“Morning” Asher smiled from the driver’s seat as Mina pulled the door open and fell inside, shutting the door on the chill fall wind behind her. She couldn’t bring herself to sleep last night, her thoughts running rampant with the images of blood written words on the dark green locker walls, Khalil’s footsteps thudding through the halls with vigor. The bags under her eyes reflected her mood and even the light kiss Khalil placed on her lips couldn’t deter her underlying emotion.
“How do you feel?” He attempted to make small talk, once he realized that his girlfriend wasn’t adamant on conversing. Mina pondered not answering, but the concerned look on her boyfriend’s face gave her incentive to part her lips and whisper out a short response.
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” She hadn’t meant to become snarky, but the words had simply slipped out. She didn’t want to talk about yesterday.
“MJ?” he questioned in disbelief. Mina wasn’t surprised, she barely believed the words falling from her lips either and the sound of her wavering voice wasn’t helping her case. She shook her head, running her hands through her dark hair anxiously, praying that Asher wouldn’t pressure her anymore. She wasn’t sure she had the strength to relive yesterday’s events over and over again, but Asher was concerned and persistent, and he seemed adamant not to let awkward silence befall the car again.
“I’m assuming you haven’t talked to Noah?” Mina had been hoping he wouldn’t bring up the absence of Noah’s presence in the car and she found herself suddenly becoming tense at the memory of her shouting match with her best friend. She wanted to reach out and text her, to reconcile what had been broken, but she also found herself scared at the prospect of confronting her and horrified at the idea of what other lies about Khalil she would try and shove down her throat. She was starting to sound just like Chris now and that might’ve been the scariest part of all.
Mina shook her head, her hands writhing together as she gripped her backpack straps tighter in her lap. The cold was permeating though the car now and she could feel goosebumps scurry up her skin.
“Have you talked to Noah?” she managed to choke out, her voice hoarse with emotion and she was surprised to find Asher nodding his head beside her.
“She’s just trying to look out for you.” he whispered as if he were afraid she would break. “You know that, right?” Right, but that still didn’t justify her assumptions about Khalil.
“She doesn’t even know him!” Mina exclaimed frustratedly, and she could hear Asher let out a sigh beside her, his hands gripping the steering wheel tighter until the whites of his knuckles were gleaming in the morning sun.
“You don’t know him either baby.” She scoffed in response. Everyone kept demoralizing her.
“Everyone keeps saying that” She was looking out the window now, watching the highway and city landscape roll out in miles before her. “But I’m the only one even making an effort to try to get to know him. All you and your friends and the entire school do is judge people who are different from you, and I’m just trying to be nice! I’m just trying to give him a friend in the midst of all of-” she trailed off unable to finish her thought.
“Of all this.” she finished quietly and silence ecompassed the small space once more.
“She says she didn’t do it.” Asher began to explain, interrupting the comforting silence once more. She should have just driven herself to school.
“So you have talked to her.” Mina snarked, her eyes still trained on the landscape whizzing outside her window as she attempted to repress a annoyed smirk.
“Mina-” The silence in the car had quickly turned to animosity and anger, and Mina was barely holding in an outburst now.
“What did she tell you?” She interrupted before Asher could finish his thought. “Someone planted that paint marker and that fake blood in her bag? Right?”
“Mina that’s not-”
“Someone’s out to get her, right? Khalil. Khalil is out to get her just like he got Chris.”
“Baby, it makes sense.”
“Are you kidding me?” Mina’s eyes finally averted from the dark windows to the even darker eyes of her boyfriend beside her. She hadn’t meant to laugh, but the short and snobbish sound escaped her lips anyway and once she began it was hard to stop. Everyone around her was stupid if they couldn’t understand that Khalil and his lanky frame weren’t capable of committing a crime or pushing a boy twice his size over the railing of a balcony.
“He was the last person to talk to Chris before he fell. He was the last person to be seen with him, and everyone saw the two of them arguing.”
“And?” Her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and she could see the growing frustration that was spreading across Asher’s face. He looked exactly how she was feeling on the inside.
“And?” It was hard to miss the pure sarcasm and look of pure chagrin on his face at his girlfriends response. “MJ, are you even listening to yourself right now! You’re making excuses for a person-a person you don’t even know!” Asher was clearly becoming agitated now, his tone and inflections matching Mina’s, both of them on the edge of losing all their restrained composure.
“Look” he let out a heavy breath before he continued. “I’m not saying that Khalil was responsible, but you definitely have to consider-”
“No” she shook her head, her arms folded tightly across her chest, and now it was Asher’s turn to roll his own eyes at her dramatics. She didn’t want to fight with him, but he was making it impossible for her to ignore the rampant lies that were falling from his lips.
“That’s exactly what you are saying Asher! That’s exactly what everyone has been saying, and it’s not fair. Chris was drunk, drunker than usual, and he fell! He fell and there’s nothing more to say!
