Chapter 55 - Save You
“And no matter what I do / I can’t make you feel better / If only I could find the answer / To help me understand / Sometimes I wish I could save you / And there’s so many things that I want you to know / I won’t give up ’til it’s over / If it takes you forever I want you to know” – Save You, Simple Plan
Alone in the bathroom, Eric washes his hands. The same washroom that he sexually assaulted the West Side girl. That girl is crazy and is back together with the soccer player. Let him have her. Let him deal with her. She’s just a rich bitch anyway.
He hears the bathroom door open as he’s about to leave.
“Going somewhere?” Malcolm says, pushing Eric back into the bathroom.
“What the fuck is this?” Eric says, staring at all four of us.
“You hurt someone very important to me,” I say to him. “You are a scumbag. There are not many things that are lower than forcing yourself on a girl.”
He laughs. “James,” he says, “I think this is just a big misunderstanding. You see, you guys were broken up and I thought she wanted…” I punch him, in the jaw, and he steps back a bit from the impact. He touches where I punched him. “Both of you are crazy. You deserve each other.”
“If I ever find out you tried to pull a stunt like you did on my girlfriend on any other girl,” I say, “I will actually kill you.” I want to just beat him, bang his head on the wall, but I won’t. The purpose of this is to make sure he doesn’t do this again, or at least that he doesn’t feel safe trying to.
“Some girls like it,” Eric says, “some like a dominant to force them. They just don’t realize it.”
He had his chance. He blew it. I push him up against the wall. “They like it?” I say to him. My three closest friends are standing around me, but this is not a four against one battle. This is one against one. I punch him in the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him and he bends over slightly, gasping for breath. “You are a pathetic excuse for a person. You are a lowlife and a scumbag. If I see you near another girl again, I’m punching you out. I don’t even care if you’re just talking to her.” He stands up to face me and look me in the eye.
“I’m sorry I ever touched your psycho bitch girlfriend,” Eric says, his voice hoarse. “Definitely not worth it. Couldn’t even get her to…” I punch him in the solar plexus again and I know he’s done talking for now.
“Anything else you want to say?” I ask, but he’s struggling to get air in. “Remember, Eric. I’ll be watching.”
And then I turn away from him. He’s never going to change, but at least he knows there will be plenty of guys to put him in line if he ever tries to get out of it.
My dad always taught me that fighting wasn’t the answer, but that there were times that it was the only way to deal with someone. He taught me that sheer brute strength wasn’t the way to win a fight. You had to be strong and use your head. He taught me the spots to hit someone if I ever was in the situation. He made me confident against any person, that even if I wasn’t the physically bigger or stronger one, that I could still win. Violence isn’t the answer, but it’s important to teach people how to fight back, how to defend themselves, so when they do get into that situation, they are confident that they can get out of it.
“Do we have soccer practice tomorrow morning?” Richard asks Samson and me at my locker.
“Yes,” Samson says, “Mr. Quirrel is taking any free time he can get to put in more practice before EOSSA.”
“Third year in a row,” Richard says, “Let’s see what we can do this time.”
I am rummaging through my locker looking for my math notebook which is nowhere to be found.
“What are you looking for there, James?” Samson asks.
“I can’t find my math notebook.” I say, “I need it!”
“Did you have it yesterday?” Richard asks.
I think back to the last time I used it. “I lent it to Malcolm.” I say, “He must have it.” I shut my locker. “I’ll see you guys in class.”
I rush to Malcolm’s locker. His locker is on the other side of the school from me and when I get to the hallway where his locker is, I stop mid tracks. Malcolm’s there at his locker, but Arya is there too. They are talking to each other, smiling at each other, laughing with each other. He told me he could be just friends with her, he told me he would never do anything with her. But he’s talking to her alone. They’re friends, James, just friends. She playfully slaps him on the arm and then he does some impression of something that makes her laugh. And then an image of them at the party at Lisa’s house comes to my mind.
Why is she here? Why is she laughing with him? If I didn’t know better, I would think they are together. I can’t go there, I can’t.
“Okay,” I smile at Malcolm, “can we please be serious now?”
“Of course.” Malcolm says, still smiling, “What did you want to talk about?”
“It’s about James.” I say, “It’s his uncle. He works him too hard, it’s taken a toll on him. And his uncle hates me even though he has never met me. He’s feeding him with these stupid ideas. James almost broke up with me this weekend.”
“Are you serious?” Malcolm says, “He tried to break up with you?”
“Well,” I say, “he said how he won’t have time for me and then asked me to end the relationship. He’s worried that he can’t spend a lot of time with me, but I don’t care about that. I just care about him and I’m worried about him. I’m worried that his uncle is abusing the power he has over James.”
“It’s always been like this, Arya.” Malcolm says, “James feels like he owes his uncle for helping out after his father died and he doesn’t realize that what his uncle asks of him is ridiculous. I’ve tried talking to him before about it, but it hasn’t changed anything.”
“He can’t keep going on this way,” I say.
“You are the one thing that has brought James back into our world.” Malcolm says, “He’s finally himself again with you around, but I don’t think it will be easy to break all of his habits.”
“He needs the money for school.” I say, “There has to be something else he can do.”
“I’ve offered him a job to work for my dad with tree forestry, but he said no,” Malcolm says.
“Have you ever met his uncle?” I ask.
“Yes,” Malcolm says, “he’s actually a nice guy. I guess he’s a different person at work.”
