Fight or Flight
He was so angry. I watched as he shut down our conversation about his bruise and I followed him to where everyone was getting harassed by some guy. I didn’t hear what he was saying, only that everyone either seemed sad, annoyed, or downright angry. But there was no expression to match the look Alex had when he hit the guy right across the face.
His eyes blazed in a raging fire and he threw his punch not out of pure empty anger, that hit was a hit of pain and vengeance. He hit as if he wasn’t even here.
Whenever I paint, I paint lost in the moment of that time. It’s how my paintings all come out so vivid. Because I feel like I’m painting exactly when it happened.
My memory is in no way photographic, but whenever I see something like this, something that gives me an artistic vibe, it sticks with me.
So as I swirl my paintbrush around in the water, I look over the picture that I made. It was of the day that Alex hit Jake after he came after our friends. I don’t condone violence, I don’t like to think of myself as violent, but I was a bit torn whether to feel glad that he got what came to him, or to feel like we should have done something differently.
It may just be me, but I haven’t had friends in a long time, so I feel protective of the ones I have now.
It hurt to see Jake come at all of them like that, I don’t know what he thinks gives him the right to do things like that, but if Alex hadn't have done what he did, I might have done something myself.
I set the picture to the side and begin cleaning off my things. I put the brushes under the water and put them in their designated jar, I wipe off the table I was painting on, and I cap my paints, putting them on the shelf.
I’m just about to take off my apron that I wear to paint when the doorbell rings.
My fingers pause above the knot and I rush up the stairs to the door. I stand on my toes to look through the peephole and I smile as I open the door to reveal both Benny and Alex.
“Hey guys” I smile at them “what are you doing here?”
“I thought it would be a nice idea to come by and pick you up for school” Benny says
At the same time Benny talks, Alex looks over my attire, which happens to be my paint covered apron and jeans, and he looks slowly from my converse to up my body and finally meets my eyes. At this point my whole body is burning from his gaze and I tear my eyes away from his and look back at Benny. I clear my throat “School?” I ask, my voice coming out higher pitched.
I notice Alex smirk slightly from my peripheral view but I do my best to keep my eyes locked on Benny. He nods and pauses when he sees my outfit. “Yeah” he throws a thumb over his shoulder “we were coming to pick you up but maybe..” he trails off and my eyes widen.
“Oh shoot!” I rush back inside, I had completely forgotten about school. I fumble with the knot of my apron and throw it over my head onto the ground as I rush upstairs.
I unbutton my jeans and basically shove them down my legs, stomping them off of me. I pull on some coral colored jeans and check over my white shirt for any paint.
It’s common for me to get paint on my clothes with all the art I do. Luckily, I managed to only get a few blue spots on the bottom which I easily fix by tucking the shirt into my jeans. I take my bag and run my fingers through my hair as I fly down the stairs, tumbling a bit at the end.
I stumble forward and run right into Alex who holds me up by my shoulders “Woah there pretty girl. Is this going to be our thing? You falling on stairs and I have to come to the rescue?”
I steady myself, standing upright. He keeps his hands on my shoulders and I blush lightly at the ‘pretty girl’ comment. “All coincidences I’m sure” I pat him on the chest and wink carelessly at him and I turn away from him and to the door.
As much as I would like to feel as calm and easy as that interaction seemed, my heart is pounding and my eyes are wide. Did I really just wink at him?
I cringe at my own actions and call out “coming?” hoping to play off the situation for my own sake.
I can hear him chuckling and before I can embarrass myself more, I run out the door and look for Benny’s car.
I spot him in his car across the street and I run over to him. I open the back door and put my bag inside. Before I can go in, Bennys voice stops me. “Unless you want a fight with Alex, I suggest getting in the front”
“Why?” I ask
“Because it’s the gentlemanly thing to do, and trust me when I say Alex doesn’t have many of those, so I would just do it”
I want to argue but Alex’s voice behind me startles me. “He’s right. In the front pretty girl”
He maneuvers around me and slides in, pulling my backpack to his side so it doesn’t fall. I don’t move for a moment, just looking at him until he gives me a pointed look and I close the door and get into the front seat next to Benny.
