E. J. Lace
“Hustle it up, ladies, let’s go, let’s go.”
Coach Kline blows his whistle, making the people closest to him flinch away from the shrill sound.
His gray sports shirt hangs from his beer gut, the white and blue basketball shorts a little too short and tight.
His 70s porn ’stash is comical.
I’m sure he uses a hair comb and probably puts sunblock on it like a nasty pervert.
That kind of vibe wafts off him.
He claps his hands, and we all turn off the track and make our way back into the locker room, filing in one by one.
The white-washed cinder blocks pave the way and blue tiles cover the floor.
The wolf emblem painted on the wall screams for school spirit, but I can’t say I have any for this shitty place.
At least not yet.
Sweaty and gross from the forced physical exercise and the sweltering heat, I know I’m ready for a shower.
August being one of the hottest months and living on the coast doesn’t help.
Only week three of school and I still haven’t fallen into the blur of the crowd.
I still find a way to show up as the new kid.
If it’s not stumbling over teachers’ names or something to signal me out, it’s the questioning glances, the snide comments and the gossip at who I am and why Percy and I are inseparable.
None of them bother to mind their own damn business, but hey, this is high school.
Trudging into the locker room, I grab my clothes and try to figure out this dumbass lock that the school issues, before giving up for the fifteenth day in a row and heading for the showers.
The locks are far too complicated and even though it’s meant to be simple, it just isn’t.
Percy explains it and I swear I can get it when he watches, but I still can never get my gym locker to work right no matter how hard or how long I try.
I’ve been late to class a few times already because of this, making me have two tardy slips and it’s not even been a month of school yet.
Swallowing my irritation, I can’t wait to be through with school, out of high school and done with shit like this.
Who can’t get a fucking lock to click right?!
Of course it’s me.
I hate gym the most, not just because of the physical activity, which I loathe entirely, but it’s the only class we get separated in.
Percy’s my cousin, my only friend at the school. Not that I’m looking to make more, it’s just easier to have someone in your corner; he tries to help me.
He really does give it his best shot.
Stepping behind the fluorescent beige shower curtain that is half the size it should be, I turn the water on and undress in what they call privacy.
Quickly changing and hiding from the view of the rest of the girls, I try to focus on moving this along.
As I’m soaping up and rinsing the dirty sweat from my body, the rest of the girls leave.
The room fills with silence, and while I like being alone, this is a bad sign.
I’ll be late again if I don’t hurry.
I finish my shower in three more minutes and turn the chrome knobs to shut it off.
Reaching out for my towel, I find nothing.
A flare of panic invades me.
Nothing on the stool at the base of the outside panel, nothing on the little hook next to the opening.
Pulling the shower curtain back and pushing it to my chest I look around, seeing none of my clothes and no one around.
Where the fuck are my clothes?
I feel the panic start to course through my veins and eat me alive.
Maybe someone saw them on the floor and took them back to my locker?
Hoping like hell that’s the case, I rip the shower curtain from its clear white rings and wrap myself in it.
Scouring the locker room, I find no trace of any of my things.
Nothing’s left in my locker: no gym bag, no shoes, bra, panties, hairbrush, nothing.
I know someone must have taken it, most likely the snobby girls who’ve sent hateful looks my way since day one.
I check the trash cans, praying like hell that maybe they just tossed them away, but my luck is shit.
Briskly rounding the corner, I look everywhere for something, even pulling on random lockers hoping to find one that’s open so I can borrow some clothes for the day.
But of course my luck is worse than my life at the moment, and I find nothing.
Hitting my head on the locker, cursing my existence, I know what my only option is, and it isn’t pretty.
Tucking the shower curtain around me even tighter and making sure the top, middle and bottom are secure enough, I make a run for it.
Moving as fast as I can, I run up the short set of steps and up to the first level of the school.
Then I haul ass down the vacant hallway until I get to the boys’ locker room and pass through the doors.
Thankfully no one is in here; class is in session and I’m sure Percy is wondering where the hell I am.
Praying for some stroke of luck, some type of small blessing that these lockers are labeled just like ours, I move through the rows looking for Percy’s name.
The second row and I find the winner.
Fighting with the lock, again.
I can’t get it to open!
Tears sting my eyes and stain my cheek, feeling the hopelessness sinking into my bones.
Crying, wrapped in a shower curtain, after I broke into the boys’ locker room has to be an all-time low.
What else could possibly top this?