“How do I help him, Malcolm?” I say.
“I’ve been trying to do that for two years, Arya.” Malcolm says, “You need to tell me how to help him! You are probably the only one he will listen to.”
“He doesn’t.” I say, “He just shuts me out when I talk to him about it.”
“Maybe you need to talk to someone else then?” Malcolm says.
“A certain uncle perhaps?” Malcolm says.
“You want me to talk to his uncle?” I ask.
“Worth a shot,” Malcolm says. “He is the root of the problem.”
“I knew I should have asked Samson,” I say.
“Hey!” Malcolm says, “I’m smarter than all those guys combined!”
I head by myself to my locker after second period. Almost everyone has made it to the cafeteria by now, but there are still some people at their lockers. While walking in the hall I see Mia, alone at her locker, which is not something I normally see when walking through this hallway. Whenever I see her at school, she is always with friends. She’s a ray of light, just like her sister.
“Hey!” I say, coming up to her locker.
She looks at me. “Oh, hi James.” She says slowly.
“How are you?” I ask. This girl just confronted the guy who raped her a couple of days ago. He’s physically gone from her life, but the scar he’s left cut deep.
“Fine,” Mia says in a voice that I know means the opposite. Rachel may be annoying at times, but she has improved my female communication skills.
“Let’s go for a drive,” I say.
“What?” Mia finally looks at me.
“A drive.” I say, “It’s lunch hour. Let me put my books away and I’ll meet you out front. Sometimes you just need to get away from it all.”
“You don’t need to do that, James,” Mia says.
“I know,” I say, “I want to do this. I consider you like one of my sisters and I would do everything in my power to protect them and take care of them. Just like Arya does for you.” She’s hesitant. “I’ll meet you out front.” And then walk away before she can come up with a reason not to come.
The car ride starts in silence. I will let her collect her thoughts, stare out the window as long as she wants, and I will be a listening ear when she is ready.
“Will I ever get over it?” Mia asks, staring out the window. “When I came to East Side, I tried to be myself again. Flirting with guys, going out with friends. I tried to be normal again, to erase him and his memory, but it never worked.”
“Mia,” I say, “You went through something traumatic, something that no one should have to go through. Ever. The fact that you are getting up every day and trying to live your life just shows how unbelievably strong you are. You have to give yourself credit for how far you have come. You faced Henri the other day and didn’t back down for even a second! You can’t expect to get over everything in one go. It will take time to heal and unfortunately, some scars will never fully heal.”
“Hearing his voice was like a trigger.” Mia says, “All the memories came back. I felt like I was reliving the experience.”
“Tell me,” I say, “why did you come out of the house? I know Arya didn’t make you. I know you chose to come outside yourself.”
“I had to see him.” Mia says, “I had to hear what he wanted to say. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. I would always wonder.” Mia takes a deep breath. “In the moment, I could let my anger out on him. I just didn’t expect it would be so hard afterward.”
“Is there anything else you would have wanted to say to him?” I ask.
“No,” Mia says.
“Is there anything that you wish he had said to you?” I ask.
She’s silent. Considering the question. “There’s nothing he can say. There are no words. And there’s nothing he can do. I can only hope that now he will never do that to another girl.”
“You are a brave person, Mia.” I say, “If you could see yourself how I see you, you would understand.”
“Thank you, James.” Mia says and turns to look at me, “For everything. I feel terrible about what I put Arya through. She was the only one who knew for so long. She has always been there for me. I avoided Henri as much as I could, but he and Arya were in the same grade. She saw him in class. She grew to hate him more than I did which I didn’t think was possible. She wrote on his locker to expose him so that people would stop seeing him as a god at that school. I owe her everything.”
“Arya loves you,” I say, “she couldn’t stand what he had done to you, but she doesn’t regret a thing she did.”
“Did she tell you that?” Mia asks.
“No,” I say, “but I like to think that I know your sister well enough.”
“She regrets the day she did it,” Mia smiles, and I laugh out loud.
How would things have turned out if the basketball team hadn’t been practicing that morning? Or if Arya had done it the next day? She would probably still be at West Side, and I would never have met her. Sometimes bad things have to happen to get to the good things in life. That’s why you have to continue with life. There’s going to be hard times, times when you don’t understand why you have to go through something so difficult. But if you ride it out, it has the potential to lead you exactly where you’re supposed to be.
“I’ve never seen her as happy as she is with you.” Mia says, “She had a perfect life at West Side. I was always so jealous of her, so when an older guy was interested, I thought ‘This is something I can have over her. Someone prefers me.’ She never gave any guy the time of day, which only made them more attracted to her. I love Arya, but there were times that I hated her. I initially pushed her away after what happened. I didn’t want my perfect sister to see how badly I screwed everything up.”
“You didn’t screw anything up.” I say, “You can’t possibly take responsibility for anything that happened.”
“I’m getting carried away. What I am trying to say is,” Mia says, “my sister was a shining star at the rich and prestigious West Side without even trying. She had everything. Guys wanted to be with her, girls were jealous of her. But despite all of that, she is happiest at East Side with you. It says a lot about your relationship.”
“She’s everything to me,” I say.
I pull into a parking lot. “Where are we?” Mia asks.
“I need your help with something,” I say, and we get out of the car.
“This is a jeweler?” Mia asks.
“Yes,” I say, “I want you to give me your opinion on something.”