“Freakkkkkk!!!” A high pitch voice rings out through the hallway, followed by more. Chanting. Taunting. Stomping of feet. Hands clap near my ears.
My hands curl in on my head, trying to cover my ears from the barrage of high-pitched yells piercing my eardrums. Hands finding my shoulders. My waist. They’re touching me. Poking me. Prodding me. Pinching me. Repeatedly. They shout that ridiculous nickname at me. Yelling it across the halls, encouraging others to follow suit. And everyone does. There’s nothing but yells and cheers filtering through the hallways.
“Stupid freak!” More yells, more taunts come from the surrounding students.
“Dumbass freak!!” Another one shouts directly in my ear. Their voices carry through the hallways, echoing off the locker-lined walls. Closing in on me like the walls of a tiny prison.
Hands. They’re everywhere. Jostling my body around in the halls. My breaths pick up. Sweat pours from palms and down my back. I can’t scream. My throat tightens, choking my voice away, tightening it down like tiny vines encasing it. My hands tremble around my ears, barely able to escape their shouts. The shock of it all makes me want to curl up into a little ball right here on the floor and float away.
“ENOUGH!” A voice booms in front of me, sounding a lot like Zepp. An arm circles around my shoulders, guiding me down the hallway. I flinch with every touch.
“It’s ok, Kaycee, we’ve got you,” Seger whispers in my ear with a soothing voice. My eyes glaze over in a mind-numbing darkness. My feet still move. My body still feels. But I’m not here. I’m floating above my heaving body, being dragged by the twins and Chase down the hallway to safety. The only thing anchoring me to the world around me is them.
A door squeaks open, hands pushing my back against a bitter icy wall. Sending a gasp through my lips. I place my palms against the cool wall, trying to bring myself back to the present world. But it takes more than that to ease off the panic.
“She’s panicking,” Zepp's distorted voice says from far away. His voice drowns in the depths of the water surrounding my hearing.
“How do we fix it?” It’s...it’s Chase this time, his voice laced in concern, border lining panic in his own tone. I can almost imagine the look on his handsome face.
“Just keep those fucking pricks away from her,” Seger growls from in front of me, pacing the floor with his hands roaming through his hair.
“Kaycee,” Zepp whispers from in front of me now, but his voice. He still sounds like he’s drowning in an ocean. My body flinches when two hands cup my cheeks, turning my head so they can look me over. Back and forth. Unlike the unwanted touches from the pupils of the school, Zepp’s touch is soothing. Not like the millions of ants crawling under my clothing. Lining my skin in a sickening march of itches. Scratch. I need to scratch them away.
I swallow hard, leaning into his touch. My heart slows its frantic drumbeat inside my chest. And my breaths come back down from the heaving I had to do.
“I’m ok,” I whisper hoarsely, not sounding like myself.
“Fucking clearly you are,” Seger growls again from my right, running a finger down my hair.
“I told you, they’re going to kill her,” Chase whispers from over their shoulders. “They’re starting to get physical. What’s next?” His voice raises, his hand slaps down onto his thighs. “Talk sense into her. I mean—look at her!” He yells now, but there’s no anger in his words. It’s laced with frantic concern for me.
“You’re not fucking helping, Benoit. We see her, we have fucking eyes.” Seger shouts back, getting into Chase’s face, standing nose to nose. “We’re doing the best we can,” Seger growls again, stepping back, running a hand down his face.
“I’ll be fine,” I whisper again, my face still leaning into the warmth of Zepp’s hands. “It’s just…. just an overload. I can’t….” I take a deep breath, holding it in my lungs for a few seconds, and finally letting it go. Bringing the oxygen back to my brain and body seems to bring me back to the land of the living. At least a little bit. I’m not fully recovered from this yet, that’ll take a while for me.
“I understand,” Zepp whispers, so only I can hear him. I hum, blowing a breath from my lips.
“What happened?” Chase whispers softly, taking a step closer, brows dipping with confusion. His hands come out and he takes one of mine in his. Gently squeezing his support, waiting for me to explain.
“I—don’t do touching. It makes me feel like I’m blistering, I just--” Chase tries to pull his hand away from mine, but my grip is too tight to let him go. I don’t want to let him go. His hand in mine feels right, comforting, and I’ll take anything I can get to feel better right now.
“And this…?” Zepp asks, gesturing towards his own hands on my cheeks. “This is ok?”
“Yes,” I nod my head. “This is fine, it’s….. hard to explain.” My lips form a sad smile, but I revel in their touches. They’ll never understand how much their hands on me right now feel like heaven laced in gold.