“Why do even care so much about what other people think about him Mina? Why do you keep defending him?” Asher’s voice had calmed slightly, though his malicious tone was still evident.
Mina pressed her lips together at her boyfriends question and for the first time since she had entered the car she found herself at a complete loss for words. Asher took the silence as an opportunity to scan her face, his eyes roaming over her in curiosity, but Mina couldn’t tell what thoughts were floating around in his mind, only that he seemed much calmer than he was a moment ago.
She took in a sharp breath that she hoped he didn’t hear, and focused her attention at the windshield in front of her, her hands now resting awkwardly in her lap as she tried not to writhe uncontrollably in her seat. She flinched a bit at the pressure of Asher’s hand moving to cover her own but she dared not move, afraid that the conversation would once again take a turn for the worst and this time both of their feelings would be hurt.
Silence blanketed the inside of the car for the rest of the drive to Palm Valley Prep and, even as they parked Mina couldn’t bring herself to return the waves and bright smiles of her cheerful classmates around her. She didn’t understand how they could all be so happy all the time, though she was sure it had something to do with the fact that their life was entirely laid out in front of them. They never had to think for themselves or do anything for themselves for that matter, and while their world was perfectly built Mina’s was steadily falling apart all around her.
Asher didn’t let go of her hand even as they began the short trek to the glass double doors of the school and she could practically feel her fingers going numb at the pressure of his grip. She had never found herself wanting him to let go more. Hopefully a little space would bring her suppressed feelings rushing back with vigor, but until then the thoughts of their argument were constantly playing on a loop in her brain.
Mina found herself letting out an audible sigh at the sound of Asher’s friends calling his name out from the other side of the hallway, their contagious smiles sure to get rid of him so she wouldn’t have to, but she became tense once more at the sight of her boyfriend’s shaking head.
“I’ll see you guys next period.” He called out after them, walking past them without another word. She hoped he couldn’t see the disappointment written across her face.
“You didn’t want to go with your friends?” Mina asked, trying to keep her wavering voice as neutral as possible.
“No.” He shook his head once more, giving her a soft smile. She could tell it was forced. “I wanted to walk my girlfriend to homeroom.” He was trying to make up for their argument and it was frustrating that he couldn’t see that he was only making things worse. The only thing Mina wanted was time and space, but no one seemed to want to give it to her.
She was quick to untangle her hand from his when they reached the door of her homeroom, but before she could even open her mouth to get the words “goodbye” out, Asher’s hands had woven their way around her waist and were pulling her tight against his chest as he placed a short and curt soft kiss against her lips. She was becoming more and more frustrated by the moment and she had to stop herself from prying his hands off of her and pushing him away. His hands bore into her sides with such intensity and hunger, she was afraid that he might never let go of her.
“I’ll see you later” he whispered and Mina wasted no time rushing into the classroom behind her, but it seemed that as soon as she rid herself of one problem another popped up in it’s place.
This problem was in the shape of a Noah.
She was sat in their usual seats, her desk bordering the window and Mina’s empty desk parallel to hers. There was no need to overthink the situation, it was just a desk after all, but that didn’t stop Mina’s brain from overanalyzing the choice she now had to make. As if her friend could sense her internal struggle, she looked up from the screen of her phone and caught Mina’s sorrowful eyes in her own and though no words were spoken the single look that they gave one another expressed enough. Mina cleared her throat aloud with unbridled aggression, the first to break their impromptu staring match and, without a second thought, she humphed down into the seat next to Khalil, immediately placing her head into the palm of her hands in utter embarrassment.
A deep laugh resounded beside her, “Are you ok?” Mina looked up to find Khalil’s brown eyes boring into her with an air of amusement that she couldn’t seem to muster herself, but it quickly disappeared at the sight of two burly, malicious, looking figures headed their way. They looked to be exact carbon copies of one another, both with blinding blonde hair, mischievous eyes, and an uncomfortable smirk that scared even MJ. Khalil tensed as they grew closer.
“Chris will be back soon-killer.” The tallest of the two whispered low enough so that only Mina and Khalil could hear their jeers, while the shorter of the pair took care to squirt a bright red splatter of what looked to be more fake blood all over Khalil and the contents of his desk. Droplets landed on his face, pants, and whatever sheet of paper he had been scribbling on when Mina walked on. Then, as if nothing had happened, the boys stood and continued on their way, taking extra care to bump roughly against Khalil’s figure as they passed.
The whole exchange had taken all of three seconds, but Mina felt as if she had watched it happen in slow motion.
“People are getting more creative” Khalil quipped. Unfazed by what had just happened, he pulled a jacket from his backpack, attempting to use it as a cloth to wipe the large red splatters from his hands and face, his clothing beyond redemption. Mina couldn’t understand why he was so calm, but it was only making her more angry by the second. He shouldn’t have had to deal with neanderthals like them. He shouldn’t have had to deal with any of it.