“Thanks for coming guys, that was really sweet of you” I push a strand of hair from my face “even though I was a bit of a mess this morning”
Alex’s eyes don’t stray from the window but I do notice him roll his eyes as I say that and make a disbelieving face.
“Don't worry about it, I don’t mind waiting” Benny says sweetly
I pull down the vanity mirror and look over myself, not being able to do so before. I run my hands over my hair to smooth it out and I scan over my face.
“Quit it,” Alex says sharply while looking at me with narrowed eyes “you look fine”
I scowled back at him “I just wanted to look. I didn't get to earlier”
“You don't need to” he doesn't elaborate more than that and I don't ask him to. I put the mirror up and lean back, looking out the window.
“We just need to pick up Reece. Connor is picking up Ethan and Levi” Benny says as he makes a left turn into a neighborhood I'm not very familiar with.
The ground is flat and all the houses sit on the ground, unlike mine which has stairs leading up to it. We pull up to a yellow wooden house. It has a white fence around a grassy area out front and a balcony up on the second story.
The door opens and Reece comes running out, his backpack in one hand and what seems to be a cereal box in the other.
“Hey guys,” he says breathless like he was running around before coming out here “I slept in a bit and I’ll tell you, an angry mother is not something you want to experience first thing in the morning. She’s worse than the beeping of my alarm clock!” he cries
He opens the back door and gets in next to Alex. We begin moving again, most likely on our way to school.
I remember when my mom would sing loud songs in my room to wake me up. Not lullabies like the ones she sang when I was younger, but loud ones. Baby by Justin Bieber, Evacuate the dancefloor by Cascada, Pocketful of Sunshine by Natasha Bedingfield. It all led to a very amusing morning.
I giggle at him and his head snaps to me “Thee bee!”
I wave “Hi Reece. Good morning”
He sighs “maybe for you! All I managed to get was this box of cereal before I was chased out of the house!” he shakes the cereal, emphasizing its presence.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Alex points haphazardly at me “she didn’t even know we had school”
I gasp dramatically “that was a secret Alex” I grin at Reece “I thought it was a Saturday”
He lets out a big breath and pouts “I wish”
“Hey Thea” Sam sits at the desk next to me “can I sit here?”
I brighten at the sight of her. I haven’t seen her in a bit. “Of course Sam”
She smiles shyly at me and pulls out the seat to sit in.
“How have you been? Theater going okay?” I ask
I know she likes talking about theater so I figured it would be a good way to open the conversation. Especially since we only talked a little and I want her to feel comfortable.
“Oh, it’s been fun. We’re getting ready for the production we’re going to put on for the school. The budget is low so it’s more work getting props and costumes but I think it’s coming together well”
“What are you doing for it?” I ask. I’ve never been to one of the plays here. I’ve never had a reason to and never really had the interest, but with Sam and her excitement, I find myself more interested than usual.
She plays a little with her glasses, pushing them up by the side and pushing some of her hair from her face. She looks down and shuffles her shoes “we’re reenacting Romeo and Juliet”
“Is that a bad thing?” I ask, confused at her sudden timid demeanor
She looks back up to me “I don’t think so, as I mentioned I think it’s coming together well, but there are a few people who think it’s kind of silly”
“Well, I don’t think it’s silly. I think it’s a hard one to do but I have faith you can pull it off” I try to cheer her up. I don’t like how she’s reacting. From what I can tell, people’s negative reactions may have brought up words stronger than silly.
“Who are you playing?” I ask trying to steer the conversation to a different place.
“Oh, well I mainly help out backstage” she says almost sadly like she wanted to act but didn’t.
“Did you audition?” I hope she at least tried, I would hate for her to have been too shy and then regret it later.
She hesitates a moment and her eyes wander around the classroom. “Yeah” her voice lowers a bit and I’m left confused. Why does she seem so distraught?
“Did you not get the role?” I ask
She shakes her head. “Well, I actually tried for Juliet”
I knew she liked theater and I supposed she may be a bit different on stage, but a main character? “That’s really cool”
She nods and looks down again “I love acting. It’s the real interaction that I’m not very good at” she giggles nervously at the end
I smile reassuringly “you’re doing great with me”
“Thank you” her smile dips a little as she remembers our previous conversation “I’m Juliet’s understudy”
I frown “who got Juliet?”