“It’s because she wants us to touch her, ain’t that right, New Girl?” Seger asks through a laugh, lightly touching my loose hair again. I snort in response, batting his hand away playfully.
“You wish, handsome.” I smile, peeking an eye open to look at him. Then the others. They’re surrounding me like a support unit. Eyes boring into me, checking to see if I’ll be ok.
“If you keep calling me handsome, I’m going to start to think you like me or something…” Seger jokes again, stepping back to fold his arms across his chest. His eyes continue to search me up and down, thoroughly looking me over.
“Or something,” I poke back, sticking my tongue out.
“So, you’re ok now?” Zepp asks, taking a step back too. His eyes examine every inch of my body too, trying to find anything wrong with me.
“I’ll be ok,” I confirm, still clinging to Chase’s hand. “It’ll just take a minute for me to calm down my skin…” I trail off, furrowing my eyebrows at the realization. Everything has subsided since they’ve talked me off the ledge. There’s no more tingling or ants crawling all over me, it’s just normal.
“What?” Chase asks, squeezing my hand again, pulling me back into the conversation.
“Usually, I get…...when I’m touched…..my skin gets…. irritated.” I tilt my head.
“But now?” Seger asks.
“It feels like nothing,” I say through a breath, looking between the guys. “I feel...it’s not there, it’s always there.” I whisper, a smile growing on my face. A bell rings overhead, warning us it’s almost time for class.
“You want me to cover for you again?” Zepp asks, but I shake my head. I can do this. Fuck them for trying to get to me. I won’t let these jerks tear me down ever again. I had my day of sulking, but today, I’m strong.
“No, no, I’ll make it.” I give him a reassuring head shake, taking a step forward. “But... but what about you guys?” I ask, looking between the three of them again. “Won’t they?” Chase’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline at my words, but the twins look at each other.
“Like I told you in the library, fuck their games. Fuck their rules. And fuck that. If they want to release it, then let them fucking release it.” Seger shrugs like it’s no big deal, but I know it is.
“You don’t have to do that for me--”
“The fuck I don’t!” Seger bursts again, reaching down to grab his book bag. “The fuck I won’t. I’ll see you at lunch.” He says, jumbling his words, and takes off out the empty classroom door. Letting it slam behind him, shaking the surrounding walls.
“Zepp?” I ask, putting a hand in his. “Are you sure?” I whisper. “Because I get it--”
“Just like Seger said, fuck their games and fuck them. Seriously, Kaycee, they’re gunning for you, for what?” He shrugs his shoulders and squeezes my hand too. “We were too scared to do anything before, but now? Screw it. We’re in this together. I won’t let anything else happen, you have my word.” Zepp’s teeth grit together as he speaks with such conviction, it leaves no room for doubt. The twins are on my side no matter what.
“What…. how…..?” Chase stammers over his words, eyes wide, staring down at me. Going back and forth between me and Zepp, almost at the point of hysterical.
“It’s a lot to explain,” Zepp says before I can talk. “But we’ll tell you all about it. But... not right now. We should get to class?” Waving a hand toward the door, we all respond walking towards it.
“I’ll walk her to her locker,” Chase says, still holding tight to my hand, and not letting me go alone.
“You sure?” Zepp asks, keeping our pinkies together before letting go. He eyes Chase with a critical eye because once Chase does this, he’ll be a pariah just like me. Just like Zepp and Seger. They fought for me on more than one occasion.
“Yes,” Chase says, pulling me out the door as his definitive answer. He keeps his large body in front of mine, pulling me down the hallway. He breaks through the crowd who by now have no interest in spewing terrible names in my direction.
“You don’t have to do this for me, either, you know?” I whisper from beside him, guilt seeping into my bones. If I’m getting treated like the enemy, how would they treat him? And the twins? I undo my lock from my locker, looking over at him. His grey eyes collide with mine like an ocean meeting the rocks. Heavy emotions pour from his stare, conveying everything I need to know right now. He’s not leaving. He’s concerned for me and wants to help.
“Yeah... yeah I do,” He responds right away, digging his hands into his pockets. “Like they said, I’m tired of it.” He keeps his head hanging low. Guilt tackles me with force, nearly knocking my breaths from my lungs. They’re my knights in shining armor, taking a stand against an invisible force, and together we will defeat them. No matter how hard it gets. We will weave and shred with our swords and take them out once and for all.
I dig through my locker, thankful there’s nothing stinky in there. If I ever find shit in my locker again, I might start throwing it around. I’ll fling it in their faces and make them pay for what they’ve done. Today, though, no shit exists, thankfully since I started using my locker again. Only a single white envelope addressed to me sits on top of my toppled books. With shaking hands, I pick the envelope up and tear it open.
