Chapter 39 - Don’t Let Me Down
“Crashing, hit a wall / Right now I need a miracle / Hurry up now, I need a miracle / Stranded, reaching out / I call your name but you’re not around / I say your name but you’re not around / I need you, I need you, I need you right now / Yeah, I need you right now / So don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down / I think / I’m losing my mind now / It’s in my head, darling I hope / That you’ll be here, when I need you the most / So don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down / Don’t let me down” – Don’t Let Me Down, The Chainsmokers
“What’s the matter, Arya?” Mr. Sprout says to me on the sidelines during halftime of our fourth soccer game.
“I don’t know, Mr. Sprout,” I say. To say that I have been underperforming in all our soccer games since the start of the season would be an understatement. I miss the net, I can’t pass properly, I make too many mistakes and too many turnovers of the ball are my fault. It’s like nothing can go right. And then the more I try to focus and do better, the worse I get. It’s been happening for the past three games and now this one as well.
“Well, you better figure it out.” Mr. Sprout says to me and then calls out, “Hansen!” and one of the girls looks at him. “You’re in for Secord.” And she nods to him.
The ref’s whistle blows, signaling the start of the second half. We are up 2-1, but we should be doing better, I should be doing better. Despite me bringing the team down, they have still managed to remain undefeated.
“Here’s thinking that at one point I was worried that you were going to outshine me.” Isabella says to me before she goes to the field, “I guess it turns out I had nothing to be worried about.” And then she sprints off, happier than I’ve ever seen her before.
I can’t help it. I’m so frustrated with myself. I grab my water bottle and slam it into the ground while the other girls on the bench purposely look away from me, pretending that nothing is wrong. I scream. Why does this keep happening to me?
I wish I had known that as the anger was building inside of me, at the same time, on a different field, that someone else was having the same issues as me.
“He can’t pass, he keeps missing the net and keeps losing the ball!” Daniel yells at Mr. Quirrel during half time of our fourth soccer game. I just sit on the bench, knowing that everything he’s saying is right but for some reason, I can’t change. It’s been happening for the past three games and now this one too. The more I try, the worst it gets, and Daniel loves the opportunity to throw it in my face as much as he can. Even though I have been playing terribly, the team has still managed to stay undefeated so far.
“Calm down, Daniel.” Mr. Quirrel says to him.
“You need to bench him!” Daniel yells.
“I’ll handle it!!” Mr. Quirrel yells louder than I have ever heard and it just silences everyone. The ref blows his whistle for the start of the second half. “King!” Mr. Quirrel calls and a guy from the bench stands up. “In for Fox.” He nods and then the whole team jogs out onto the field. I get up from the bench, still frustrated with myself. Why does this keep happening? “What is it, Fox?” Mr. Quirrel asks me.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Yes, you do.” Mr. Quirrel says.
Mr. Quirrel is still young, he still remembers what it’s like to be in school, to be under pressure and feel like the world is on your shoulders. He’s a coach, he’s a teacher, but the most important thing he can do for his students and players is to try to lessen that burden and pressure they feel. Mr. Quirrel is also not oblivious. He’s seen James and Arya together plenty of times to know that there was a relationship between them. He was embarrassed one day overhearing the female Physical Education teachers discussing in their office how they shipped the two of them. Clearly, James and Arya were no longer together, and it seems it has had a considerable effect on James’ soccer performance.
“Whatever happened you can fix it.” Mr. Quirrel says to me. I look at him questionably while he just stares out on the field at the game. Does he know? And if so, how much? “The answer is yes,” Mr. Quirrel says as if he’s reading my mind, “Teachers do know about the relationships of students, even when we don’t want to.”
“I messed up,” I say, for some reason opening myself up to my soccer coach of all people. I think of what Malcolm and Diana both said to me. They’re right. They’re both right. Arya is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I just gave up on her when things got messy. “She did something bad, but I think she had a reason, but she won’t tell me. I feel like she doesn’t trust me.” I can’t believe I’m letting all my thoughts out to my coach on the side of the soccer field, but he doesn’t seem to be phased by it. “I turned my back on her, I shut her out which made it okay for everyone else to do the same,” Diana said I made it open season on her. Daniel said I proved to everyone that what they were thinking and saying about her was right. I left her to the wolves, only thinking about myself. “I let her down when she needed me the most.” I consider what to say next. Mr. Quirrel is just silent next to me, still watching the soccer game.
“Sometimes we keep secrets or hold back the truth because we think we are protecting people.” Mr. Quirrel says. “Maybe she thought she was protecting you.”
“Diana, you dropped your pen,” I say, reaching down for it and holding it up to her just outside Biology.
“Thanks,” she says under her breath as if she’s irritated by my help. She takes the pen from my hands and turns and walks away from me.
“Diana, I know you’re pissed at me,” I call after her, “but would you just…” and she’s not stopping.
I walk fast down the hallways, so when I crash into Lincoln around the corner, all our books scatter across the ground.
“I’m sorry, James,” Lincoln says, crouching to get his books.