Before she can speak, the girl passing by our desks stops and I look up at her. Her brown hair is straight and her bangs cut straight across her forehead. Her brown eyes look at me cooly. “I did” she smiles falsely “and it’s going to be perfect” she looks at Sam “isn’t that right Sammy?”
Sam looks down and murmurs “yeah”
The girl looks back at me, her smile could almost be charming if not for the arrogant and condensing undertones it has. “I'm Isabella” she takes a few steps forward to the back row of desks and she says to me on her way “don’t forget it”
When she’s farther away and sitting down with people who seem to be her friends, look back at Sam who has her eyebrows scrunched together and her lips dipped in a frown. “Do you know her?” I ask
Sam shrugs “kind of” she says quietly and the teacher walks in, cutting off the conversation and leaving us in our own thoughts.
The distorted screech comes from the announcement speaker and it crackles a moment before the voice of the lady from the front office comes through. “Please send Alexander Rivera and Jake Miller to the front office immediately”
My head shoots up and I look up at the speaker in surprise. The teacher continues talking about the lesson seeing how neither Jake nor Alex are in the class but my mind continues to race.
This is about the fight. I know it is. Somebody saw and told the principal, or Jake is pointing fingers, either way, Alex is going to get in trouble.
Jake is a football player so he already has an advantage, he’s also a majorly fake golden boy. He’s popular, he can charm his way through anything, he manipulates as if it’s a second language, and he has the whole football team to back him up.
Alex has us. A few people that no one has heard of.
I race from my seat, not bothering to take my things as I make my way for the door.
“What do you think you’re doing Ms. Gray?” the teacher, Mr. Davis, asks me in a tired voice
“I feel sick” I rush out and I run the rest of the way out of the doors. I’m not sure what I’m doing or what I’m planning on doing but I don’t want him to go through this alone. He’s going to get in trouble and I just, need to be there. Maybe I can help. Maybe we all can.
I pull out my phone and text Reece hoping he can alert everyone else. I come to the front office and walk up to the woman in front of the desk which is in front of the wall that leads into the principal and vice principals office.
There’s a student on their phone in the seats on the other side of the doors, against the wall.
“Has Alex and Jake already come in here?” I ask the woman
She looks up to me and nods her head, looking back down again. “They’re in a meeting, you’ll have to wait until their done”
I shake my head to myself. I can’t wait, I pull my phone out and look to see if Reece has responded. I can see that he read it, but there is no reply.
I’m going to have to go at this alone for now.
I look back at the receptionist who pays me no attention and I tilt my chin up in false confidence. I walk over to the door labeled ‘Principal Robinson’ and before I can rethink myself, I open the door and all eyes are on me.
"Ms. Gray, I’m in a meeting right now-” I move over to Alex, ignoring Jake’s eyes and stand by his side. I interrupt his words and I look between him and Alex “I apologize Mr. Robinson, but I am here for Alex”
“You his girlfriend or something?” Jake sneers at me and I do my best to ignore him
Mr. Robinson sighs “let’s just finish this” he looks at Jake “so I’m hearing that Mr. Rivera had hit you after a confrontation”
And suddenly the Jake from the other day is nowhere to be found. His eyebrows scrunch and his whole demeanor goes from cocky and arrogant to innocent and confused.
“Yeah, that’s right..” he nods as if recalling the whole situation “I only had a question and he” he points at Alex, whose expression remains stone cold “completely freaked out!”
He sighs “I get that he doesn’t like me” he looks at Mr. Robinson “But don’t you agree that I’m the victim here?”
Mr. Robinson nods slowly. I wait for Alex to defend himself, to correct him, or fight him on it, but his cold expression doesn’t waver.
“Yes I understand,” Mr. Robinson looks at Alex “you’re suspended for three days for assaulting Mr. Miller on school grounds.
Surprisingly, I shoot from my chair, making it slide across the floor “that’s insane!”
Alex’s eyes are wide as they look at me, startled by my outburst. Jake looks at me smugly, knowing he’s won.