‘Meet me in the closet again. Today, lunchtime. C. B’. I swallow a lump in my throat and look up at Chase. He eyes the letter in my hand and then takes it back, shoving it into his back pocket.
“You’ll be there?” He whispers, hope brimming in his eyes. I nod without hesitation.
“Yeah, I’ll be there. You aren’t going to murder me, are you?” I ask through a joke, well maybe a joke. Chase wouldn’t harm me, would he? I know for a fact the twins are on my side, but Chase? He’s a good guy deep down and I know the stakes at play for most everyone at this school. A ghost of a smile touches his lips, shaking his head back and forth. A laugh even escapes him, something foreign to him these past few weeks. It’s nice to see something familiar. His laugh. His smile. I missed those since that first week of school when he and I really got to know one another. I’ve missed him. More than I ever thought I would.
“Not a chance in hell, New Girl. Now, let’s go to Calc?” I get my book and we take off down the almost empty hall together. He stays by my side until we reach the classroom. Where I park my butt on my perch and he sits in his seat.
The rest of the day stays the same. Chase still keeps his distance from me. But his stare is everywhere. His eyes burn holes into the side of my head every time I turn. He’s there. He’s watching. But there’s something holding him back. Zepp and Seger have publicly outed themselves as my ally. Chase is sitting on the fence, a leg on each side, debating whether he’d jump down to save me. I can only pray to the lord above, Chase will make the right choice when the time comes. A sharp pain penetrates my heart at the thought. Would Chase swoop in without Zepp and Seger by his side? Or would he let me drown at the hands of my enemies?
I make my way down the hall towards the tiny janitor’s closet in no-man's-land. Thankfully, after double-checking, it’s still a dead zone in this area of the school. Which means the cameras won’t capture our comings and goings, so the Apocalypse fucker won’t come after Chase too. Surprisingly, more doesn’t happen on this end of the school, only in the maze. Thank God. I’d hate to walk in on someone doing the nasty in this little slice of privacy.
When I reach the closet, I can’t help but look around. No one is in sight to see me step into the small confined closet. Which is fine by me. The last thing Chase needs is for someone to see him come in here with me. Whatever they’re holding over his head must be big for him to still keep his distance despite his words.
As I lean against the cool, bare concrete wall, my mind wanders. I can’t help to question why he’d want me back in here. Maybe this is a place he feels most secure talking to me. Which I get. Who wants to be seen with the school pariah an invisible cult is after? I wouldn’t. I’d be scared shitless. I can’t really blame him for any of his actions, especially after learning what they had on the twins.
The door opens, letting sunlight from the hall pour into the small closet. Illuminating Chase’s broad-shouldered body in the door frame. Today Chase seems more---Chase like. Bringing back the easy-going, lop-sided grin-guy I met a few weeks back.
“Why the closet?” I ask, raising a brow. Chase secures the door, popping the lock. He advances on me in slow motion, walking with his hands tucked into his pockets.
“You said it was a dead zone for cameras, right?” His familiar teasing tone slips back into his voice, relaxing my tense shoulders.
“The whole hallway has no camera access.” I retort matter-of-factly. He nods, leaning against the wall beside me. Towering over my small form, staring down into my eyes.
“I’m sorry things have been so shitty. I’m sorry for me.” Chase rushes his words out in one breath. His body tenses, my eyes tearing him apart piece by piece. Trying to turn his confession over in my mind, making sure he’s truthful.
“When did they threaten you?” His face falls, a pale color taking over his cheeks.
His Adam's apple bobs, “After the first week.” He breathes, barely able to get it out. All the moisture on my tongue evaporates at his confession. I don’t have the heart to ask him what they have on him. By the way his face falls and pales like a ghost, it has to be bad. Worse than the twin’s sex tape secret. My eyes find the cracks in the concrete floor, trailing their seam to the other side of the room.
“I’m sorry,” Chase whispers with such sorrow it breaks my heart. “I—that week, when I put those things in your locker, was the best week I’ve had in years. I’ve never — had never—done something like that for any girl. But it was amazing. It made my day to see the smile on your face. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it for anyone else, but you.” A faint smile tickles his lips, reminiscing about our short time of getting to know each other.