“It’s fine. It’s my fault,” I say and pick up my books and then we stand to face each other. He probably hates me too, but just doesn’t show emotion like Diana.
“You good?” Lincoln asks, reading me immediately.
“Fine,” I say.
“You don’t have to be nice with me,” I say, “I know you hate me as much as Diana does.”
Lincoln laughs. “She does have a quick temper, doesn’t she? But she means well. She cares for her friends, which is an important quality in a person. She’s just worried about Arya.”
“Which is why she hates me,” I say.
“She’s more so worried about another person trying to pull something like Eric did,” Lincoln says, “refuses to let Arya walk the halls alone anymore.”
“Wait, what are you talking about?” I ask.
“You mean, you don’t…” Lincoln says. “Shit,” he says under his breath.
“What happened?” I ask.
“I have to get to class,” Lincoln says and walks around me fast.
“Wait!” I call after him, but he doesn’t turn around.
Later that day, with the guys all at my locker, I ask them. “I have a question for you guys,” I say.
Samson and Richard are juggling a soccer ball between them while Malcolm is leaning against the lockers.
“Shoot,” Samson says, still concentrating on keeping the ball in the air.
“Lincoln mentioned something to me about not letting Arya walk the halls on her own, about being worried about something Eric did. Do you guys know anything about that?” I ask, and then I see them all freeze and look at each other. The ball drops to the floor, bouncing to the other side of the hallway. Richard runs to grab it and comes back slowly as if he doesn’t want to be a part of the conversation. I look at all of them, but they don’t look at me, they just look at each other. “What?” They are trying to decide who should talk first. “What is it?!” I yell at them.
“We don’t fully know,” Malcolm says, scratching his head.
“It’s just a rumour, James,” Samson says, “we don’t know if it’s true or not. Or how much of it is true.”
“What don’t you know?” I ask. They look at each other. “Someone better tell me something and soon.”
“We thought it would be better if you didn’t know, James,” Richard says and Malcolm and Samson glare at him.
“Didn’t know what?” I ask.
“James,” Malcolm says, “people are talking around the school. They’re saying that Eric and Arya were talking, that she went crazy on him and kneed him in the balls, and then…”
“And then what?” I ask.
Malcolm looks to Samson. “He pushed her into the bathroom,” Samson pauses so I can understand why. “But two Grade 12 football players went in there and stopped anything from happening.”
“He tried to…” I start.
“We don’t know, James,” Samson says, “people are just saying what they saw. We don’t know what really happened.”
“And you thought you should keep this from me?” I say.
“It’s a rumour, James,” Malcolm says, “we don’t want you worked up over nothing.”
“It’s not nothing!” I yell at them. “He was going to…”
“James, we don’t know…” Richard says.
“Who were the football players?” I ask.
“Alexander and Sebastian,” Richard says, and then I leave to go find the guys that will tell me the truth.
“Alexander, Sebastian,” I say when I reach their group of footballers.
“James,” Sebastian says, as they both break free of their group. “What’s up?”
“Arya,” I say, wasting no time to cut to the point. “You guys were the ones who…”
“I’m going to stop you right there, James,” Alexander says, “Neither of us is talking about it. All I’ll say is that some creep pushed that girl into the bathroom against her will, but nothing else happened.”
“Because you guys stopped it,” I say. “What did you stop, what was he going to do?” I don’t know why I’m asking. I don’t want to know because I’m scared of what the answer is, but it’s like I have to know. I have to know exactly what happened so I can be mad about the truth instead of just being angry about something I don’t know.
“That’s not for us to tell you,” Sebastian says, “all you and everyone else need to know is nothing happened.”
“He was forcing himself on her,” I say, “he was going to do that to her in the school…”
“James,” Alexander says sternly, “I don’t think we’re the ones you should be talking to about this. There’s a girl that knows what happened from start to finish that has an entire school treating her like a terrible person for something I don’t think she did.”
I look at him. “You don’t think she…”
“I don’t think she falsely accused anyone of anything,” Alexander says, “I think someone hurt her.”
“That’s not what she says though,” I say, “she says he didn’t hurt her.”
“Maybe he’s keeping her quiet,” Sebastian says, “maybe he’s threatening her?”
“Look, James, guys are jerks.” Alexander says, “There’s this expectation of them getting lucky while girls are expected to remain untouched or whatever. Girls are the ones that get the labels, not guys. Guys just do whatever they want. And they are naturally stronger. They can overpower a girl. It’s why we, as guys, have to stop this culture of a guy has to sleep with a girl to be considered ‘cool’. Forcing yourself on a girl is the most shameful thing someone can do, and it can’t be considered okay. The worst part is how often they get away with it.”
“I know, I…”
“All the people in that hallway saw her get pushed into that bathroom, James. All of them knew what he was going to do to her, and they did nothing.” Alexander says. “There isn’t a good enough reason to standby and do nothing.”
“Where is she?” I ask Diana at her locker.
“Homesick,” Diana says, not looking at me.
“Is she actually sick?” I ask.
Diana turns to face me. “Yes, now what do you want?”