“Jake is lying” I glare at him but he winks at me and it just makes me more mad “Jake came up to my friends verbally attacking them. His hit was well deserved”
Mr. Robinson’s eyes narrow at me “there is no way to prove that Jake has done anything of the sort”
“I have several friends that can attest to his behavior” I defend. I don’t know where this confidence came from, and I’m sure if I don’t stop now I’m going to get in trouble, but all that’s on my mind is how Alex is sitting there doing nothing while Jake gets away with not only insulting our friends but getting away with lying and blaming Alex.
Jake points at his cheek which has a large blue and purple bruise on it “And I have a bruise that doesn’t lie. I’m sure all your little friends would lie to cover his ass”
“And I’m sure another would match just nicely” I’m ready to lunge at him but Alex stands and wraps his arms around me which completely halts my movements.
His hold is firm and strong, it confines but also comforts me. This close to him I can tell he smells a bit like pine and something sweet. His body is warm against my back and it makes everything in me calm.
He leans down to my ear and gently whispers in a low voice “we’re leaving” it’s simple and serious. No room to argue or question him.
We walk out the door with him blocking my view of Jake and Mr. Robinson. He guides me to the hall which is mainly empty due to everyone being in class.
When he turns to face me his face is hard and slightly angry “what the hell was that?” he questions angrily
My usual timid and quiet behavior is gone, the memory of the whole situation bringing back the rush of anger and defensiveness. “That was me trying to defend you! I don’t know what you were doing but you just got into a ton of trouble and you act like it’s nothing!”
He grips his hair and grits through clenched teeth “that was none of your business!”
“I don’t know why you’re so mad anyway! I was trying to help! You certainly weren’t doing anything. You get all angry and throw punches when it’s other people but when it’s you getting in trouble you don’t care?”
His eyes blaze “no, no I don't fucking care. But I know what I’m doing and that is what’s none of your business”
Frustrated tears gather in my eyes “Well I care! I care Alex, and I’m not just going to let you do this shit!” I can’t even dwell on the fact that I just cursed with my mind all clouded.
“You don’t know what you’re doing! You don’t know anything and you don’t get to choose what I do!”
Suddenly people are at my side “what the hell is happening!” I look up at Benny who looks between Alex and I. Connor is on the other side of Benny, also assessing the situation.
“I was just leaving” Alex mutters as he turns away.
I go to step forward towards him but Benny puts a hand on my shoulder, stopping me. “You don’t just get to walk away!” I shout at his retreating figure
He doesn’t stop walking and I can’t help it when my voice breaks “you don’t get to just walk away from me”
This time he does pause and he makes a pained expression. But he walks away and disappears down the other hall.
I jerk to face Benny who stands behind me. “We have to go after him Benny!”
Connor looks at me softly “we should give him time sweetheart, he’s not very happy right now”
I shake my head and the angry tears turn to sad, pleading ones. “Please”
Benny and Connor look at each other for a moment before looking at me “how about we go get your things from Ethan and you tell us what happened, then we can go check on him”
“This will give him a bit of time and we can still go look for him after alright?” Connor asks
I nod, really only wanting to go after Alex but they make solid points. They need to know what happened and I need my things. Giving him time may be good but with all the secrets hovering around him I’m just worried.
Benny places a guiding hand on my back as we walk through the hall. “Ethan should be in physics right now, he saw your things in his last class and took them with him”
“How did you guys know where I was?” I ask
“Reece had a meet-up with the baseball players when you texted. He texted when it was over and we made it as soon as we could” Connor answers as he knocks on the door to the physics room.
Of course I picked the one person who was busy at the time. Sure he probably could have left but I suppose it wasn’t really an emergency and he may have gotten penalized for it due to his baseball status.
We all walk in and the teacher glares at us. “How may I help you?” she asks sharply
“We’re just here to gather some things a classmate has for us” Connor jerks his head in our direction as he and Ethan make eye contact. Ethan gets up and rushes over, handing Benny my bag even as I reach for it.
“Everything okay?” he whispers to us and Connor nods
“I’m sure it will be”
“Mr. Moore, if you would sit down I would like to resume the lesson without interruptions” the teacher looks at us and Ethan curses quietly. He waves at us with a smile and goes to sit down.
We all rush out and I hold my hand out for my bag from Benny. “Thanks for holding it”
He smiles down at me “no problem” but he makes no move to give it back, simply hoisting it up on his shoulder.