My mind goes back to my time in the VIP box, watching Chase weave through his opponents on the football field with ease. Expertly making it to the goal fifty yards down the field, as Seger and Zepp took down his enemy. Sweat poured from his skin under the bright spotlights, highlighting his touchdown victory dance. He looked so dreamy that night. And then in the maze…. The party we went to together, all four of us. Chase is a delectable human being, there’s no doubt about it. If Seger is my rock God from hell sent to torture me with his delicious tattoos and Zepp is the computer nerd, I never knew I needed. Then Chase is that classic boy next door. With the blonde hair, sun-kissed skin, and a heart of gold. Ready to take on anyone who attacks you. He’s the football player sent to tackle your heart and steal it right from under your nose. I’ve always said I could get lost in him. Let him take me away to a different existence where our bodies sing melodies, molding together until we scream out in our ecstasy. I’d be more than happy to let him tear me apart, in a good way. And just maybe, right now, I wouldn’t mind.
“You were so hot on the football field,” I say before I realize I’ve said it. Letting the memory take over my brain again.
He swallows hard again, running a burning finger down my jaw. “Does it bother you when I do this?” He asks, running his fingers across my cheek, down my jaw, and through my hair. The feeling of his skin against mine brings nothing but pure pleasure. Pleasure with no pain involved.
“No,” I breathe out, barely able to get my tongue to work. His body steps into mine, invading my personal space with his own. Body heat pours into mine, warming the goosebumps on my flesh. My head spins like I’ve taken a rollercoaster ride. My stomach rolls in waves as his lips find my cheek. Desperately, I want him to devour my mouth with his.
“Why did you want to meet in here?” I whisper, his lips lingering on my cheek. Scorching my flesh with his wanting intensity, an intensity I want. Crave. Need. I want his lips on mine in our own little oasis, secretly nestled away from the rest of the school.
“I—wanted to see you again, like this. Just us separated from the world, for just a second. Just us.” With every word he speaks, his warm breaths collide with my cheek, moving closer and closer to my mouth.
“Just us,” I whisper in confirmation. “Our space.”
“For now,” he whispers, taking a step back from me with conflict in his eyes. “I—uh—I wanted to give this back.” He reaches into his pocket, pulling out his old IPOD. Taking it into my hand, I smile at the butterflies it gives me. Something so simple, so small, brings me a comfort I never knew I needed. I spent much of the first week after he gave me this listening to every song on the playlist. Never imagining that he’d give it back to me.
“Thank you,” I smile, thumbing through the playlist labeled “For Her”.
“I put some of the Hartbrakers older songs on there when they got their start. Again, don’t tell Zoe, she’ll think I’m a creep or something. I just... their music…”
“They really have a way with words,” I confirm, nodding my head. “Really speaks to the soul.” In some ways, I didn’t know I needed it, but I don’t add that part. I’m too mesmerized by the screen in front of me. Illuminating my face in the dark closet.
“This one’s my favorite,” Chase says, pointing a finger to a song called “When the Hart calls”. I smile and click on it, it’s soft tunes weaving through the air. The melody is simple. The words resonate in my heart. This moment connects Chase and me in ways we’ll never know.
“Whhhennn my heart calllsss uppon yourrrrssss listen to its melody beyond the sounds. Feeeeeel the beat beneath my chest and when my heart calls you best catch me when it fallllssss.” Chase’s eyes close, arms swinging wildly around him. His deep voice bellows out the lyrics like he’s listened to them on repeat for years.
“I love it,” I say. The song fades to nothing, fading into the next song by the Hartbrakers. “They’re so good. I don’t know how I’ve lived my entire life without this music.” I thumb through the playlist, noting different musicians in there too.
“Well then, that’s why I’m here, to show you the way to great music.” Chase flashes me his signature lopsided grin. Bringing himself back to the happy-go-lucky boy I adore.
I stuff the iPod into my skirt pocket, thanking him again. “Meet me back here every Friday?” Chase smiles at me again, hope lingering in his eyes. If these are the steps, I have to take to get him back, then so be it. I’ll meet him in this closet every day for the rest of the year if I can just get this slice of him
“Lunchtime again?” He nods his head.
“Bring the IPOD, I’ll load new music on there for you each week. You’ll be an expert before you know it. And then we can really discuss the Hartbrakers in depth.” He nods towards the IPOD and I agree.
“Well, I have to get to the house. The guys get me my lunch, I’ll see you later?” Before he can answer, Chase leans down, leaving a lingering kiss against my cheek.
“Yes,” he breathes and walks out of the room. As I watch the door shut and the light fades from the room, my fingers trace the spot his lips were. My flesh tingles in delight. A loopy smile takes over my face.
Now that I know the circumstances are different, butterflies churn in my stomach. Chase. Zepp. Seger. They aren’t murderers. Far from it. They’re my allies, the people I will rely on for the rest of my time here to survive. Thanks to Magnolia’s cryptic code, I can cross them off my list.