I look up, going to curse God for letting me still be alive, but I catch a break in blue and silver.
At the corner of my eye I notice a locker with no stupid lock hanging from it and what looks like clothes stuffed inside.
What could possibly top this?
Stealing from an innocent stranger.
Holding my breath, I slide in front of it and pop it open, snatching the clothes out and giving it a once over.
A shirt and basketball short, even a pair of sliders, thank God!
Big, but it will do.
Taking my new finds to the boys’ showers, I get dressed in a mad dash to cover myself in real clothes, even if they’re not mine.
Knowing my jacket is in my real locker safely stashed away, I don’t mind going braless until then.
Having big boobs sucks.
If I don’t wear a bra, it’s very evident.
Not that they hang super low or anything, it’s just…big boobs, big problems.
The immediate problem solved, I feel a tug at my conscience.
I can’t steal this stranger’s clothes.
My uncle is the deputy sheriff for crying out loud.
But I need them.
So I’ll borrow them?
Wear them home, clean them and return them.
Feeling better about that outcome, I go back to the locker, taking the scrap ripped page from the top shelf and the pen that’s thrown at the bottom to write out an IOU.
“IOU gym clothes. Sorry.”
I was going to put my name down, but I think it might go over better if I just return them without anyone knowing.
Poking it through the top, I leave it hanging from the little hook so I’ll know he’ll see it.
Closing the locker, I memorize the name painted on the front so I know who to return these to, along with a thank-you note and probably a gift card or something.
I feel like shit for taking these.
Even with the pure intentions of returning it, I still feel like a thief.
“I’m sorry D. Henley,” I whisper in the silence, leaving the locker room and this little debacle behind me.
When I get to my real locker the bell rings and classes all drift into the halls.
It fills with kids my age, and the side-eye glances make me so uncomfortable.
My arms at my chest, I rush the door of my locker open and slip into my jacket to hide my free range tatas.
“Where the— What are you wearing? What happened?” Percy gives me a worried look.
His straight blond hair sways in his face and his warm brown eyes study me, looking for any sign of concern.
“Those freaking plastic Barbies I think stole my stuff. I had to use a shower curtain to cover up with, then I thought I could wear your gym clothes but I couldn’t work your dumb lock.
“Luckily I found these in a random person’s locker.”
I ran my fingers through my long, honey-colored hair, tucking a lock of it off my face while I got ready for the last class of the day.
“Wait, you ran through the school naked and broke into the guys’ locker room? Whose clothes are you wearing?” His eyebrows scrunched together.
The bell rang, telling us to move along.
Shaking my head and mentally pushing myself, Percy and I walk to class.
Him somewhat in front of me while he goes on about what work I’ll have to do.
The next hour and half passes slowly—snail speed slow.
We walk home like every day before, the kids at school who drive race past us.
“You know I can walk to and from school alone. I know you miss driving—you don’t have to give it up for me.”
The sun beats down on us, making us sweat and fan our faces with a folder.
Looking forward at the road, we could see the heat hissing from the pavements.
Percy has a car, a driver’s license and a parking spot at school that he paid for.
“It’s fine, Van. Walking is good for the both of us.” He nudges me with his elbow.
I know he was just being nice.
He missed his car and driving.
But since I wouldn’t get in another vehicle to save my life, he decided to go along with my crazy to help me feel better about being alone.
I wasn’t always like this.
But five months ago my life changed.
One day we went for a drive, just going to the movie theater, and it started to rain.
The passenger side tire blew, we hit a puddle, hydroplaned and went off the median and down into the river below.
Dad died on impact.
Mom got Morgan and me out of the car but got dragged away by the current and drowned.
Morgan died of pneumonia in the hospital a week later.
I woke two weeks after to find my family was all gone.
Percy and his dad, Uncle Jonah, are all that’s left for me.
One car wreck was worse than Armageddon at my doorstep.
It was just…my world that ended.
Life goes on, though.
The people around you go back to laughing and smiling, planning futures and being happy ,but not for me.
I haven’t smiled or laughed since then.
In the court-assigned therapy that I’m forced into, that’s the thing we are working on.
But how can I laugh when Morgan’s laugh was so infectious and now it’s lost forever?
How can I smile when mom’s smile lit up the room and always made me feel warm?
What’s there to laugh at without dad’s ridiculously corny jokes that made me groan and roll my eyes, which I now miss more than anything else in the world?
