“MJ!” The more Mina tried to drown out the sound of her friend’s accusations the louder and rowdier she became, until the eyes of every student in the hall were plastered to the scene unfolding in front of them. Mina was walking as fast as she could through the halls, but the more she ran the louder Noah seemed to grow, until the sound of her voice was deafening in the hoard of student’s chatter. “MJ! You know I’m right” She needed to keep walking, she couldn’t turn around. She couldn’t stop. “He probably pushed him.” Khalil wouldn’t do that. Khalil wouldn’t hurt anybody. “Khalil pushed Chris off the balcony!” It seemed as if the entire world had paused at those words. Everyone in the halls had grown completely silent, and every pair of eyes was trained on Mina. They were all waiting to hear what she was going to say. Waiting to see what she was going to do.
In all honesty, Mina had no idea what to do, but turning around and storming over to Noah with a look of pure anger on her face seemed like a good start. She grabbed her friend by the arm, digging her nails into the skin of her exposed wrist, as she dragged the pair of them away from the crowd of peering eyes and into an empty hall in the opposite direction.
“Ow!” Noah yelled as Mina twisted her arm around, bringing them face to face with one another in the middle of the hall. She began rubbing her wrist as soon as Mina let go, her face now mimicking Mina’s. It seemed as if they both wanted to kill each other at the moment.
“What the hell is wrong with you!” Mina began shouting first, her arms crossed over her chest in accusation. “Noah, you can’t yell things like that in the hallway. You can’t start rumors like that around here.”
“It’s not a rumor MJ, and I think you know that deep down, whether you want to admit it or not.” Mina scoffed, her eyes rolling to the back oh her head in disbelief. This school practically lived off drama and turmoil, and she was tired of it! She was tired of the fake friends, the fake teachers, the rumors, and the drama. She just wished it would all stop. “Khalil was the last person to talk to Chris before he was found. The last person MJ!”
Mina was shaking her head fervently now, still trying to desperately drown out Noah’s lies and accusations. Khalil was tall and lanky with sorrowful and eyes and anxiety that seemed to constantly pierce his nerves. There was no way Khalil could have hurt anyone even if he tried.
“They were arguing that night MJ!” Noah powered on, ignoring the wave of uncomfort that was slowly beginning to wash over her friends face. “I saw him come down the stairs! Khalil must’ve pushed him over the railing! It’s the only explanation....it’s the only explanation and you know it!”
“Would you just stop! You’re being ridiculous! Listen to yourself!” Her voice was wavering now, and she had to bite down on her lip to keep them from quivering uncontrollably. “Khalil did argue with Chris that night, and they were both upstairs, but Khalil told me that they talked. They worked things out Noah!”
“And you believed him?” She scoffed, throwing her hands up into the air in exasperation. Mina felt exactly how she looked.
“Why would he lie?” Mina was on the verge of tears now, he voice quivering with each syllable she spoke. She wanted to believe her friend, but she also wanted to believe Khalil. She didn’t know who to listen to. She didn’t know who to trust.
“He’s lying about his parents! Who else knows what he’s lying about MJ! What if he hurts somebody else-” She paused. “What if he hurts you?” Noah’s voice was quiet as she spoke this time, the vicious anger behind her voice evaporated and was instead replaced by a fervent worry.
“Y-yo-you need to drop this.” Mina was shaking her head again, overwhelmed by all the thoughts running through her head. “You need to drop this now Noah. I mean it. I won’t let you talk about him this way.”
A sarcastic laugh escaped Noah’s lips and suddenly the pair of them were back where they were before. The animosity in her voice returning. “What the hell is wrong with you? You barely know him and he’s already got you wrapped around his finger!” She was still laughing, but Mina couldn’t find anything amusing about the situation. Her friend was scaring her, scaring her more than she had ever scared her before.
“What?” she continued, laughingly. “What, are you-are you like-like in love with him or something?”
An awkward silence overtook the already deserted hallway as Noah’s question lingered in the air unanswered and her sarcastic smile slowly began to fade just as quickly as it had appeared.
Love. Love was a strong word. She didn’t even use that word with Asher, but she couldn’t deny that she enjoyed herself a little more when she was around Khalil. He wasn’t the same as all these other stuck up rich kids that surrounded her, he wasn’t interested in her money or her popularity or anything else that her “friends” around her were. He was real, and she needed something real in her life.
“No!” Mina’s eyes widened as she forcefully denied Noah’s accusations, but it was already too late. She had faltered for to long.
“M-MJ?” She was stuttering in shock now. “M-Mina? Do you-”
“MJ!” Mina had never been so happy to hear the sound of pounding feet against the linoleum floors behind her, but her elation quickly faded when she realized who the deep and sweet voice and heavy footsteps belonged to. No. Not now. Suddenly her own fidgeting hands were the only thing Mina could focus on, because she was afraid if she looked into the light eyes of her boyfriend she might burst into tears. Noah was making things complicated. Things weren’t supposed to be this complicated.