As the day progresses, something in my stomach flips. A sense of foreboding sits heavy on my shoulders. Lunch with Zepp and Seger went off without a hitch. They walked me back to class with no shame and made sure I made it safely. Telling me they’ll see me after their game tonight and we’ll all have dinner again. But I can’t help the bad feeling creeping up my spine at every turn I take. I try to shrug it off. I know I’m in a little danger here, but how far would this invisible army take things?
I close my locker at the end of the day. The hallway cleared out minutes ago, kids excited for the weekend ahead. Lots of planning happening around me with the football game and after-party. Something Zepp had mentioned to me over lunch, inviting me to the house to hang out if I wanted. They were not ashamed to have me around when they partied with their classmates and even promised to keep me safe.
As I step out the door into the sunlight, my hackles rise. The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, goosebumps sprouting along my arms. The heat of the day disappeared but still clung to the air. A small breeze flies past me, swirling my hair in its breeze. I shake off the feeling and high tail it around the building toward my apartment. If I can make it to my apartment, I know I’ll be safe. But this feeling isn’t going away.
A hand clasps around my mouth, muffling my tiny cries for help. Other hands paw at my arms and legs, dragging me off the ground. I kick. I scream. I do anything I can to get the three enormous bodies off of me, but it doesn’t help. They lead us down an empty sidewalk, to the rear of the school, where a single dumpster sits against the wall.
“No, No, No,” my mumbled scream rumbles against the palm clasped over my mouth, but they don’t remove it. They hold on tighter, crushing my lips against their palm.
“They warned you. Your friends have been warned and now your punishment awaits.” Trent. It’s fucking Trent whispering harsh words in my ear.
“Have fun with the trash, trash.” Oscar laughs from beside me. I’d never forgotten his manic laugh from the library. The third person I can’t see, but he lifts the lid of the dumpster. The putrid scent of old diapers, fish, and rotting trash erupts from the depths of it, making a gag hit the back of my throat.
“Have fun, Troll.” Fucking Carter. I grit my teeth together, grinding them while they handle me like a rag doll. There’s no mistaking that stupid voice or stupid nickname. They rip my backpack off my back, taking my cell phone with them. And without hearing my pleading protests, they toss me in the nearly empty dumpster without care. I thud at the bottom of the dumpster, surrounded by a small amount of trash. Something sharp cuts into my leg, making me cry out. I clutch the slice on my leg, almost panicking when tiny amounts of blood seep onto my fingertips.
“No, No, please, please don’t do this,” I beg from the bottom of the dumpster, curling my hands together like a pathetic loser. They stare down at me, smiles on their faces, and malice in their eyes.
“Can’t do that. They warned you.” Trent says with a shrug, sauntering off out of view. Oscar follows, but not before flipping me the bird.
“You best start praying someone fucking walks by to save your troll ass or you’ll go out in the morning pickup.” Carter tilts his head down at me. He sticks around for a minute, rifling through my backpack with an evil smile on his face. “Oh how fucking nice, you left your keys for me and your cell phone. No calling your fuck boys now.” He lifts a brow, waving my phone in front of me. “Bye, Troll. You can scream all you want, but who’s going to notice you’re missing?” Carter shrugs, shutting the dumpster’s lid, leaving me in complete darkness. Two heavy thuds reverberate through the dumpster, coming from above me on the lid. I rise to my feet, my fingertips barely skimming the lid. Damn short stature. I push with all my might, lifting onto my tippy toes. Useless. It’s a useless fight. There’s something heavy pushing the lid down. There’s no way I can get out of here on my own. And Carter’s right. Who is going to notice I’m gone? The boys? It’s Friday, they have a game, and then a party. They won’t notice I’m not present for any of it until I’ve been taken by a garbage truck.
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Please don’t panic yet. My breaths constrict in my chest. My heart pumps a frantic beat, pushing panic through my bloodstream. Tears spring out of my eyes as I crawl toward the wall of the dumpster. I press my ear to it, listening to his distorted footsteps walk away, and then silence. Crickets chirp. The wind rustles the leaves. Every sound echoes through my new, dank, dark prison.
I bang on the wall with all my might; the metal echoing in my ears. “Help,” I yell into nothingness, hoping for someone to walk by. Hoping. Praying. Needing someone to save me this time.
Because it’s all I can hope for. I don’t have a phone to call from. I have nothing……... And who’s going to notice I’m missing? Everyone is under blackmail orders to ignore and torture me. The only people I can count on are the boys who are carving their way into my heart.
Where’s my knight in shining armor when I need him this time?
Sorry friends, I left you out on that cliffy there. Just don't be too mad at me! Kaycee has a new home in the dumpster! Until next week! ❤❤