Keep Me Safe

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She's broken and abused. He's dark and twisted. She needs to feel safe. He'll do anything to give it to her. *UPDATES ON TUESDAY AND THURSDAY AT NOON CST*

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Something changed the summer before my freshman year of high school. I grew boobs. That caught the attention of my stepfather, the creep known as Mark Hale. My mother married him when I was twelve and he always gave me that slimy feeling.

The first time he hit me was six months after the happy wedding. The first time my mother saw him hit me and did nothing was a week after that. Two months later, she started hitting me, too. Somewhere along the way, they started doing it together.

Mark cornered me near the end of that fateful summer, grabbing my newly sprouted breasts painfully hard and Mom saw it. She did nothing to stop him, only got angry at me for looking like a whore and tempting her husband. I was thirteen.

That was also the year South Moore High changed. The beginning of the year was hell. Fights breaking out everywhere you looked, fear of getting stabbed was a common experience, and you never knew if you’d become a target just because you breathed. Drugs were blatantly exchanging hands.

By the next summer, that had changed. How?

Cassius Black.

We’d been in the same class since second grade. I noticed him the first day he came to class. He was a skinny kid in clothes that were thrifted or handed down, shoes that were probably older than we were, and a broken haunted look in his dark brown eyes. Over the years, he changed. He grew up, as we all did, but he got bigger, stronger, and turned harder. Scarier.

I never talked to him. I survived on the outskirts of the high school hierarchy. I was unnoticed and that was a blessing everyone wanted but few got. Those that had it weren’t stupid enough to take it for granted. I hardly talked to anyone, actually, for fear of my invisible status being taken away.

But, the other thing that changed that summer before school started was Cassius himself. He came to school looking like a completely different person. Not only did he look different, he acted different, too. The hardness that had started settling into him had fully taken root. Just the simple act of walking in the hallway had most of the population trembling in fear as they rushed to get the hell out of his way.

Those fights that happened at the drop of a hat? Most of them involved him. He instilled fear into everyone. Students, teachers, and security alike stayed out of his way by the time the year was over for the summer.

That summer, things got worse for me. Mom started doing drugs and that left Mark free to do whatever he wanted while she was high. I found any and every excuse to stay in my room behind the door with the five locks that I had installed myself one day while they were gone. Or I left and told them that I was at a friend's house. Of course, I didn’t have any, but they didn’t know that.

It was also the first time I had a broken rib. Of course, they didn’t take me to the hospital, so I suffered through it while still getting beatings on a regular basis. And they weren’t stupid. They made sure I didn’t have any marks that couldn’t be covered up or explained by the typical “she’s a kid and kids are rough on themselves. Of course, she has bruises” excuse.

The only reason I didn’t report them was because the foster system around here was worse than a death sentence. Going into the system meant you went into a gang, into prostitution, or into a body bag after going a tiny bit too high on the hard shit.

When junior year began, I had found a haven in those halls. I hated the place, the people, the smell, everything about it, but at least I was relatively safe, which was a feeling I had forgotten ever having felt before. Crazy what three years of fear can do to a person, right?

I don’t know what happened to earn me the hatred of the school's queen bitch, Amber Davis, but I found my life turning into hell once again. Name calling was kid stuff at this point. South Moore students were made of harder brass than others. No, I found myself beaten at school too, only they weren’t so careful about marks.

I managed to survive last year, but this summer was the worst yet. Mark had tried many times to get me cornered in the bathroom while I was taking a shower. He’d gotten so far as to shove one of fingers between my legs before I clawed his face and ran, a towel wrapped around my soapy body as I ducked from alley to yard to back lot in the middle of the night.

I broke into the school to rinse off and hide as I cried the trauma out. If anyone heard the angry, pain filled screaming, they never reported it.

So, now it was the first day back at school and I was in a confused turmoil. I didn’t know what to expect. Would the vendetta Amber had against me last year carry over and resume like the break never happened? Either way, I wasn’t staying home. Not with Mark hovering about, licking his lips as his disgusting eyes roamed over my body like he was imagining me naked.

The positive side was that most of the stores and restaurants around our shitty neighborhood understood that kids like me needed to save up some money for when we turned eighteen. I’d picked up a summer job waiting tables in a diner several blocks away from the shithole I lived in and had saved a fair amount of under-the-table pay to get my own shithole when I turned eighteen in a month.

So, with that happy thought to bring my mood up, I trudged my way towards the prison-like haven of South Moore High.

Metal detectors, drug dogs, armed guards, razor wire on top of the chain-link fences, and pat downs didn’t help keep things civil or safe. That much was proven after I had gotten through and a fight broke out between some freshmen and I saw knives before Dean Cross, one of Cassius’ inner circle, put an end to it by issuing a sharp whistle and pointing at the two unfortunate kids. They were dragged away to have the rules explained in a way they wouldn’t forget, and I hurried by to my locker.

Like many of them, all I had to do was bang the side of my fist under the latch and it popped open, allowing me to toss in my books. It had been warmer than I thought it would be this morning, so I pulled off my sweater, hurrying to pull the bottom of my shirt back down before throwing it in and slamming it shut. Twice, before the latch caught.

I turned around and froze.

Cassius Black was staring at me with that hard look on his face that he always seemed to have the past four years. I felt like a deer seeing the predator, sensing the danger, yet unable to move as if staying still would save it from being eaten.

His look had matured more over the summer. He’d become more defined in his muscle structure, possibly taller, too. He’d let his black hair grow out slightly more than usual so I could see the slight curl that I remembered from that first year he’d been here. His eyes were cold and hard, but there was something else, something terrifying in the dark depths as we stared at each other.

Not looking away, his lips moved, the words getting lost in the crowded halls. Slowly, I realized he’d said something to another one of his inner circle, Luke Peters, who had been busy stuffing things into his own locker like most of us were. He looked at Cassius, his brows pulled down slightly, before turning to look at me. The frown deepened before he looked back to his friend and said something back.

Just like that, Cassius snapped. The eyes that had been holding me in place flicked away and he had Luke pinned to the lockers with a loud slam, bringing a terrified hush to the halls as people scurried farther away from them.

“You heard what I said. Make it happen,” I heard him growl before he released his friend and I hurried away.

I made it to lunch before I noticed people staring at me and whispering, doing a shitty job at hiding it. Great. I had a target on my back already, it seems. Fan-fucking-tastic.

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