“I’m sorry you had a shitty day, would pizza make it better?” Percy punches the code in at the front door, letting it unlock and fall open.
The crispy, cool air conditioning hits us like a frosty snowman blowing a kiss our way.
Uncle Jonah’s house is nice, now that it’s mine too, as they like to remind me.
Smaller than my family’s home, but as it was just Percy and my uncle, they didn’t need much.
A simple white-brick two-story with a pool in the back and a nice porch in the front, on which my uncle had a swing put out for me.
It’s in a nice neighborhood, not stuffy like a cul-de-sac or bougie like a gated community.
Our house is the only one down the dead-end lane, but other houses are scattered up the road; we can see them from the front porch.
“Pizza makes everything better.” I rolled my eyes and headed upstairs.
Throwing my bag down and stripping out of the stranger’s clothes, I got into my PJs.
Snapping into a bra and some panties makes me feel human again.
My black Odyssey T-shirt hangs off my chest and gives me no figure.
My simple black boy shorts are long enough down my thigh that they cover the self-harm marks that sprinkle the tops of them.
Tossing the stranger’s shirt and shorts in the washer, I make sure to add extra soap so they smell nice and clean when I return them.
I give the blue and black sliders a shine and pat them dry.
“Do you think I should buy a gift card to, like, a store, or just for, I don’t know, like, a gas station? That’s gotta be a safer bet, right?”
Percy hits pause on his game, sitting up on the gray sectional that frames the living room.
The flat screen hangs on the wall in front of us like a homing beacon for our attention.
“Whose clothes do you take? I probably know them well enough to help.”
He pops a Cheeto in his mouth, holding out the bag for me as I plop down next to him.
“Uh…fuck, I think I forgot.” My mind draws a blank on the name tag, making Percy laugh and shake his head.
Fun fact about head trauma, memory loss is a big part of it.
Either short-term or long-term, and the degree of how bad, is a needle in a haystack.
Mine is pretty good. It’s not like I’m Ten Second Tom from 50 First Dates or anything.
It’s just harder for me to keep little bites of information when I used to have the memory of an elephant.
I forget conversations easily now, studying is harder, I forget things I need if I don’t make a list and learning someone’s name is ridiculously hard for me.
That’s not all either. I have random bouts of uncontrollable anger, nightmares and sickening migraines.
Hitting your head on the car window going 75 miles an hour causes problems.
Who knew, right?
I was also underwater for a while, something about the lack of oxygen made some things fucked up in my brain.
“It will come to you, don’t worry. Where was the locker from mine?” He munched down on a handful of chips.
Using my hands, I demonstrate how the room is set up.
“I don’t even know. Your locker being here, I think his locker is facing out and maybe the fourth one?” I take a handful of chips myself and let him think.
“I say get the gas card, it’s probably Noah’s, Patrick’s or Zack’s locker. Wait no, you said it didn’t have a lock on it?”
His brown eyes widen with worry as he realizes whose locker it must be.
Nodding his head, he throws his controller down and stands up.
“Was it D. Henley?” His voice pleads for me to say no, but the name sounds right and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it is.
“I don’t know, maybe? Maybe not.” I raise an eyebrow at him and why he looks so afraid all of a sudden.
His face visibly pales as all color drains away.
“Nobody saw you, right?” He bends down in front of me, coming eye level.
“Of course not, I was wrapped in a shower curtain.” I don’t understand what the worry is over.
He puts a hand up to his face and threads it in his hair, sighing.
“Forget about returning them until I find out who you took them from, and never tell anyone what happened. Not even dad, okay?”
Nodding, he stands back up, walking from the dining room to the middle of the living room.
“Did I, like, break into the mayor’s kid’s locker or something?” My curiosity kicks in.
Percy stops, giving a dry chuckle.
“More like the devil’s kid. Damon Henley is Lucien Henley’s son, the gang leader of the biker clan dad is always fighting with.
“If he gets an arrest on one of them, then something always happens, either the case gets thrown out or evidence goes missing, witnesses go missing—they always get out of it.”
He shakes his head. Before I could ask anything else, Uncle Jonah steps through the door with three extra large pizza boxes and a tired smile twisted on his lips.
“Hey guys, how are my troopers doing?”
His voice is light, but I can hear the tiredness and stress hanging at the ends.
Just like my own dad, Uncle Jonah does his best to hide the adult problems from his kids.
I felt even worse.
Now we had to do damage control before I pissed off a biker gang.
Just what we need.
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