Chapter 48 - This is Me
“Another round of bullets hits my skin / Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in / We are bursting through the barricades / And reaching for the sun (we are warriors) / Yeah, that’s what we’ve become / Won’t let them break me down to dust / I know that there’s a place for us / For we are glorious / When the sharpest words wanna cut me down / Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out / I am brave, I am bruised / I am who I’m meant to be, this is me / Look out ’cause here I come / And I’m marching on to the beat I drum / I’m not scared to be seen / I make no apologies, this is me” – This is Me, Keala Settle
“Ready?” I ask Mia as she sits at her desk with her laptop open, ready to start recording her whenever she wants.
“I think so,” Mia says.
“You don’t have to do this now.” I say, “We can wait.”
“No,” Mia says, “it really can’t wait.”
“Do you want me to stay here?” I ask.
“Yes.” Mia says, “I think that would help.”
I go over to her bean bag chair in the corner and take a seat, out of view of the laptop’s camera, but still in Mia’s peripheral vision. “I’ll be right here.”
Mia nods to me. She looks back to her laptop and takes a deep breath, closing her eyes. She just sits there for a while. After a minute I fear that all of this is a big mistake, but then she opens her eyes and presses a key on the laptop.
“Hi.” Mia starts, looking straight at the laptop, talking to herself on the screen, which will eventually be shared with everyone. “For those of you who don’t know, I’m Mia Secord and I am in Grade 9 at East Side Academy. I was previously at West Side Academy last term with my sister, Arya, who is in Grade 11. We both switched to East Side a week into the second term of the year. There has been a rumour spread about my sister, that she falsely accused a boy at West Side of rape. That she spray-painted ‘RAPIST’ on his locker, even though it wasn’t true. That she was forced to leave West Side to protect her reputation and the reputation of the boy.
“I’m making this video to tell you that what you have heard is not true. It’s the story my sister was forced to tell. I know it’s not true because, the boy in question, the boy who had ‘RAPIST’ written on his locker, is a rapist. I know because he raped me. Henri Young raped me, and my sister was seeking justice for me by exposing him to everyone for who he truly is.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t go according to plan, and to protect Henri’s reputation, Henri’s father forced Arya and myself to switch schools, to sweep us under the rug. Henri’s father didn’t want the word rapist connected to his son. But it’s true, he is a rapist. Mr. Young even went so far as to threaten our father’s dental practice if we didn’t do what he said. He forced Arya to say that she falsely accused Henri of rape to the principal and he forced her to make that story her truth.
“Henri, if you’re watching this, I want you to know that you hurt me beyond measure, beyond healing. There is no coming back from this, no way to go back. I know you think you did nothing wrong, I know you’re going to say you didn’t know, that you thought I wanted it, but we both know that’s not true. Guilting someone to have sex with you, convincing someone they want to have sex with you, pushing someone to have sex with you, telling them that they want it, forcing yourself on someone that never gave consent; it’s all rape. Maybe you don’t see it that way right now, but I hope one day you do. No good man would ever do that to any girl, no decent man would guilt, push or force someone to have sex with them.
“I will be forever haunted by you. You took everything from me, and you don’t even care. You made me feel like a prude if I didn’t want sex, you made sex seem like nothing at all, just a way to pleasure yourself. You’ve left a permanent scar, Henri, but I won’t let you ruin me. I will continue with life and I will go on knowing that it was you that was in the wrong every single time, it was never me. I’m not to blame for anything that happened, that is on you and I hope you can live with that, knowing that because of you, I will never be the same. I will be stronger, but what will you be? Will you continue pressuring girls for sex? I pray that you never treat a girl the way you treated me.
“I won’t let you ruin my sister anymore. She doesn’t deserve anyone, especially a guy like you, to ruin her life. You weren’t able to own up to your true self and she had to suffer because of it. Now it’s your turn, Henri. It’s time for everyone to know that their West Side sports star is a rapist.”
Mia clicks a key on the laptop and lets out a deep breath. “Mia,” I say, starting to get up.
“How was it?” Mia asks, looking for honesty.
“Incredible,” I say, hugging her.
Mia and I lock up our bikes at the side of the school like any other day. But it’s not any other day. “Are you okay?” I ask her.
“I feel like a burden has been lifted,” Mia says smiling. I hope you are still smiling at the end of today.
We walk through the side door together, and all eyes are watching us. People stop their conversations as we walk by like we don’t know what they are talking about. People don’t say anything to us though. I walk Mia to her locker, not wanting to leave her side.
“Go to your locker, Arya,” Mia says, but I hesitate.
A girl comes up to Mia that I don’t recognize. “That was brave what you did.” She says, “You’re not the only one this has happened to.”
“Thanks,” Mia says, and the girl walks off.
“Do you know her?” I ask.
“No idea,” Mia says, “Now please go to your locker, I’m fine.”
“Okay,” I say, “but you know that I’m around. Find me if you need me.”
Mia gets some kind comments throughout the morning, but most people are scared to approach her. Too many people don’t know how to handle someone that has been through something traumatic. They don’t know what to say, so their solution is to just avoid it completely and instead just talk about you behind your back. Nobody comes up to talk to me, except of course my friends and James.
“I’m proud of her,” James says to me at my locker. “It takes a lot of courage to do that.”
“I am too,” I say, but James can sense the uncertainty in my voice.