“I can take it now” I hold my hand out but he shakes his head
“Nope” he shakes his head “Alex got to be the gentleman earlier, it’s my turn now”
I shake my head silently and we exit the building and go out to one of the picnic tables in the courtyard.
When we all sit, Connor turns to look at me and gently asks me to relay to them what happened.
I started at the announcement and how I rushed out of the room because I was scared for Alex. I told them how I texted Reece on my way there and went past the front desk, interrupting the ongoing conversation. I tell them all about Jake’s lies and fake demeanor. “And then I got upset, Alex was just sitting there taking it” Benny takes one of my hands and holds it in support as I get upset once again “so I lashed out in defense”
I tell them about the part I played as I tried to defend him and how he still got suspended.
“I can believe you threatened him” Benny laughs in disbelief. Connor shoots him a look and he urges me to continue.
I told them about how he got angry and how the argument started, I told them about what was said up until when they came. “And now I feel terrible, I’m worried, and I just need to see him”
I look pleadingly between them and Benny sighs. “I’ll take you”
Connor cuts in “I’ll come too”
“No,” Benny shakes his head “there’s no point in us all missing class. I’ll take her to his house and then we can all meet again”
Connor looks at me and nods “okay, call if you need anything”
We then walk in separate directions, Connor back to the school and us to the parking lot.
I just have to make sure everything is okay.
“Which one is it?” I ask as we pass through a neighborhood close to mine
Benny points out the Grey house with the uneven paint and messy plants “that one”
I think back to the time where I heard the shouting and things breaking in that house, I had run away. This time I get out of the car before it even stopped and I speed walk towards the house.
I run up to the door and am about to knock when I hear familiar yelling coming from within.
“I get a fucking call from your school about you getting in fights! That's how you fucking repay me? You’re a fucking fuck up!”
“Like you’re any better!” I hear Alex for sure this time say
“You little shit!” the voice yells
I rush around the side of the house, looking for a way to see what’s happening, do I need to call someone?
Around the back, I look through a window at the back of who seems to be a middle-aged man, mostly bald on his head and large in frame. I don’t see Alex but the man knocks over a whole table of vases and books as he stomps around.
“You get out here boy before I get your precious brother to come home” he yells
I’m suddenly terrified as I watch Alex come to stand in front of the man. His eyes are full of anger and emotion I don’t regularly associate with Alex, fear.
“You will stay the hell away from Justin” Alex hissed venomously to the man
A scream, terrified and disbelieving jumps from my throat as if I were just met with my worst nightmare as I watch Alex’s head snap back with the force of the man’s fist, blood rushes out and he flies across the room as the man hits him once again in the stomach.
I can’t seem to get the air inside my lungs. My body is trembling and fear rockets through me over and over as I watch Alex scramble backward. His head is down for a moment before looking up at the window to meet my eyes.
His eyes widen with a million emotions, fear, panic, shock, terror, sadness, confusion. “No!” he shouts and I don’t realize why he does so until I come back to reality, where I can see normally and sounds become no longer muffled.
My hand is already holding one of the potted plants from the garden and I don't seem to think as I toss the plant at the window, making everything shatter.
Glass rains onto the yard and the man’s eyes snap over to me in confusion. It soon turns to rage as he takes in the situation.
Benny is running over to me saying something but I just can't hear him. He reaches me but I’m just a foot from his grasp as I run up to the window, I scramble inside, getting cuts on me from the edges of the glass. People say they can’t feel the pain when something else is clouding your mind, they are wrong. The burning from the cuts makes me hiss and clench my teeth, it hurts and it’s probably deep, but I don’t take my eyes from the man who has his face twisted in a nasty snarl.
“You little bitch!” he screams at me. I’m ready for him to come at me, hit me, do something, but his attention is diverted and the panic hits me hard.
“Stay the fuck away from her!” Alex shouts as he stands in an offensive position, as if ready to fight, and the man stomps towards him.
No, not Alex. That’s all I can think as I rush forward and throw myself at the man. He doesn’t fall over like I hoped, but instead I fall to the side onto the floor, sharp glass cuts into me and I cry out from the pain. I try to roll over to get up but Alex rushes for me and the man blocks his way with a punch to his face, making a loud sound under his fist which makes a scream rip from me once again.
