Hayden Starr Blindsided with Sex Scandal by Father and Teammate’.” She gave me a sad look. “Sorry.”
I shrugged. “I’m over it.” I didn’t know what to say. I set the keys on the hall table and walked past her. “I’ll be in my room.”
“Hayden,” Mom grabbed my arm. She looked anxious. “Hayden, I knew your dad was having an affair, but I swear I didn’t know it was Demi.” Her eyes pled for my forgiveness. For what exactly, I didn’t know. I had no idea how she’d acted so content that whole time.
“I know you didn’t.” She would’ve never let that go on had she known. I gave her a sad smile and headed back down the hall.
When I got to my room, I stopped and smiled. Mom had cleaned it up, placing all reminders of Demi and Dad in a box on my desk. I shoved the box under the desk and started my homework. I knew going to school would be hard, but there were only two weeks left and I didn’t intend to back out early.
The next morning, when I arrived at school, I wasn’t so sure that I’d picked the right option. Mom didn’t think I should go back for a few days, but I’d convinced her that I would be okay. Pulling into the parking lot now, I wasn’t so sure.
The parking lot was full of reporters and TV crews. I saw it coming, but there was nothing I could do. I was swarmed the moment I stepped out of my car.
“Hayden! What do you have to say about the relationship between your dad and teammate, Demi Ruud?” One reporter called out.
I ignored them and started toward the school, which was very difficult, considering the mob and had formed around me. A TV crewman stuck a camera in front of my face.
I ducked my head and held out my hand, trying to shield my face from his camera and all the rest.
All of the sudden, Coach and Principal Freeman appeared in the mob. Coach grabbed my hand. “Stay close.” He called over the commotion.
I followed him and Principal Freeman as they cleared a path for me to the doors, shielding me from the cameras. Once inside, they ushered me straight into the principal’s office.
Principal Freeman motioned for me to sit down. “What were you thinking coming to school today?” He asked.
I sat down. “I had no idea the story was this big.” I told him honestly.
Coach cleared his throat and gave me a tentative smile. “Hayden, the story was on the national news this morning.”
My shoulders slumped. “What?”
Principal Freeman nodded. “You didn’t know?”
I shook my head. “I turned my social media notifications off, and my mom doesn’t watch the news.”
Principal Freeman peered out the window. “The law says the news crews can’t come inside the school building without permission, and they can’t be on the property during school hours, but it doesn’t say anything about before and after classes. You should go home.”
“No.” I shook my head. “There’s not even two weeks left of school. I don’t want to miss it, even if that means coming early and staying late so the media doesn’t catch me.”
“Hayden,” Principal Freeman eyed me. “You don’t need to keep coming to school. Given the circumstances and your attendance record and grades, I’ll allow you to finish out the year at home.”
I shook my head again. “No. I want to come to school.”
Staying home meant accepting that this was a bigger deal than I wanted it to be and I wasn’t ready for that.
“I’ll keep an eye on her.” Coach offered.
Principal Freeman sighed and nodded. “All right. But Hayden, if you change your mind, just let me know.”
I nodded and left the office.
Classes had already started, so the halls were empty as I headed to my first class. When I got to the door of the classroom, I paused.
“Just stay calm, Hayden.” I whispered to myself. I took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
Every eye in the classroom turned to me.
“Uh, sorry.” I hurried to my seat and sat down.
Mrs. Miles stared at me for a moment and then continued with her biology lecture.
I smiled at Rachel, who was sitting across the aisle from me.
She ducked her head and looked away. It was a dramatic change from two days before. I shifted my attention back to Mrs. Miles.
A few minutes later, I felt someone nudge my back. I turned and Scott handed me a note, avoiding eye contact with me. I glanced past him and saw Tyler, one of Jayce’s friends, grin at me.
I turned back around and opened the note.
“Biology is so boring.” It read. “Want to help me out with some anatomy later?” He’d drawn a picture of a penis below it.
I clenched my jaw. He didn’t really want to know if I’d have sex with him. The note was just his way of making himself feel superior to me.
I grabbed a pencil from my backpack.
“Last I checked, you were failing biology.” I wrote. “It makes no sense to add another science to your homework.”
I folded the note back up and handed it back to Scott, not bothering to turn around. I didn’t even care what Tyler’s reaction was.
I knew it wasn’t much of a burn, but the small victory made me feel like maybe, I could get through the day okay.
After the next few hours, I wasn’t so sure that I would be okay. Everywhere I went, I could tell that people were staring, but whenever I looked at someone, they averted their eyes and ignored me. The offhanded comments of “slut” and “hoe” as I walked down the hall were getting to me.
By the time the lunch bell rang, I was about to burst into tears again. I couldn’t take any more of the stares and cruelty.
Instead of going to the cafeteria for lunch, I went out to the cover field. I just wanted to be alone.
I laid in the middle of the field and fingered Ashton’s dog tags.
“Help me, Ash.” I whispered, staring into the sky.
“You coming back to class?” A voice asked.
I turned my head and saw Kevan approaching from the school. “If you’re here to say something mean or suggestive, just turn around. I’ve already heard it.” I said, turning away again.
He walked up and sat down next to me. “Actually, I thought maybe you could use a friend.”
I sat up and glanced at him. “I’m not sure being my friend is really something you want to do.”