“I just wanted to talk to her,” I say.
“Finally found out what happened, didn’t you?” Diana says, crossing her arms. “So it takes her getting assaulted for you to give a damn?”
“Diana,” I say, “I know I messed up. I’m trying to make this right.”
“It was in your hallway, James,” Diana says, “after she went to talk to you and then you left her, she slammed her hand on your locker out of frustration and they all started taunting her. And then Eric groped her, saying how no one would believe the girl who cried rape and when she fought back, that’s when he pushed her into the bathroom.”
“Diana, I didn’t know,” I say. “I just…”
“I know you didn’t, James,” Diana says, “but it doesn’t change what happened.”
“I’ll kill him,” I say out of anger.
“For you or for her?” Diana asks.
“Diana, he tried to rape my girlfriend,” I say.
“She’s not your girlfriend, James,” Diana says. “I suggest you talk to Arya before you do anything to make this worse.” I pull my phone out of my pocket, but Diana puts a hand on it. “This is an in-person conversation, James.”
“He never would have done it if it wasn’t for me,” I say angrily. “I left her angry and upset in that hallway and then he…”
“James,” Diana says sternly, “you are not responsible for what happened in the hallway that day. Eric and the rest of those fuckin’ jerks that did nothing are responsible. Just be grateful for my new favourite football players stepped in when they did.”
It’s game day against West Side Academy, our biggest competition for winning the championship. They’re coming here while the girls are playing away. I’ve tried to focus on this game for the past couple of days since our last game, which we did end up winning with no help from me. I’ve tried to focus but my thoughts keep going back to Arya.
I tried to stop by Arya’s house last night after work, but her dad just told me she was resting and too sick to come out for a conversation. I think I would have had better luck if her mom had answered the door. Her dad wasn’t happy about seeing me on his doorstep and was quick to try and get rid of me.
“James?” I hear Arya’s voice from behind the door of my open locker. Oh, thank goodness.
I slam the door of my locker, eager to look into her eyes again. “Arya,” I say when the locker door closes, but it’s not her. It’s a younger version of her and my heart just sinks. “I’m so sorry, Mia. You sound just like your sister.”
“Sounds like you were hoping it was my sister.” She says with a smile. They both have the same smile, and both look so alike in so many ways.
“I just…” I begin.
“It’s okay, James.” Mia says, “Arya doesn’t know I’m here talking to you. I just wanted to tell you that there’s more to the story that Lisa told everyone than what you think, as I’m sure you’re already aware. I tried to get Arya to tell you the whole story, but she doesn’t want to bring you into her mess. She doesn’t think you deserve it.”
“She’s protecting me,” I say, repeating the words of Mr. Quirrel.
“In a sense, yes.” Mia says, “At least that’s what she thinks. I tried to tell her that she could trust you to keep what happened a secret. She thought the less you knew the better. Better to stay away from you.”
“You know what really happened,” I say. Sisters always keep each other’s secrets.
“Yes,” Mia says, “But I’m not going to be the one to tell you. If you are going to hear the whole story, you need to hear it from Arya.”
“Thank you, Mia,” I say, “She’s lucky to have you as a sister.”
“I’m the one who is lucky,” Mia says, “Now, don’t keep my sister waiting too much longer. I’ve never seen my sister refuse dessert so many times these past couple of weeks.”
I laugh. “Is she here today? She was sick yesterday and then I tried to stop by last night, but your dad wouldn’t let me in.”
Mia laughs to herself. “Our dad is protective,” Mia says, “but she actually was sick, so don’t take it personally. She wanted to rest for the game today so she’s not coming to school until lunch.”
I walk by the hallway that Arya’s locker is in on my way to class. I couldn’t find her at lunch, and now fourth period is about to start. The hallways are mostly empty with almost everyone already in class at this point. I see her going through her locker, with Eleanor next to her. They both have their soccer gear on, just subbing out cleats for sandals until they get to the field. Arya’s hair is in a bun and she’s wearing the dark blue jersey to represent our school. How does she feel wearing blue when for the past two years she always wore green? Now she is facing the school that she used to go to. She has to go back to the school she was once at, play on her home soccer field with another school. Today is hard for her, she needs to focus, and I can’t disturb it.
I feel eyes on me, but when I turn to look down the hall, there’s nothing. No one. But I swear there was someone there.
If I had known that Arya was having as much trouble with her soccer performance as I was, I wouldn’t have left her in that hallway. If I had known what was going to happen later that day, I definitely wouldn’t have left her in that hallway. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Maybe worse, maybe better, but I’ll never know. My gut told me to go and talk to her. It told me to walk down that hallway and she would be happy that I came to her. But then my brain told me she needed to focus, that she didn’t need a distraction or to be emotional right before a big game. Bringing up what Eric did to her would probably bring back unwanted memories and I couldn’t do that to her. I listened to my brain because I thought that was the responsible thing to do. I thought I was doing her a favour and not being selfish by coming up to her right before she was about to leave. I thought I would talk to her later when we both weren’t under the pressure of playing our rival school. I thought I was doing the right thing.