Alex is doubled over, clutching his nose while the man stomps toward me. “This your little whore, boy?” he asks, chuckling darkly.
“Fuck you” Alex moans out, most likely not able to do much more because of the pain he’s in.
“Wrong answer” the man growls out. The action was too quick for me to do anything about it. His fist flies through the air and hits my face. My head smashes into the ground from its slightly tilted up position and it feels like an explosion.
It feels like fire, or metal, or rocks. It hurts. I’m not sure how to breathe. I’ve never gotten punched before, how does it usually feel? Should I feel like this?
I don’t think anything is broken, but what do I know? I’ve never gotten punched. I may have a concussion. It hurts a lot.
I can hear noise above me, lots of it. There’s more noise than there was before and most certainly more people.
I close my eyes a moment and I open them slightly at the fuzzy faces above me.
People are suddenly picking me up and I’m not sure if I winced or not at the feeling of my arms being touched. I remember the glass, that’s for sure. The stinging only intensified as the world settles a little more.
But just as the world settles, my eyes close and it goes blank.
My breath stutters a moment as I come awake. My eyes open and for a moment everything is fine, I’m in my bed and I just woke up for school.
Then I try to move and a stinging sensation comes from my arms, making me hiss. This then triggers the memories of everything that happened. The suspension, the fight, Alex’s house. Alex
My breathing picks up and this time I move past the stinging in my arms, only glancing at the white gauze surrounding it for a moment before moving to get up.
My door suddenly opens and flashes of the man from Alex’s house enter my mind, making a scream escape me.
“Thea! Thea, it’s just me, it’s just Benny” my scream dies down as I watch Benny stand in the doorway with his hands up. “It’s alright, you’re alright” he soothes
I take a deep breath and wave him in, a little more curious about the gauze.
Benny must notice my lingering eyes because he takes a deep breath and looks at me worriedly “you cut yourself pretty bad, you bled quite a bit and the cuts needed to be cleaned and stitched”
I furrow my eyebrows. “But, you need hospitals to do that”
He nods slowly “yeah, you went there”
My breath pauses. I went to the hospital, they called my nonexistent parents, I have money I need to pay.
Benny once again notices my distress as he explains “you went there and they fixed you up. When they were done I paid the bill and brought you back”
I'm both grateful and guilty “you didn’t need to do that, I can pay you back”
Not super easily, but I can.
He smiles halfheartedly “no worries, I didn’t need to, but I wanted to. Got a gentleman image to uphold you know?” he attempts to joke and it gets a little giggle from me.
His eyes then dull and he closes them, breathing harshly as it comes out stuttered. “Thea,” he swallows “I don’t think you understand how scared I was when I saw you go in there,”
“You were inches away and I missed you. I was frozen watching you go in there. I mean, what was I supposed to do when I saw my one of my best friends get abused and then you run in after him only to get hit yourself and pass out for a plethora of reasons”
He begins counting them on his fingers and I’m not sure if he’s lecturing me, reminding me, or trying to sort it all out for himself. “Blood loss, Concussion, shock, adrenaline crash”
“How long was I in the hospital?” I ask.
Bennys shoulders fall “hours, Thea”
He tilts his head up and closes his eyes “when I had finally snapped out of my panic I called the police. I had called the guys and they were doing about as good as I was. We all ran in with the police and to find you unconscious, Alex’s dad in cuffs, and Alex in a pretty bad condition, well it was enough to haunt me for the rest of my life”
“I’m sorry” I whisper. I wish I hadn’t caused so many problems, I made everyone worry, I was impulsive, I didn't think, I may have even made things worse.
Bennys eyes burn into me “I never want to hear you say that Thea. This was not your fault and I never want you to think that”
“But-” I’m cut off with a sharp look from Benny.
“Nope, no buts. Now, you are meant to rest, eat, drink water, stay away from loud noise, light, television, books, and anything that hurts your brain” he smiles slightly in my direction “and no sports”
“Is everyone okay?” I ask
He nods “Alex’s dad is in custody, you and I are here, some of the guys are home and the rest are looking for Alex since the police won’t because he’s eighteen” he rolls his eyes
I hold up a hand “wait, what happened to Alex?”
Bennys face falls “Thea, Alex is gone”