“Why is that?” He looked at me.
I looked away. “You know why.”
“No, I don’t.” He paused. “Your life just turned upside down and now everyone is blaming you for something you didn’t do. There is absolutely no reason I wouldn’t step forward as your friend.”
I looked at him and saw that he was one-hundred percent serious. “I’m not sure your social standing would be quite the same if someone saw us together.” I told him.
He gave me a look. “Seriously? I don’t care what they think of me and you shouldn’t care what they think of you either. We both know you didn’t do anything wrong. If someone dares indicate that it’s your fault or that you are at all less than perfect, I will gladly flatten their face. Guy or girl.” He added.
Once again, I could tell he was serious. I smiled at him. “Thanks, but no thanks. I can deal with it. There’s only a week and a half left of school and then everyone will forget about it.” At least I hoped they would.
“Well if you ever need to talk to someone, just give me a call. Anytime.” He stood up. “You want to walk back to the school?”
I shook my head and laid back down. “No, you go ahead. I’m gonna stay here a bit longer.”
He nodded and started walking away.
Suddenly, I remembered something I’d wanted to tell him and sat back up. “Wait!”
Kevan stopped and turned.
I smiled. “You should ask Kaylee out.” I told him
Kevan’s eyes narrowed. “And why’s that?”
I grinned and shrugged. “You never know, she might just be your other half.”
He smiled and walked away.
I watched him go, thinking about Kaylee and the rest of my friends. They may hate me, but I still wanted them to be happy. I would never wish my situation on anyone else, even if it was partly their fault.
I leaned back on my elbows, and a chilled feeling swept over me. It felt like someone was behind me, watching me. Twisting around to see if someone was there, I spied a dark figure retreating behind the bleachers.
I sat up quickly and peered at the spot. “Hello?” I called. There was no response, but I knew I’d seen something.
Someone had been standing there, watching me. It had probably just been some news person, hoping to get a picture or something, but I still felt uneasy as I gathered my things and headed back to the school.
The rest of the day, I tried to take what Kevan had said to heart, and I didn’t let the remarks and looks people gave me bother me. He was right. I’d done nothing wrong, so I shouldn’t let what other people thought upset me. If they wanted to assume things about me, let them. They weren’t the people whose thoughts really mattered.
At least that’s what I thought.
I used the bathroom right before last period and while I was washing my hands, Grace came out of one of the stalls. When she saw me, she visibly started.
I smiled at her, but she averted her eyes and silently moved to wash her hands.
That hurt. She was my teammate, one of my best friends, and even she hated me.
Grace finished washing her hands and started to leave, but then stopped. She glanced back at me and bit her lip. “I’m really sorry Hayden.” She said. “I know it must be awful for you, but I don’t want people to treat me the same way because I’m your friend.”
I nodded sadly. I’d suspected as much. “I understand.” I told her.
Grace hesitated, as if to say something else, but then shook her head and left.
I was still standing there, thinking, when the door opened again. I glanced up and saw Jayce walk around the corner. He stopped when he saw me.
“Oh! Hi Hayden.” Jayce acted surprised to see me there.
I grimaced. “Who were you expecting? This is the girls’ room.”
Jayce eyed me, a lazy smile on his face. “I came in here to see you, actually. I heard you put Tyler in his place earlier in biology.”
I swallowed. I had no idea where this was going, but I was pretty sure wherever it was, I wouldn’t like it.
I started toward the door, but Jayce met me halfway, blocking my way and trapping me against one of the stalls.
“I took biology last year.” He said softly. “And I passed.” His body was inches away from mine. “Maybe you could help me with a little anatomy.” He laid his hand on my arm.
I stiffened and shrugged his hand away. “Get out of my way.” I said, my heart pounding.
Jayce laughed, but didn’t move. “You realize no guy will ever actually want you now, right?” He leaned in a little. “I’m the only one.” He whispered.
I met his eyes unflinchingly. “You don’t want me. You want my body.” I lifted my chin. “Now get out of my way or you’ll be sorry.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was planning to do if he didn’t move, but I’d gotten black belts in both Taekwondo and Judo and a red belt in Karate when I was in middle school and I still trained on my own for fun.
Ashton was the one who’d gotten me into it. He’d introduced me to his sensei when I was seven, and I was a quick study. By the time Ashton left for the Marines, when I was twelve and he was eighteen, we were pretty evenly matched.
Jayce was bigger than Ashton, but not as muscular and I was pretty sure I could at least do some pretty good damage. Enough to get away at least. If not, I could always scream. They were both good ways to rid myself of the anger and frustration that had been building up the last few days.
Jayce knew I practiced martial arts, and he stared at me for a moment before backing away, a dark glint in his eyes. “Girls don’t turn me down.” He said.
“Are you trying to threaten me?” I asked.
He didn’t answer and I started for the door, my heart pounding. I stopped at the corner and turned, meeting his hard stare. “You need to work on your mean face, Jayce.” I said. “It’s not scary enough.” I turned and left the bathroom.
It was a huge lie. The whole encounter had been terrifying, even knowing that I could defend myself. I’d only said that because I wanted him to think that I hadn’t been scared. He’d never done anything like that to me before, but I guess he thought my new status and an outcast made me an easy target.