The broad lacrosse player was out of breath when he arrived in front of the two girls and, for a moment, he stood bent over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. “I’ve been looking for you guys!” he managed to wheeze out once he was standing up straight again, but Mina couldn’t gather the courage to look at him straight on. She was afraid that if she glanced at him, even once, she would give herself away and burst into uncontrollable tears.
She didn’t have to look up to feel the death glare that Noah was beaming at her, she just hoped that she wouldn’t say anything. Today was really kicking her ass.
“Come on! You’ve got to see this!” He grabbed Mina’s hand and, for the first time, she found herself flinching at his touch. She willed herself to keep it together. Asher was her boyfriend and, even if she didn’t love him now, she was going to love him eventually. He had been nothing but sweet, nothing but loving, nothing but gentle, and she was going to love him. She was going to love him.
“See what?” Noah began to question, though her gaze was still focused on Mina’s embarrassed figure trying to hide herself behind her boyfriend. “What’s going on? What happened?”
Asher shook his head, grabbing Mina’s hand tighter, clearly in no hurry to give an explanation for his aggressive attitude. “Come on! Y-you have to see!” He was stuttering in anticipation now, and the girls made no other attempt to question him, instead doing their best to keep up with his long strides down the hall. Rows of empty classrooms and bare white brick walls flashed in Mina’s peripheral, but the only thing she could focus on was the burning sensation steadily growing behind her eyes, she squinted her eyes shut to suppress the feeling, running blindly with only her boyfriend’s hand to guide her. Her boyfriend.
Her eyes flashed open again when the three of them came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the schools main hallway, and Mina was surprised to find the entire student body of Palm Valley Prep scattered out in front of her. They were all packed tightly together like sardines in a can,all of their bodies pressed together tightly and fervently pushing and shoving one another in aggravation. They were all circled around a row of the dark green lockers near the front double doors of the school, all their faces etched with a mixture of shock and amusement, and all of them focused and unmoving. Mina couldn’t understand what was going on, and Noah’s face mimicked her own, staring upon the curious crowd with curiosity.
“What’s going on?” Noah’s voice could barely be heard over the large crowd, but Asher still managed to yell and answer loud enough to reach the ears of both girls beside him. “It’s Khalil.” As if the universe had heard him, the crowd of students parted just enough so that Mina could make out Khalil’s tall skinny figure standing in the middle of the congregation awkwardly, his eyes, like everyone else’s, trained on the row of green lockers in front of him. But the dark green metal was obscured by large and blocky letters, that seemed to be written in some kind of bright red dripping paint. The word “KILLER” spelled out for everyone to see. Mina had never seen phones whipped out so fast before and, for what felt like the thousandth time, her heart began to hurt for the skinny boy in front of her.
The crowd began to chanting in vigor “Killer!” their voices echoing off the walls and in the back of the her own brain. They were all animals! “Killer!” It was like the first day of school all over again, the first day of school but ten times worse, and Mina couldn’t suppress a choked cry as she watched him began to push through the crowd desperate to run away from the taunts.
She wanted to run after him, she wanted to comfort him.
“No” Noah’s hand wrapped itself tightly around her free arm before she could move from her spot, her nails digging tightly into the skin of her arm. “MJ stop!” It seemed like everyone was always trying to tell her to stop, trying to tell her what to do, trying to control every action she took. “Let him go!”
“MJ?” Asher’s voice was calm and crisp, though questioning and concerned as he searched her eyes. She hoped he would find nothing there, she didn’t want to have anything to hide. “Noah let her go.” he breathed, not once breaking contact with her as he spoke, his eyes piercing into her small frame now.
“No!” She refused, her gorilla grip only tightening more. Mina flinched at the contact, she could practically feel a bruise forming. “I’m not going to let him manipulate you MJ! I’m trying to help you!”
“Noah stop!” Asher was becoming more violent now, dropping Mina’s hand and instead rushing to stand between the pair of them, shooting daggers at Noah while Mina tried not cry at the tingling sensation Noah was causing to shoot through her arm. She didn’t recognize this side of her best friends, and she didn’t like it. It reminded her of the clouded look of pure anger that she had seen flash hungrily in Khalil’s eyes the first day of school. She had thought that she had imagined the look, but gazing upon her frantic friend in front of her she realized that they were sporting the exact same emotion.
“Asher tell her!” she was shouting now, practically pleading Mina not to chase after the skinny boy. “Tell her that he’s dangerous! Tell her that she needs to stay away from him!”
“I’m telling you-” His voice was low and contained “-to let go. Now!”
Everything happened so fast Mina couldn’t comprehend what she was looking at upon a first glance. Asher had grabbed Noah’s hand, attempting to pry her off, but someone had stumbled, and someone else had gotten pushed, and now all three of them were staring at the spilled contents of Noah’s backpack all over the linoleum floor.
“N-Noah?” Mina’s voice cracked with emotion. “Why do you have a red paint marker and fake blood in your backpack?”