“What is it, Arya?” James says.
I look at James. “I could handle it when all the heat was on me.” I say, “But now that it’s on her, there’s nothing I can do.”
“You can’t be her shield forever, Arya,” James says, “she needs to do this for herself and all we have to do is make sure that she knows that we are here for her, and she can always come to us no matter what.”
“I know, James, it’s just…” I start but then my phone starts ringing in my locker. I grab it, but the screen shows a number I don’t recognize. I answer, wondering who is on the other end of the line.
“I know it was you. I know you had something to do with it.” Henri’s voice fills my ear. I should have expected he would come after me. I should have expected it earlier actually.
“What’s wrong, Henri?” I say into the phone and James immediately tenses when he hears that name.
“What is he doing phoning you?!” James says to me, and I wave at him to be quiet.
“What’s wrong?” Henri says irritated, “What’s wrong is that your sister decided to post a video full of lies and dragging my name through the mud. You told her to do this, didn’t you?”
“She told her truth.” I say, “Not that it matters, but it was her idea. She thought it was time that everyone knows the real you. You see, underneath the rich, sports star exterior is just a boy with anger issues that thinks he’s so desirable, but you really just force yourself on girls so you can joke with your friends about it. I’m sure Mia’s not the first. You have done this before to other girls and never held yourself accountable. You think what you are doing is okay. I’m right, aren’t I?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Arya,” Henri says, “I’ve always thought you were annoying. Walking around this school like you own the place, perfect grades, soccer star, all the guys falling over you, but you never gave any of them a second look. Well, except a certain hockey captain, I guess. You had everything, why are you trying to ruin my life?”
“You ruined your own life, Henri,” I say.
“You’re a real annoying bitch, Arya. I actually liked your sister, but you are a fuckin’ nightmare.” Henri says.
“I thought you liked my fiery side and smartass remarks?” I smile into the phone. I can hear Henri fuming on the other end of the line.
“Did you get back together with James? I still owe him for his pathetic punch last time I saw him.” Henri says. “He’s lucky that Mr. Carrow came when he did, I was ready to punch his lights out. I’m not afraid to do it, Arya. When he comes to West Side tomorrow, he better watch his back.”
“Leave him out of this,” I say sternly. “He did nothing wrong.” James gives me a look, knowing that he is now the topic of conversation.
‘What did he say?’ James mouths to me, but I brush him off, not wanting to involve him.
“You’re the one that brought him into this, Arya,” Henri says, “I still haven’t forgotten that you told him about me long before this stupid video your sister made. I thought you were smart, Arya? Couldn’t keep a secret from your East Side trash boyfriend? Chose him over your sister and your dad’s practice? I get that he’s popular and a soccer player, Arya, but really? You didn’t date any guy at West Side and now you are shacking up with the first guy you found at that pathetic excuse for a school. I thought you were better than that.”
“James is a thousand times better than you preppy, rich snobs from West Side combined!” I yell into the phone, enraged by Henri’s words.
James’ eyes open wide. “Give me the phone, Arya,” he says to me, holding out his hand for it, but I shake my head.
“He’s there, isn’t he?” Henri says, “I can hear his voice.” I hear Henri smile through the phone. “Tell him I look forward to seeing him on West Side turf tomorrow.”
I can’t handle the people I care about getting hurt. I tried protecting Mia and my dad’s practice, but now Henri is threatening James. When does it stop? Does Henri realize the destruction he’s caused? Does he even realize what he’s doing? I don’t think he does. He is the root of all my problems right now. He is actually the root of all his own problems right now. He needs to know.
“Have you watched the video, Henri?” His silence tells me he hasn’t. “I recommend you do. Because whether or not you think you did anything wrong, you should know how she felt. You should know how you made her feel and then take a good look in the mirror and see the destruction you have caused.” And then I hang up on him, put my phone away and turn to James.
“What did he say?” James asks.
“James, please…” I start.
“Did he threaten you?” James asks.
“No,” I say, “but he threatened you.” I take a breath. “James, please be careful, Henri hates both of us right now. And he knows how much you mean to me.” And I couldn’t bear the thought of him hurting you.
“Don’t worry about me, Arya,” James says, “I’ll be fine.” James looks at me, seeing the concern written all over my face. “He’s not going to do anything to me, Arya.”
“You punched him, James,” I say, “and he hates that you found out the truth about him. He hasn’t forgotten these things.”
“He still thinks that you told me?” James asks and I nod. I wasn’t going to correct Henri, it would just make things worse for James. It doesn’t matter how he found out any more, especially since everyone now knows the truth.
“James,” I say, “I never wanted to bring you into this mess…”
“Arya,” James comes up to me and puts a hand to my neck, and looks straight at me. “I want to be a part of this mess. You don’t have to go through anything alone anymore. I want to be there for you for the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
“I don’t want him to hurt you,” I say.
“I’m not going out there alone, Arya,” James says, “I have my teammates and my three best friends with me tomorrow. Nothing will happen.”
You don’t know the Henri I know, I think to myself. I see a mental image of Henri taking out James on the field and blink it away. He says he has his teammates, but if Henri is angry, he will take out James, regardless of the consequences. And Henri is very angry right now. Not at Mia, thank goodness, but at me and James. I can’t stop James from playing tomorrow, but I can’t bear the thought if he gets seriously hurt. It would be all my fault.